Year of Sundays

Year of Sundays

Imago Dei: 300 Pounds and Not An OUNCE of Humility

Every Sunday, Joel and I stay as long as possible after the service to hear more about the church, get a feel for its groupies and talk about our project. And nearly every week, Portland’s pew-huggers have been saying the same two words to us:


As in, “Have you been to Imago Dei yet?”

Or, “I’d love to read what you think about Imago Dei!”

But mostly, it’s been some variation on, “I bet you guys will really dig Imago Dei. It’s cool/hip/different.”


Which leads me to believe people actually think WE’RE cool. Or hip. Or maybe just different. I can’t speak for Joel on this one, but let me be the first to admit: I AM SO NOT COOL. I live in a paper mill town, for Christ’s sake. I drive an SUV with an NRA sticker on it and buy all my clothes at Target. I’m tragically UNhip. I bought these glasses at LensCrafters, people.

But apparently we look like we belong at Portland’s Church of the Hip.

Even the Bibles are Bitchin' Camero


I suppose I should be flattered by that, so this is me saying THANK YOU. THANKS A LOT.

We got the impression that this church was kind of a Big Deal, what with everyone in town whispering its name into our ears like a grown-up game of telephone. So before heading out there, I made sure Joel sent them an e-mail to warn them we were coming.

From: Joel Gunz <>
Date: Wed, Mar 30, 2011 at 11:27 PM
Subject: Visiting your church

Dear Rick and Luke,

Amanda P. Westmont and I own a blog called “A Year of Sundays” ( Each week, we visit a different church and then write about the experience. We would like to visit Imago Dei this Sunday. Would one or both of you be available after the service for an interview?  Also, do you permit photographs? We’re looking forward to seeing what your church has to offer.


Best regards,

Joel Gunz

Their response was underwhelming…

From: Davis, Caitlin <>
Date: Thu, Mar 31, 2011 at 6:01 PM
Subject: Re: Visiting your church
To: Joel Gunz <>

Hello Joel,

We have to decline the opportunity to meet with you, as we simply didn’t have enough lead time.  This is a very busy weekend and both Rick & Luke have previously scheduled commitments.  However, if you would like to visit on another Sunday, with enough lead time for us to plan, we would be glad to meet with you.

Thanks for inquiring



Cait Davis
Executive Assistant to Rick McKinley
Imago Dei Community

ORLY? Not to get too full of myself and this podunk little blog, but honestly? You can’t find FIVE minutes after the service to talk to some religion bloggers? REALLY? We (theoretically speaking) want to write nice things about you and you decline? Wait, let me rephrase that: You have your SECRETARY decline.

Alrighty then.

I honestly tried to keep an open mind about this church. I wanted to like it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I tried to be objective because that would defeat the purpose of this blog, but still. I didn’t want to hold this church against, well, itself. And I was really REALLY looking forward to this service. My expectations were higher than they’ve ever been on a Sunday morning.


So this is me being as open-minded as I possibly can about a church that is nothing more than a downtown Portland branch of FOURSQUARE.

Oh God! The Palm Pilots are at it again!

There, I said it: Imago Dei is EXACTLY like Foursquare. From the Palm Pilots right down to the Christian Supply Store red velvet tithe bags, these churches are carbon copies of one another.

Anyone know where I can buy one of these? I think it'd be perfect for a certain toy collection of mine.


Only Imago Dei is worse.

When Pastor Rick scuffed onto the stage in his untucked triple-XL button-down and this brillo-pad helmet of Lego hair, I disliked him immediately. And not just because he bears an eery resemblance to my ex-husband. But because I’ve never seen a preacher so lacking in kindness and generosity of spirit. He just sounded too angry and self-righteous.

What? I'm a super nice guy! Can't you tell from teddy bear exterior?


I sat there watching him and wondering, what IS this man eating? Is it shame? anger? depression? sexual dysfunction? (Bob Dole would like you to know there’s a pill for that). I value kindness above all other things (because it’s something I obviously need to work on myself) and while I think the pews at Imago Dei were OVERFLOWING with it, I couldn’t find any in their gregarious leader.

I have been morbidly obese myself (HERE: I will even link to the photos because there’s nothing like a good before and after), which still probably doesn’t give me license to call someone else out on their weight issues, but I’m gonna take that liberty anyway because this man? He can’t possibly be filled with Christ’s love because he clearly does not love himself.


I’m not at ALL suggesting that an unhappy fat man can’t be a good preacher, but here’s the thing: He has to OWN IT. Fat and humble? That would work for me. Skinny and a complete jackass? Totally. But morbidly obese AND overly cocky?  I’m sorry you have to wear your pain like a fat-suit for everyone to see, but that doesn’t mean you can pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

When Joel stepped forward to take Rick’s picture (as we had informed him in the e-mail that we would!), he said,

“Dude, what in the world?” And laughed.  “All right, I’m turning away from the camera, I don’t know what you’re doin’.” He laughed again. “This is a freaky, freaky service so far.”


Then he shot Joel down. Literally. With his finger pistol.

YouTube Preview Image

Rick used the sermon to discuss how people have “perverted” (a word this pastor said no less than four times on Sunday) (Freudian slip much?) the gift of the Sabbath. That the religious scholars with their clipboards are all telling us what to do and how to do it, but what Jesus REALLY meant was that we should all just turn off our cell phones for a day, stop what we’re doing and quit being so effing self-important already.


