Sunday, September 26, 2010

#193-Honesty (AKA an attempt at describing transparency, but incidentally ended up somehow concluding with a note about holiness).

3 short stories: Disparate and disjointed, but all in the name of unity, harmony, etc...

                      "Confess your sins one to another." 
                                                     -James 5:16

Citation: Semi-longer post like NAYC-version A. Meaning...Page Break!

And a song....a really creepy song with completely Christian message that really sums up what this post is going at (you will be weirded out and not realize how amazing it is until the last's about John Wayne Gacy. Serial Killer. And yes, I swear it's Christian.). Maybe not the song you want playing at your worship service. But hey, when's the last time you heard anyone sing about Song of Solomon for a worship song either?

<a href="">John Wayne Gacy, Jr. by Sufjan Stevens</a>


Preface: If you are not a long-time reader of this site, please skip first paragraph. The opening paragraph will probably make little sense as it is, but make even less sense if you have not been with us since at least February/March. 

    It was a few days after the great pastoral foray of Master Youth Rally 2010. A phone conversation of resolution. An agreement to kind of let the pastor (not my own) speak his peace to me about this very blog. Air his grievances, make suggestions. Improve this blog! He certainly meant well in all his efforts. Someone near to this pastor also tried getting me kicked out of UGST a few weeks previous, e-mails galore. Even to headquarters. All of the e-mails from an anonymous source. His name when he left comments on the site ranged from: "TR" to "anonymous." Intentions were pure though. It gets interesting. So weirdly interesting. Like "this just gets better and better with a dramatic climax through unexpected character twist" kind of interesting. Like anonymous source remained anonymous for a reason. All of it, done with the best of intentions.
                But I will cut to the meat of the matter. On the phone, this pastor who was not a fan of the blog, asked that I keep the matters I discussed on the blog to that of a pastor and his congregation. You know, like keep it on the down low. The stuff I was discussing, he thought were better suited to be handled within church walls, than on some blog site. Apostolic concerns should be left to concerned saint and pastor, and be left there. Walls don't talk. Blogs do. Just keep your thoughts to yourself, you know? He also mentioned that my name was being ruined in the process of writing my blog. If I had any ambition to move up UPC ranks, I  should cease my habit of blog writing at once. I thanked him for the suggestion.

           Now let me tell you about my room, and the giant mess within it. There are musty stenches, faded white t-shirts with yellow pit stains here and there, a gorilla mask on the floor, one soggy towel draped on my desk chair, a few emptied asthmatic inhalers, crinkled underwear, books scattered up the wazoo (because I want you to think I read). Half full mugs with week old coffee on my desk. Capri-sun juice box wrappers randomly thrown below the heaps of dirty clothes that are difficult obstacles to walk around (it's a daily maze of fun I tell you!).

      And all I heard this pastor in the phone conversation saying to me was, "you don't have to clean this mess up if you wan't to. Just do us all a favor and stuff it under your bed for the time being. And certainly don't broadcast your messy room on your blog." (Whoops).

    My friend, Elliott was describing how he requested to step down from his youth team. He hated though, how if he stepped down, everyone would talk. Say it was because he hated standards (It's not about standards). The reality was, he stepped down because he was having these thoughts. Real, honest, sincere, struggling thoughts. That he couldn't deny. They were alive and  demanding action. These thoughts seemed wrong. All wrong. The lies of the devil maybe? No, they were his thoughts.

About these thoughts....

A while back, a friend introduced Elliott to a Southern vixen. She was funny. Like sarcastic funny. Pointing fingers and laughing. Very easy going (she wasn't the "cut your face off with my fingernails when I get fickle" drama). She was also attractive. Sharp eyes, etc... (I would add details but I've never seen the girl to do proper service to a description and I am just trying to add to the image that this girl was a great catch). Elliott and the Southern Belle hit it off and the only thing slowing down a bright and blossoming relationship was the fact that Elliott lived in the Midwest, and the female of note lived in the South (obviously). The problem was she was openly backslidden. A child of the world now. But that's not the end of it. She had a morbid hobby he heard about from a third hand source. She liked taking the virginity of as many innocent UPC guys as possible (UPC being the denomination she was raised in). Seriously, is this not the sickest thing you have ever heard of? It's about absolutely true. She exists. She keeps count.

This was repulsive. Bite your finger as you cringe repulsive. So what does Elliot do? Obviously he should check out. Cease communication. Abort Mission.