Hmmmm. Self-importance? Let’s examine that for a minute. I personally can’t think of anything more self-important than when the preacher suddenly loses Point of View (a thing we author-types pay quite a bit of attention to) and starts talking AS IF HE IS GOD. Like when he says, without attribution,


About YOU, Rick McKinley? Or about GOD? When you paraphrase the lord, you might want to throw down some air quotes so people don’t assume you’re getting too big for your britches. He continued to lose POV as he went on for a good thirty minutes on the importance of the Sabbath, about how God (or was it Rick? I lost track…) made you for something bigger than just work, how you are more than just a worker bee because God gives you dignity, and how “the most subversive thing you can do is to keep the Sabbath.”


But wait just a minute, Rick. Aren’t you getting paid on the Sabbath to talk about how important it is not to work on the Sabbath?

I’m not saying a preacher can’t talk about keeping the Sabbath, but I could smell this man’s hypocrisy from the back pew. How difficult would it have been to take the ten seconds of humility necessary to simply add, “I know this seems hypocritical coming from me since I’m working as we speak,” or “I obviously can’t keep the Sabbath myself, but…” or “Instead of Sunday, I keep my own Sabbath on Thursday,” or SOMETHING. Anything to reassure me that Rick McKinley isn’t living in the same Do As I Say, Not As I Do world as the Catholic pedophilia.


But his ego is even bigger than his gut.

When he finished his sermon, he disappeared. Apparently he had plans (to avoid us) after all. I wish I’d had the chance to talk to him up close and have a personal conversation because maybe it would’ve rocked my world and dispelled all my misgivings about him and his church. I’ll never know.

So we headed to the Guest Forum, where a charismatic, clean-cut, twenty-something named Doug spent fifteen minutes giving future parishioners a verbal tour of Rick McKinley’s kingdom. A more willing victim might have felt as though they were being force-fed like a foie gras goose, but I just felt like I was being sold a mattress. I did get to learn about the church and how it started as a tiny home church (which made me long wistfully for The Bridge) and grew so fast it had to swap buildings with Portland Foursquare, who didn’t mind since they were losing members anyway. (Probably because their members just switched over to the Imago Dei branch of Foursquare.)

If Imago Dei means “Image of God,” then this church is pretty much screwed because the only image I saw was that of a short, angry, fat man with a bushy goatee and a chip on his shoulder. I wanted to love Imago Dei. I really did. And I just couldn’t.

Don’t worry, Rick. We’ll pray for you.

Comments read comments(70)
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posted December 15, 2011 at 7:29 pm


I am a member of Imago Dei and came across this blog post in an internet search. It saddens me that you are judging Rick by his weight. He has spoken openly many times from the pulpit about his struggles, often to the point of tears, humbly admitting his shortcomings and his reliance upon Jesus. Not all of us have our sins and destructive behaviors so openly displayed for others to see. When my husband and I first visited Imago we were also put off by his weight. Who ever heard of a fat pastor? But we gave it a few weeks and I consider it providence that during that time he shared about his struggles. I would rather have a pastor who shares his need for victory with us than one who never has any need for our Lord’s help.

A sinner, saved by grace.

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posted September 25, 2011 at 9:33 pm

This is the first review of yours I’ve read, but I noticed immediately that your review started on Rick McKinley’s size, segued into his size, and end with his size. It’s not like your biased or anything, is it? From what you said, they offered you an interview at a later date than the day you attended, and you refused. Imago Dei is a very very big church. The guy is busy. The problem with the church that you’d notice if you stayed longer is that it is full of arrogant 20 something hipsters. McKinley is not part of the demographic, and he does a good job of discussing the Bible and dealing with the ego of the attendees. I attended this church a few times and left, not because of him, but because of the insufferable hipness and coolness of the attending flock, the groupthink, the shallowness. Rick McKinley, and his size, are not the problem. I suggest a little less bigotry and a focus on religious issues in your blog. Seriously, no decent pastor preaches for photo ops, and it’s rude to photograph someone during a sermon.

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posted June 16, 2011 at 11:34 am

Humility trumps fat. Too bad that the former was not perceived, while the latter was. Pastors can learn from your words if they’ll lay their defenses down long enough to hear them.

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted May 30, 2011 at 12:07 am

Yeah. Where’s my ring, bitch?

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posted May 28, 2011 at 7:18 pm

When did you get married to Joel? Curious how that was assumed.

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Elizabeth Sloan

posted April 25, 2011 at 11:56 am

I haven’t filtered through all of the comments, but FYI, Imago Dei isn’t affiliated with Foursquare. They are actually affiliated with CB Northwest (Conservative Baptist).

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 14, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Thanks, Annie! This is a SUBJECTIVE blog about me and Joel going to church and writing our first impressions. I hope we can continue to scandalize you!

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posted April 14, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I see a lot of folks basically saying “I don’t like what this blog is about. I’d like you to write with perspective on this subject please.” Here’s the beautiful thing about the internet: EVERYONE can have their own blog! If your comment is really a proto-blog analyzing church from your own perspective, then START IT and tell everyone where you went so others can follow. It’s pretty obvious there’s a call for another voice going on because so many of you want *this* blog to be about something else. Personally though, I’m coming here to be a bit scandalized. I guess that’s just how I roll.

Also, related:

“Why wasn’t I consulted,” which I abbreviate as WWIC, is the fundamental question of the web. It is the rule from which other rules are derived. Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that as effectively.”

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posted April 14, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Thanks Ashley!!!

I was waiting for someone to mention that the author is completely disregarding the fact that Rick DID say that sometimes people have to have Sabbath on another day due to work, but the important thing is to have a time each week where you try to listen and experience God.

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posted April 14, 2011 at 11:01 am

After reading this blog post, I don’t have a clear picture of why you didn’t like this church. I’ve heard of imago Dei, but know nothing about it. This is why I Googled it. After reading your blog post, I still know nothing about it, except that the pastor is very overweight and you find that disgusting as well as an indication that he has serious emotional problems.

Based on your blog’s intriguing premise, I hoped that I would get some information that would help me know whether or not I want to visit Imago Dei or give it a wide berth. I didn’t get that information.

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posted April 13, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I find it very interesting that some of you and buying her perception of Rick and Imago Dei hook, line and sinker. I would encourage you to listen to the sermon she is referring to or any others, and please come to a service, and make your own conclusion ( (

Oh and to clarify, after the sermon I saw Rick praying with and taking communion with a young man. And the picture taking was distracting for Rick and all of us as well. Your husband came down the middle isle all the way to the front row. I was sitting on the far side and noticed him before Rick mentioned anything. We just aren’t use to seeing that so it took us by suprise.

Sundays at Imago Dei is a small part of how God is using us to serve and love this city. You may want to meet the single moms who are cared for, the homeless adults and youth that we serve and have meaningful relationships with, the refugee families that we mentor and tutor, those struggling with addiction that are growing stronger, adults and children that are experiencing the love of God for the very first time, the people who are able to receive free health and dental care that can’t afford it, the schools that we clean up each summer and provide mentors and tutors to, the thousands of people who now have clean drinking water and how God has worked in and through all of us!!!

I don’t need to defend Rick. I’m just sorry that you don’t see him for who he is: a loving and caring man that has helped so many people wrestle through their struggles and embrace what God wants to do in and through us to change this world.

We are a group of humble people who love God and want God’s love and grace to change this city and beyond. I am stoked to be a part of what God is doing in and through Imago Dei.

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posted April 13, 2011 at 2:29 am

Hello, Amanda. I have never attended Imago Dei, nor do I know anyone who goes there (I live in South Korea), but I did happen to listen to this very sermon this morning, and I have to say that I am shocked at the treatment you’ve given Rick McKinley here. His tone was not at all proud or self-centered, and you’ve completely misunderstood him if you think he said that Sunday is the Sabbath and not to do anything. He would certainly be a hypocrite if he had (and seriously, who isn’t?), but he said more than once that you don’t have to make your Sabbath a Sunday, and the entire pupose of his message is that we should pursue the Lord of the Sabbath, not lord the Sabbath over others. I also don’t think that his response to your request was out of line. As a pastor, Sundays are the busiest days of the week, and Imago Dei did offer to meet with you in the future. To me, he actually demonstrated discernment concerning what he was capable of doing and an open spirit in offering his time when he had more. In regard to your comments on his weight, I don’t want to beat the same dead horse on how they seemed mean-spirited, but I would encourage you and others here to remember that this man is human like the rest of us, yet unlike us, his world is much like a fishbowl. Are any of us so blameless that we could withstand the same scrutinization if we were in his situation? I think not. We would all fall hard next to the exacting standards of others with planks in their eyes. At least he has been up front about his struggles to his family and congregation – and this in addition to persevering in work that wins him insults, constant criticism, and the weight of suffering that comes with working in people’s lives on the behalf of Christ. That shows more integrity and obedience to God than we likely expect from ourselves. I, for one, praise God for His work through Rick. He is using him to communicate His love in an area that desperately needs to hear it, and isn’t that what church should be about? Hearing the Gospel and sharing it with others? Rick is just a servant – as we should we be. Are we doing our parts?

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posted April 11, 2011 at 9:47 pm

And another quote that may speak to what you’re trying to get across:
“Often I give off a sort of psychic stench to myself, I do not like myself at all, but out of stubborn pride I act like a man who does.”
~ Phillip Lopate, “Portrait of My Body”

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posted April 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Carl Jung says somewhere that we pay dearly over many years to learn about ourselves what others can tell at a glance.

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posted April 11, 2011 at 11:23 am

As someone that used to attend ID, I can’t disagree with Amanda’s reaction and assessment. I left for many of the reasons that were illustrated in this post. The church, in my opinion, is over-inflated and does possess a toxic dynamic that I couldn’t ignore.

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posted April 11, 2011 at 9:36 am

I watched the video and the impression I got was that he is depressed. Maybe a therapist and antidepressants would be a good addition to the prayer, love and support of his church family.
I was hoping to see something that contradicted what Joel and Amanda saw. While I didn’t see an egomaniac, I didn’t see someone who I would want to hear preach. I know pastors are human and imperfect, just like all us other shmoes, but he didn’t seem to be at a point in his life to bear the mantle of leadership.
Before I watched the video, I was meaning to ask a question. “Why can people only comment on someone’s appearance when they are well groomed, thin, toned and white?” Amanda got called out for commenting on the pastor’s weight. He is the figurehead of his church, a public persona. How he cares for and presents himself is fair game for commenting on. His tone of voice, his mannerisms, his choice of words, all fair game for people to publish their opinions about. It wasn’t a personal attack, it was a published opinion of someone’s reaction to him.
I also found it interesting that he said, point blank, that his weight is an outward manifestation of his sin that is obvious to everyone. Amanda said that she knew there was a reason for his weight and she was right. He said he was eating because it made him feel in control and that he ate when he felt hopeless. I just wish he followed that up with a solution besides the ambiguous, “Jesus and I are working on it.” Oh, and the video? It was made in September 3, 2009. Over a year and a half later, he’s still in the same place. Leading by example is obviously not his strong suit.

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Laura aka LaLaGirl

posted April 11, 2011 at 4:07 am

I am embarrassed, but not by my “hidden shame” – more by the intolerant, judgmental comments from the “real” Christians. That self-righteous smugness is what turns people away from churches and what truly gives Christians a bad name. I am so thankful to have an amazing church home where my family and I are accepted and welcomed.