But Elliott, our hero, was not eliminating communication. Texting continued. Plotting a possible hang out the next time the female was in town (I KNOW, RIGHT?!? This guy....).

His virginity however was not at stake. He was not going to lose his purity. His V-card would remain unused. No question about that (and if you knew him, he means what he says. Never complicates matters. When he says he will/won't do something, he abides by that verbal declaration. I believe him. You would too if you knew him. For the sake of this story, you should believe him).

So Elliott's thoughts. These terrible thoughts. They were there, swimming in his head. Telling him to text her. Pursue her. She was different! Not like the rest. The v-card was not up for discussion. Not in a million years. But why in the world was Elliott even still playing the game with her?

It was at recognition of this horrible paradox that made absolutely no sense, he realized he was in no position to be a youth leader. He thought he should step down. You may agree.

I Don't.

This, I argue is what we need in our youth groups. No, not those thoughts to continually texting a girl like that. She should not be toyed with. But rather we need the honesty of the struggle. We need to be the example. We need to be transparent. Before our youth especially. Telling them we are broken too. We are like you. We are Sinner. We are weird too. We also sniff our arm pits when no one's looking to make sure we don't have body odor. We are human.

That's not how our leaders are supposed to be though. They need to be cloaked in perfection. Leaders tend to tell the youth they are sinners too. But the difference is, leaders in our movement never say what those sins are. Leaders in their Christianity, must never admit perfection, but rather wallow in the nameless sin. They will sustain everything. We have a tendency to talk about God and at these moments, we forget our humanity. As if Jesus has always been in the sky and to be worthy to talk about him, we must present an image to our audience and ourselves that we deserve to be in that sky too. So we just keep the mess underneath the bed so other's don't see it. What does it matter if it's there? As long as others don't see it. Some argue this deception is a leadership necessity.

I'll tell them of the many stories I hear about where such leaders maintained this "hiding the mess under the bed" perfect image to the congregation, and slowly and surely, since the sins were hidden so well (never cleaned up), the leaders found it acceptable to increase the sin intensity. After all they were pastors. Accountable to no one accept God (Note: I know many pastors who do have accountability partners. Most actually. But at the same time we are in a day where pastors can easily work in their position without having one soul to talk about their messy room with.). Eventually the mess became too big to conceal. It came pouring out. Affairs. Alcohol. Drugs. Child Abuse. Nasty Stuff.

Let me clarify...All of this honesty of struggle that I wish Elliott would remain as youth leader about. Why it's a benefit to us:

Our youth, they see perfect leader. We are so far from perfect. They think they must be perfect too. And they are suddenly, one day in the backseat of a car. Making out. Oh yes, it's happening. You don't know about it. And there is that nightmare come alive. The night where he felt too much skin. Clothes may have come off. My God, the hormones, so demanding.

And there is this one guy finding another guy in his youth group attractive. He doesn't know what to do about it. He will repress it.

Yes, these things happen. They are happening. They know it's not right. They feel bad. "God, I'm sorry."

Tell no one. Maintain perfect image. Feel incredibly guilty when on platform. Sweep it under the rug though.

Backseat of car again. Naked pictures sent in text message. O God no. Yes, it's happening. There is an incident. Call 911. Call Jesus. Something is happening. We need help. Wait, no. That would mean they would be off the platform. People will notice. They will know. They will talk. Dirty looks. Embarrassment. So they choose to be quiet still. Hide the mess. Break up.

Hope to God you can pull through this (You can't pull through this).

QUick call. Hang out. What are they doing in the backseat again? Stupid stupid kids. Loss of virginity.

Tears. Buckets of tears. Now they must tell. that's the only way. Meet with youth pastor. Meet pastor. Meet with parents.

Go to altar. Cry a river like Justin Timberlake once instructed us to do. Get encircled by mass of saints praying demons out of you. Feel the weight of guilt upon you by the number of hands touching you here at the altar. Everyone is watching. Think about going home.  My God, is this life?

Wait three months to feel innocent again. People will start forgetting at about this time. Wait six months  before you can get on the platform. Think about what you have done. Now be perfect. Maintain perfection again. This time tell people it's real. You are perfect.

Oh there is so much of this. So many of us. Lovesick teenagers. We just wanted an innocent romance. Never the backseat of a car. But that's all we got. And we have no one to talk to. Only silent perfection to look at in church, preaching at us. We also have the altar to feel guilt at.