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posted April 10, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Those whom are the most offended by your reaction and experience are simply embarrassed. They’re defensive because a halogen beam was directed at an area of concentrated shame they attempt to keep concealed. When these truths are brought to light, the typical response is one of irrational anger and verbal temper tantrums. Though, I’m very happy to see that there are some genuine Christ-followers that -although they may disagree- are compassionate with their responses and (surprisingly) understand your rather accurate assessment of ID and it’s gluttonous “pastor”. The commentary from Mike H is couldn’t have been put better. It’s so entirely true… and those that are a part of ID or other similar churches would be wise to adopt this humble understanding. For these very reasons, I am a part of the Bridge family (come visit again!).

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posted April 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm

So, I don’t usually comment on blogs because I’m not really into arguing and flailing around with no real hope of convincing anybody of anything. I have heard Rick talk many times. I did not hear the service that you visited but maybe he had an off day or something, I don’t know. At any rate, I hope that you will take a look at this link. He addresses the weight issue. I hope that you won’t hold the format of the video against him but just hear what he says. I as a “fat” man, had a whole new respect for Rick after I saw this.

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Mike H.

posted April 9, 2011 at 9:14 am

Jesus doesn’t demand perfection, and because we are sinful by nature, we are incapable of reaching it anyways. My comments weren’t meant to say that a pastor, or any Christian for that matter, has to be perfect in order to be a Christian. But at the very least, someone who is not a believer should be able to recognize that there is something different about a Christian because they are cognizant of their fallen nature and have begun the lifelong process of reconciling themselves with God. Acknowledging that fact alone should produce a humility that is unmistakable.

With respect to the critique based on the pastor’s appearance, I really have no defense.

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Mike H.

posted April 9, 2011 at 9:07 am

If what you are saying is that the “fruit” in an individual’s life is relative (“based on their narrative”), I agree to an extent. A very close friend of mine spent years in the addiction cycle. In the last three years of his life he had cleaned up considerably and was sober in his own mind because, in his own words, he “was only drinking and smoking pot.” Relative to his prior self, he was indeed sober. But he wasn’t truly sober. My perspective of his self-control was different than his, but it was clear that while his self-control had improved, he was not what anyone would consider a self-controlled individual. In other words, regardless of where a given individual is at on their journey towards some ideal, such as humility, there is an ideal that is not relative. And like Potter Stewart, we know it when we see it. Conversely, we also know it when we don’t see it, which is what the authors experienced.

As for my comments on the consumerist appeal, that was meant to be more of a critique of it than an endorsement. In my view, the church, especially in America, has done itself a great disservice by doing exactly what you say, making Christianity a consumerist reality. I think “middle-class country club Jesus” describes it best.

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 9, 2011 at 12:27 am

I know you’re right, this post WAS dicky, but so was this pastor.

I would NEVER even begin to think negatively about your weight OR Paul’s a) because you’re freaking gorgeous and that’s the first and probably only thing I’d notice and b) we’ve never met, but you both absolutely REEK of kindness. This guy… This guy did NOT. He reeked of meanness and self-loathing. Again, I had no problem with his appearance, but what I (admittedly based on my own baggage) perceived about his mental health because of his morbid obesity. He just… wasn’t healthy. Not in mind or body. Which made it exceptionally difficult for me to buy his sermon.

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posted April 8, 2011 at 11:32 pm

I am so glad you are doing these visits and writing your impressions & opinions. We Christians need to hear this – because it’s coming from the perspective of an outsider. Most times someone comes to visit and then leave and never speak to anyone or write the church and we are left not knowing why they never returned or what we did or didn’t do to run them off. Good stuff. I thought your analysis of the pastor’s weight was spot on. I have been very overweight myself and you describe the reason perfectly. It is a lack of love for self. I did lose weight (72 pounds) and I credit it to the Holy Spirit who produced abundant self-control in me. Someone who purports to be called to the pastorate must first preach to himself before he can preach to his congregation. Gluttony is a sin – a sin of the lust of the flesh, a sin of lack of self-control, and a sin of sloth all rolled into one chubby package. It is no different than a pastor wearing a girly magazine around his neck while behind the pulpit. It is a sin that cannot be hidden. If his congregation loves him, they will step up and surround him with support and encouragement, not condemnation. And, if he loves (because Jesus first loved him), he will accept their concern and support.
God bless you as you continue to visit the local houses of worship.

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Laura aka LaLaGirl

posted April 8, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Hey, Amanda! I read this post moments after you published it and it popped up in my FB feed. I was STUNNED by it. I’m not sure what you took out, besides the comparison to Dave. (Actually, never mind. I re-read and I see that’s still in there.) I’m stunned, because – I never perceived you to be such a fat hater! I mean, dude – I know your marriage failed for a thousand reasons, but was one of them *really* the fact that your husband was overweight? Why did you stick that in there? Also, isn’t it safe to assume that had it not been for your gastric bypass surgery, YOU would be 300 pounds? You were LUCKY to have that surgery – I’m sure millions of people would benefit from it, but it’s completely out of reach for a lot of them. I personally have Kaiser, and they don’t even begin to cover it in Colorado. I just…I dunno. I know it’s the pastor you’re talking about here, but I still feel like…if you and your man happened to pop into Denver and meet up with Paul and me for a beer, would you have a whole dialog going in your mind about how much self-loathing is going on in our lives, since we’re both fat? Would you be smack-talking my outfit later on? I mean, I’d like to think you wouldn’t, but…is that because we’re friends? If we stopped talking, would you start calling me an angry fatty? You just seem like the last person I’d ever think of who would write an insulting blog post about somebody and base half of it on their weight. That seems really dicky, and I just was REALLY surprised to read it. I’m thankful that you got healthy, Amanda, because it sounds like you DID have a lot of self-loathing and personal pain you were dealing with that led to your weight issues. I don’t think it’s that way for everyone, though.

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posted April 8, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Funny, Amanda, I thought this blog was about you finding your spirituality and a place to belong. Good to know that I was wrong. Everything seems so much clearer now that I know from whence you come!

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posted April 8, 2011 at 4:46 pm


Jesus doesn’t demand perfection, Christians should be striving for those things but failing at one, many or all of them doesn’t mean someone is a bad christian.

As far as the service they are providing Amanda admitted to having a prejudice regarding the pastor based on how he looked and the fact they didn’t make room in his schedule for her. At my last job we had a wall of fame we posted out there crazy, or incomprehensible complaints. I’d think this review and several others on the site would be viewed the same way.

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posted April 8, 2011 at 4:46 pm

I was wondering when someone was going to mention Jim and Casper! It is about time. Thanks Jilly.

Well, as usual, Amanda (not Joel so much- he actually seems to know what he is talking about sometimes) does zero research on her ventures and that is evident in the fact that, yes, the atheist/agnostic going to church thing has already been done. However, Jim and Casper were national, vs A & J (but that is because they are broke and can’t afford to go anywhere else), who are regional (although, with the cost of gas, booze and cigs, well, I wonder how long they will be able to keep it up).

Perhaps they derived this idea from that, because they can’t come up with an original thought on their own. I mean, grief, they were asking for church ideas just a couple of weeks back. You would think that if this was a serious project, they would have had it nailed down.

I, for one, read only for the comments. :0)

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posted April 8, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Erg…sorry, that was way longer than I thought it was going to be… :)

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posted April 8, 2011 at 2:30 pm


I think on the whole, I would agree with you, but I would push for a bit more clarity regarding your terminology. The consumerist, market-based flavor of your assessment certainly works in its own way, but we would do well to check our definitions a bit. You cite a Bible definition for the ‘fruit of the Spirit’, but you locate the definition of those particulars in the perceptions of others. Is that really fair? I mean, we all do it on some level, but…? It seems like we ought to look at the Bible for what those things specifically look like, right?

Let me give an example: My son severely objects to my ‘self-control’ as his parent in not buckling under the social pressure produced by his muscle-tone-less-toy-aisle raving. He wants a car…desperately. His perception of my self-control is not my own, and there is not an agreed upon definition. But, I do believe that I am in the right and that his definition could stand a bit of adjustment. Whose definition is more valid? Why? Those are surprisingly difficult questions to answer.

Ok, so how does the Bible define those ‘fruits’? Even that is not so easy. If we look to the Bible to define those categories for us, then we would need to invoke the whole narrative as well because it is the context wherein the particulars are understood. This is not to blindly accept it as ‘truth’ but simply to say that if we would take this beyond mere opinion and actually have a real dialogue about another person’s faith, we must force ourselves to assess folks on their own terms and within the coherence of their own narrative framework. How do they understand __________? Why does it make sense to them? How, according to their belief structure, should _________ be lived out?

Everyone has ideals which they reach for, but I would wager that there are paltry few in history who could honestly say that they manifest those ideals perfectly and coherently. There is plenty of room for criticism regarding hypocrisy in a particular moment, but to assign the label ‘Hypocrite’ is a different animal altogether.

This is all to say that there is something different going on than mere consumerist appeal in religious experience. While the ‘outsider perspective’ may prove valuable in some ways as you’ve presented, as ‘market-research’ or whatever, religion is hardly a consumerist reality at its core. We would do well to reflect on how we understand things like love, joy, peace, forebearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, right? How did we decide what those things look like? Are our definintions right? To praise or condemn on the basis of perception and consumer appeal simply evades the deeply metaphysical and existential realities which are at work in religious thought and experience. This, obviously, is an idealized presentation itself in some ways, but at least it might offer us something to judge our own practice against. Do I really seek to understand other people at this level or am I content with much less? Am I really doing that person justice, or even myself?

No doubt you will object to my taking your post WAY TOO FAR, but if that is, indeed, the case, I think that would only prove my point. I don’t know you well enough to assess your words properly, and you don’t know me. How could we possibly be able to know the depths of real, personal transformation in someone else’s life over the course of three hours…or a blog post?

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Mike H.

posted April 8, 2011 at 9:59 am

I welcome all forms of charity. Especially the hoppy kind.

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 8, 2011 at 9:56 am

Thanks, Ronda! I keep wondering why everyone is so annoyed about my first impressions. That’s what this blog is about!

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 8, 2011 at 9:54 am

Can I buy you a beer, Mike? Because THANK YOU. You nailed it.

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Mike H.

posted April 8, 2011 at 9:42 am

Galations 5:22-23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The Bible teaches that these 9 characteristics are the “fruit” of someone who is truly following Christ. If these are not manifested abundantly in the individuals or the corporate body of a congregation to someone who is not a Christian, then something is wrong. A life truly transformed by the Christian experience will produce something different than what can be seen in the lives of non-Christians. So, if readers are concerned that the authors are only attending these churches to ridicule and mock what they see, read the blog post on The Bridge.

I believe the authors are doing the Christian community of Portland an invaluable service by providing them with a truly independent and outsider view of how they appear to those they profess to reach; the lost/unsaved/heathens/insert-your-favorite-euphemism-here. Think of it as a secret-shopper for churches, except the church does not have to pay a large consulting fee, they get a head’s up when they will be visited, and are provided a chance to meet one-on-one after the services. Considering how many modern American churches have decided to operate their churches like corporate conglomerates, you would think this blog would be embraced as market research.