Help us. Seriously, Help us.

(page break. Click "

To: Elliot,

Stay a youth leader. Tell them about your struggles. Show them your blood is not glass. It's real and has struggles and needs the blood of Christ just as much as them. If not more than them.

Because, when you tell them about those thoughts. About how imperfect you are... I have this hope....Maybe, just maybe... If you talk about those stupid thoughts. Of still wanting to text that Souther Vixen. They, in response, will talk to you. Tell you about the first make out. Before it gets too far. Before the virginity is lost. Before the tears even start. This could happen. This should happen.

From: Joel

To: Leaders. Readers.

Telling us you are a sinner means nothing to us, if you wear a pretty mask. It just makes us want to wear our own mask. Which we will shiver so violently behind in fear that someone will find out about the monster we really are. Fear will define our relationship with God. Do's/Don't will be Christianity to us. Primarily we will focus on the don'ts Because if we get caught doing the "don'ts" you will find out about our mask. We need to be perfect.

Teenagers are tempted. Tempted a lot. What a travesty if we form an environment that let's them carry this burden alone in the backseat of a car where necks are kissed and tongues punch. 

It's not too late. Show them the mess. Not that the mess is to be worshiped. But rather through your mess, you let them know that messes are not indicative of a freak show. Rather, messes, bedrooms full of messes are quite natural since the fall of Adam. You also show them that messes can be overcome. Messes will be overcome when we start being honest about them. Because the blood of Christ works when we acknowledge the mess. Stopping the countless attempts to put them underneath our beds. We need this. You need this.

"Confess your sins..."

From: Joel

In Hebrews, Lot is called righteous. He also impregnated his daughters in a bout of drunken buffoonery. This is not a secret. David: adulterer/murder super combo. Moses and Paul: murderers. Peter: Christ denier. Legalist. Noah: Drunkard. Nudist. Solomon: Idolater. Job: Blasphemer. Jacob: Liar, thief. Such messy people.


It was midnight. Last Saturday night. My pastor and I were talking on the phone about a verse in Hebrews and it's implications. Theological discourse to each other. Ironing sharpening iron and all that jazz. I was kind of disagreeing with the argument he was making. More so disagreeing with the author of Hebrews more than anything (it seriously was not anything heretical). We were wrestling with the text. Soaking in the moment. God was there in the midst. I could feel him smiling at us. Probably a wink  too. My heart was skipping. I adore talking about the bible. This is life. This was real. I would have hugged you if you were there. Thankful for you. Thankful for it all.

And somewhere, in the conversation...I don't know why I brought it up. I remember not hesitating at all to mention what I did. It just kind of came out. No, "flowing" is a better word. What I said, "flowed" out so effortlessly. Naturally. I described to him about these cold, hard days I have that happen every so often. A funk I get wrapped up in where I question the existence of God. Maybe not His existence, because I think there is some solid cosmological arguments that He exists. But rather question that the God I believe in, revealed as Jesus of Nazareth crucified and resurrected, is the God of the universe. I wonder at this point if life is a big a joke, a funny ha ha without any meaning whatsoever (C.S. Lewis admittedly had such days as a believer if that helps in the shock). Dark, Doubting days. They happen. I feel empty then.  I don't get depressed when these thoughts come. No. It is more like those times when you realize you are in a nightmare in your sleep and you just have to wait the anxiety out until you wake up. Of course these funks are rare. And almost always I gather myself my looking back to those moments of my past when I would feel God's presence so thick and mesmerizing. Those times when he revealed himself just as real to me as you are right now to yourself at this very moment. These moments with God, when He was there. They sustain me when I am not sure He is there. And upon such reflection, I usually get on my knees. Pray. Pray in bankruptcy. Sometimes he answers, and is there as well embracing sickly, messy, agnostic me. Other times when I pray amidst doubt, I feel like I shot an arrow aimed at the heavens and it hit a steel ceiling and the arrow came rushing right back down to the earth in stone silence. Embrace or silence, what matters is at that moment I am on my knees and I believe.

Back to the story....