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posted April 8, 2011 at 9:32 am

Amanda, I’m sorry, but I take issue with these people that sit here and say that you ‘shouldn’t go off your first impression’! What in the world do they think you’re supposed to go off of?! I mean my word! if you go somewhere and the people aren’t welcoming, act weird, say dumb wrong things and act UN-Christian, then why the rip would you wanna go back?!?! You guys did a review of one of our churches… The Apostolic Lutherans? The Beige sermon? 😉 And there were people on Facebook saying the same thing. She’s going off her first impression. YA THINK?! I believe that we are supposed to be a LIGHT to the WORLD, which I think you would classify yourself as being from the world right? Being you’re an Athiest? Anyway, if you come to a church -ANY church and you have a bad or mediocre first impression, I personally think that the one people should be getting mad at is THEMSELF. Of course, I also think that you need Jesus. I think EVERYBODY does, but getting mad at you for giving your honest first impression is bogus and dumb. Sorry if this sounds all jumbled and weirdly written, but I’m a jumbled weird person myself, so I guess that makes sense. 😀 All in all, I do agree that being that you had weight issues, that would give you more right to talk about someone else’s weight. But I do agree with the people that said that that had nothing to do with the sermon or anything. But then again, the color of our pulpit and preachers doesn’t have anything to do with anything either. But it’s an observation! Sheesh, if I had somebody that was unkempt and overweight dancing around in front of me that would probably stick in my mind too! I’ll shut up now. :)

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 7, 2011 at 10:27 pm


I’d say it’s a combination of both – I want to understand AND I enjoy the absurdity. For me it depends on who is doing the talking. You, for example? You could bible thump me into next Tuesday and I’d love every minute of it because I respect the hell out of you. I wish I could say that for all the Christians we’ve met…

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Carrie Petruska

posted April 7, 2011 at 10:15 pm

I just wanted to say thank you for continuing to do this. Regardless of response.

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posted April 7, 2011 at 7:51 pm

If you’ll excuse the pun; Amen Elizabeth.
For the record: the Book Thing on church has been done. Although, Jim & Casper Go To Church may not have the same snarky quality that Amanda can offer. I could be wrong.

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posted April 7, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I made a comment early and said Jesus would have made time for you guys, but a friend of mine (who’s father is a pastor) said the same thing Elizabeth just said about meetings and families, including that if her dad did say yes to every meeting she’d never see him and also added that our pastor’s aren’t Jesus. So while I was right to say Jesus would have gave you His time, I shouldn’t have compared a pastor to Jesus. We’re human and we’re flawed. We strive to be Christ like but it’s impossible to actually BE Him.

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posted April 7, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Seriously, THAT was your edited version? It still made me sick to my stomach. While I hate to waste any more of my time on your malicious, slanderous post, I hate to think the last 10 minutes were a complete waste of time. Of course wouldn’t experience God at Imago when all you were looking for was someone to berate so that your small audience would remain entertained by your snarky cynicism. And really, critiquing the pastor about his weight? That has absolutely nothing to do with the religious experience, and it’s a cheap shot taken by someone with nothing else to say. For the record, Imago has 3 services on Sunday (each about an hour and half long for a total of almost 5 hours), and Luke and Rick have meetings to go to and families to be with, so excuse them for not taking the time to be immaturely attacked by you in person.

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jen zug

posted April 7, 2011 at 5:07 pm

I never know when or if to address the theological issues you bring up. You often reflect on what you hear a pastor say at any given church, but have also stated you’re in this more for the experience than the theology. Or maybe Joel said that. I honestly can’t remember and I’m high on cold remedies at the moment.

At any rate, the Bible thumper in me wants to say, “But wait — LET ME EXPLAIN!” while the bloggy friend in me wants to sit back with my bucket of popcorn and continue to be entertained.

(Because this IS entertaining).

I don’t really feel that I need to defend Jesus, and I actually think some of your observations on the Church in America are pretty spot-on.

But there’s a verse in the Bible that says the Gospel is foolishness to those who don’t believe (my paraphrase). I mean, even THAT sounds creepy to me when I think about it from your perspective. But the point is, if you dropped me into the middle of a Buddhist service I would have NO context for what was going on, and I’m sure I would have all sorts of judgments about it.

So I guess I’m mostly curious re whether you *want* to understand all these crazy things you keep hearing, or if you just enjoy the idea that it sounds absurd. :)

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posted April 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Um, Amanda…that was harsh…but thanks for it. Good lord we need more honesty out of people. From what I can tell about your blog here you are trying to offer an HONEST opinion of each church you visit. I’d rather get your real thoughts then a toned down PC version…but thats just me.

I’ve never been to Imago Dei but have heard wonderful things about it. They seem to be very involved in the community, which is more than most churches can say.

I do love the fact that they were too “busy” to meet with you on the Sabbath but not smart enough to realize the hypocricy in the sermon. Classic Christianity in action.

For those keeping score…I am not obese nor have I ever been…and I pretend to attend a “sister” church of Imago Dei’s called The Well. I would put my religious status at “Questioning Christian”.

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm

I’ll address this in my next post, Ana. Stay tuned.

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posted April 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm

This is an edited post? I read it not long after you posted it (I think) and it’s the same now. At any rate-I’ve been trying to decide how I feel about this. Being an obese person myself-it’s hard not to cringe. I don’t think you’re implying that he’s a bad Christian because he’s obese. I think that you’re saying he should be somewhat apologetic about it-a in “hey folks, you can see that I’m not perfect, I’m flawed and Jesus loves me anyway!” type of attitude?

You say it wouldn’t bother you if he was fat and humble, instead of cocky and humble-but to me, the fat part means nothing. The cocky part-that’s what I would take issue with. No pastor should be cocky-and if they are coming off as cocky, they need to rethink their approach.

Quite frankly-I think i completely understood your disdain for this church and it’s pastor without any of the references to his weight. Like i said, I may be projecting my own insecurities over my own weight, but it just seemed unnecessary to your point. I think you just didn’t like the guy. Or maybe it was just that he really reminded you of your ex. IDK.

It’s too bad his delivery messed up his rant on keeping the Sabbath. I personally have gotten so irritated over how things have taken over Sundays which in my mind (old-fashioned, I suppose) should set aside for (mostly) church and family. I’m not so naive (I’m a single mom for crying out loud) that I don’t understand doing some housework or running a few errands. But it drives me nuts that so many sports activities are being done on Sundays. Tennis, soccer, basketball, etc . . . . . and in the morning. I know that not everyone goes to church-but why can’t one part of the week (Sunday mornings) be held sacred-whether it’s for church or sleeping in or getting your kink on with your loved one. We do way too much and are so over-scheduled. Downtime is crucial for mental well-being-even if it’s not “spiritual”.

Wow-I went off on that didn’t I? 😉 I’m done now . . .

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posted April 7, 2011 at 11:58 am

I don’t get why people think Amanda is on some spiritual quest to find God. Don’t people read the comments she makes like when she says that she has no interest in believing in God or knowing anything about him or that this is just an entertainment blog? When people tell you who they are you should believe them. Amanda tells us who she is all the time and is doing just that in this post where she once again makes fun of other people and uses them as blogging fodder.

Amanda says this Sunday she is going to the Portland Scientology Church because they are a bunch of “wackos” and “this is why I can’t WAIT to go. Crazy people make for excellent blog fodder.” Comments like this really sound like someone on a spiritual journey looking for a church to call home right?? Not so much!

Amanda writes “I have this overwhelming urge to screw this church project and just go back to The Bridge on Easter Sunday. I can’t, but MAN. I want to.” I don’t care if you committed to writing some “podunk little blog” (Amanda’s words, not mine). If Amanda’s spirituality quest were so important to her, I would think that would trump a “podunk little blog”. If the Bridge is where she feels at home, why not just go there instead of going to the Church of Scientology with a bunch of “crazy people for blogging fodder” (again, Amanda’s words, not mine).

Does anyone else see the disconnect here, or is it just me? The only reason Amanda is doing this is because they are hoping to write a book at the end to make money. She says so herself. So the spiritual journey part is not the priority here, the book part is. And that’s OK. But, she plays both sides of the fence and that’s the problem.

I’m really not trying to be a mean “hater” here or anything like that. I just see a person that is very disingenuous and have a hard time understanding how people can think hook, line and sinker that Amanda is on some spiritual journey when her words so often say otherwise.

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posted April 7, 2011 at 11:32 am

I’m not sure if I am reading the edited post or not, ouch that’s some personal stuff. I hate the word fat and don’t allow my children to use it in a negative describing way. It can be so hateful. I kind of get what you were trying to describe in the attitude you found there but it did come across very harshly personal. I think you are a much better writer than this post shows.
As one of your newer readers who did not know a lot of your past weight issues, it is kind of more shocking, I would have thought you would have had empathy on some human level.

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posted April 7, 2011 at 11:06 am

Wow…I want to see the unedited post! I think it sounds like a good read! I personally don’t get why people keep coming back to read this blog if they don’t like the OWNER’S opinions/remarks. I enjoy reading what someone honestly feels…good or bad. It isn’t my place to judge.

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posted April 7, 2011 at 10:00 am

“If Imago Dei means “Image of God,” then this church is pretty much screwed because the only image I saw was that of a short, angry, fat man with a bushy goatee and a chip on his shoulder.”
Wow. This is the EDITED post? I’ve really been enjoying your blog and have appreciated the insight you’ve had on your Sunday experiences. However, this one felt really judgemental.
Why do you assume that people think you’d like Imago Dei because they think you’re “cool”? Seems to me they thought you had an open mind and open heart to the project you’ve undertaken and you might enjoy the message. Contrary to what you said, I believe you had your sights set to not like the place before you walked in the door. (Which I haven’t gotten from your other posts – maybe I should re-read)
Why did you focus on the Pastor’s weight, shirt and his hair? What were you expecting in a “Hip” Church? Skinny jeans and a sweater vest? People – good and bad – come in all shapes, sizes, colors, hair types and fashion sense. It’s how God made us – all of us. Me, you, Joel, our kids: we’re all different – whether we shop at Target, or not. My favorite skinny jeans are from Target.
Didn’t Jesus call out the Pharisees for ridiculing him for working on the Sabbath – for HEALING someone? I believe Jesus’ point was “keeping the Sabbath” means using the Sabbath for good deeds and focusing on appreciation of all that God has created for us; not be bogged down in the legalism of it all. Isn’t that what this Pastor was doing?
If you and Joel had wanted 5 minutes of the Pastor’s time, you should have asked for 5 minutes of the Pastor’s time.
The red velevet bags: what would you suggest these churches use for offering? Would it feel better to you if they used reccyled, purple Crown Royal bags?
I believe God has you and Joel on this journey and I look forward to reading more of your experience.
Very Sincerely,
A Portland Palm Pilot for Jesus.

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posted April 7, 2011 at 8:39 am

Wow. Amanda, I’m disappointed. It seems like you had plenty to write about on this one without resorting to taking shots at the pastor’s weight. What’s sad is that had you not stopped so low, this would have been a compelling account of your experience. Instead you just come off as childish and petty. And by saying you didn’t like him on sight simply because of his physical resemblance to your ex-husband, you do nothing but diminish the credibility of your post even further. Don’t like the church? Fine… I don’t think I would either. But if you are going to rip it, at least use relevant arguments.