I told my pastor about these dreadful moments of questioning my entire existence. Didn't blink about the confession (I did however hesitate to bare this confession to you dear reader, but I have faith that even if many of you sit in disbelief about my confession, there are a few unknowable readers out there who do  sympathize with me and it's to you I write). Anyways, I can't tell you how awesome that moment was in that phone conversation with my pastor. It wasn't even like a serious phone conversation or anything. Discussing Hebrews, and then pow....I am being transparent. Baring myself and my messy room to my pastor, my guide, without guilt and condemnation. If I was on my platform, I had faith he wouldn't take me off it. Because he knew that we are all sinners. Humans. Falling short of the glory of God. No one with more of a claim to God's righteousness than the other. He is even letting me teach on occasion. Not as a reward for my existential plights, but rather in spite of them.

Mercy. Sweet, thick mercy falling down on me. On him. Through it all. Through the mess. In that phone conversation.

I am telling my pastor about my messy room and he can help me clean it up. Throw the garbage away where it belongs. Organize better. Put stuff back on their shelves. No time to stuff the mess away.

Seriously wish you were here right now with me in the park I am writing this in. The sun is burning in it's fading  hours before sunset. If you were here, I would hug you. Messy you. That is, if you'd be willing to hug semi-smelly, disheveled, awkward me. And if you feel so inclined we could eat dinner with prostitutes and tax collectors, and Quaran burning conservatives, and baby killing democrats. Because....well....I know of a man who did just this kind of thing back in His day. He flourished amidst the messiest of people of his day. He wasn't there to please pretty perfect people. It's Him that I believe in. It's Him who died for despicable, doubting me. I hope you believe in Him too.

Because, this kind of thing. Hugging the mess, eating with prostitutes, calling short Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree. It can't be imitated by the world. The world doesn't understand such an invitation whatsoever. It's completely separate from anything they can imitate. The world, sin, pride, all of it, wants to think itself more valuable than it really is. That is, it pretends to be something it is not. When in reality, it's worth is zero at most.

Christians separate themselves by doing the opposite then: Being honest and true to what they are left to themselves: Messes of contempt.  The masks are off. Hideous creatures we are. And as Spirit filled children of God with a little monster continually being warred against, it's our duty to lend a hand to those who know fully well that they are not pretty perfect people. And in this, our rooms get cleaned, because the Master Cleaner is leading the way. As long as we are not stuffing the mess under our bed hidden from Him.

The world can't stomach this transparency. That is why such a way is distinct from the world. It's so Holy. Jesus, the most Holy, led the way and reached for the most decrepit of people. The ones who don't pretend that they were just half-sinners.


  1. I will say Joel for the first half of this blog I was like..."Come on enough of the Anti UPC already". But as I read on that fact that you became very transparent to the possible displeasure to some was incredible.

    For 9 years I was a youth Pastor and I told the young people over and over to be real with Jesus. If life sucks TELL HIM! if you are struggeling TELL HIM and be specific. No matter what it is be real with him. It's not like he is going to be shocked that you told him. (Part of the bonus of not growing up in the Church is I have used his grace and mercy so many times I dont have that fear of someone thinking differently of me. It's about Jesus. NOT ME. The only opinion I care about is my Pastor's and that's it)

    There is a part in the song "What a friend we have in Jesus " where the lyrics say this:

    Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
    Oh, what needless pain we bear,
    All because we do not carry
    Everything to God in prayer!

    It's so true. Take it all to God. Doubt, Fear, Anger, Hurt...endless list of stuff.

    We are human no matter who you are in the kingdom of God. Yes some have victory over many things of the flesh and of this world but no one has reached a level of perfection. Though I don't agree with spilling your beans to everybody about everything but being able to go to the man of God or the youth pastor without possible rebuke and removal from ministry or platform is a must. I could tell you hours of stories that I had to deal with. Now if someone falls into sin there is a season of repentance and renewel which could or would depend on possible consequences but the one who fell should have enough integrity to step down for that season and the pastor should have so much love, kindness and longsuffering that the one who fell would be able to walk the path of restoration.

  2. This is my favorite of your posts to date. So beautiful and honest! Although I do enjoy the snarky posts, this rang true within my own heart, and is something that I have recently been wrestling with. Thank you for your candor. I've always thought myself an honest person, but like the people you've described I find myself claiming imperfection albeit through the holes of a pretty mask. Bravo, and good luck cleaning up your room too! (Ewww!) :D

  3. Great thoughts Joel, love your blog. Mercy, sweet thick mercy falling down on me...I may have to put that in a song. God bless you.

    Steven Parent

  4. you just preached to me. even when I don't go to church, church comes to me in the form of this blog. now for the altar call... (youtube)... talk about "do all You can to anoint my head."