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posted April 7, 2011 at 6:48 am

I’m glad you toned it down. The first post was cruel and unnecessary. I know you have a lot of haters and I didn’t want to come across that way. I’m relieved someone found the words to gently encourage you to be less brutal.

In your original post, I only took that meanness away from reading this, not a careful look at that church. Good luck with your project.

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posted April 7, 2011 at 5:21 am

Thanks, Amanda — I really appreciate that and I’m really glad you edited the post (and that you’re writing this blog).

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johnny driver

posted April 6, 2011 at 11:23 pm

you just judged a church and a man’s character based on appearance and first impression. it makes me sad.. you should get to know Jesus.

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posted April 6, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Amanda, I thought you said that “you refuse to be edited ever again”. So I find it funny that you edit when people call you out on your cruel remarks. However, you still have so many insulting remarks about this guy and his weight, so I am not sure what you mean by “toning it down”. Also, for someone who claims to be so concerned about her kids reading things, I think your dig at your ex-husband is in very bad taste and really unnecessarily hurtful.

I didn’t see anything wrong in that email from the church. Joel’s email to them made it sound like you wanted an interview for something you were writing, like it was a business-type of meeting and not that you were looking to be a part of the church. The ministers were just busy that afternoon and had to decline. Nothing wrong with that. If they had more lead time, maybe things would have been different. Our minister is very busy on Sundays after church. That’s the busiest day of his week and he would need at least a week’s notice to make an interview appointment. I know that you probably weren’t looking for anything that formal, but your email to them didn’t make that clear. Or, maybe they looked at your blog and didn’t want any part of it. Can’t say I blame them if that was the case.

Taking pictures in church is definitely a strange and distracting thing. Not the norm at all, so I can see how that would be looked at as odd.

Also, just because you used to be fat (and had to have surgery to get yourself under control) doesn’t give you carte blanche to go after someone’s weight or to pass judgement on others because of it. You have no idea what is in that man’s heart and your references to his weight are really out of line. Besides, since you are pushing 200 pounds yourself (I can see that you gave up on your whole “Amanda P. Westmont is a runner” thing), you really have no right to make personal attacks on anyone for their weight – it’s just really rude.

Of course, I’ll probably get dismissed as well as some kind of troll or hater. But in reality, the troll in this post is you because of your cruel remarks.

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posted April 6, 2011 at 10:44 pm

As a strong Christian, if I’m being totally honest, I think a lot of the things you saw (and wrote about here) wasn’t you. I really and truly believe in my heart that God showed you EXACTLY what church shouldn’t be. I know my Pastors are busy and they have assistants, but I’ve NEVER felt that they were to busy for me, they email me back personally. I think you hit the nail on the head. Jesus Christ would have taken 5 minutes out of his day for you. He would have rescheduled His entire year if it meant giving you the time you needed.

Jesus would have giving you His time

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 6, 2011 at 9:22 pm


You’re right. That was childish. I toned it down a bit. Sometimes I click publish too soon.

Thank you.

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Amanda P. Westmont

posted April 6, 2011 at 9:21 pm


I took your comment very seriously and actually ended up editing my post. I meant to come across as snarky, not cruel and apparently I missed that boat by miles. Thank you for your honest, sane response and for making me think twice about my own words.

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posted April 6, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Eeeuuugh, I’ve been to churches like that. The more someone tells me I’ll like a “cool” church, the more I usually don’t. And not because I’m a church hipster who prefers small congregations or something, but just because that sort of attitude is exceedingly prevalent in popular churches. I don’t get it. Especially in a religion whose leader (aka Jesus, thank you very much) kept reminding people not to be complacent and think themselves the best. I dunno. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the humility thing — it’s super important to maintain humility as a church and a leader as the congregation grows. I’ve met ministers who think the success of a church is all about them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case here.

It’s very weird the preacher didn’t come to the post-service fellowship time (though at Imago Dei it sounds less like fellowship time & more like shill time). It’s super important that the preacher talk with people one-on-one to hear their thoughts, and take private prayer requests and basically remind them that he’s a person. :/ You can’t have a healthy church if the leader is one step above it all. Ah well. This could just be my experience talking, though, as I was a minister’s kid used to being the very last ones to leave on Sunday, because Dad made sure he talked to everyone.

I will say one thing, though — taking pictures during the sermon is actually pretty distracting, not just to the speaker but to the congregation. If I were in church and someone stood up and starting snapping shots, I’d be thrown off. I’m not surprised some people aren’t pleased about it, but the proper response from this guy should’ve been to ignore it.

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Mountain Phillips

posted April 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Not a Christian, nor have I ever been to Imago Dei but I am heavy set. Jesus Christ, this was harsh. After reading both of the articles on your blog about this church it sounds a lot like many other churches I have experienced. However, your unabashed anger and name calling is unprofessional and unfortunately childish. I wanted to enjoy your blog. I really did. And I just couldn’t.

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posted April 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Wow. Your comments about his weight are really mean, and also really irrelevant. There are a lot of reasons that people can weigh 300 pounds, and just because cheeseburgers and latitude and hiding had something to do with it for you doesn’t mean that’s true for everyone. And even if cheeseburgers and latitude and hiding are EXACTLY his problem, you shouldn’t attack the guy on those grounds.

Don’t like him, fine, but you’re weakening your arguments against him by commenting on his weight.

And please don’t dismiss what I’m saying as coming from a hater. I’ve disagreed with you a lot over the years and never said a word, because I like your writing, and I like that some of your ideas challenge mine. It’s your blog and you have the right to say whatever you want; I can stop reading if I don’t like it. But I did want to tell you that I found this truly hurtful.

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