Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#259-Balancing Sports And Jesus

It’s so hard to be a Christian in the West Coast Time Zone.” –Daniel Tosh

We’ve all been there. The sermon is good, but it’s dragging on a bit. You check your watch. You say things in your head to your pastor that you only wish were out loud:
 “Ok Pastor, wrap it up. Kick off’s in 30 and if there’s traffic I won’t get the brat’s on the grill in time, and then I’ll have to watch Stuart Scott and try to figure out which way he’s looking, effectively killing my appetite.”

The sermon continues without your consent. You start to fidget. You catch an elbow to the ribs from The Misses. You enter into a *Stare-down.*
You then hear those golden words from the pulpit: 

“Musicians please come.”

YES! Altar call! Now all you’ll have to do is mouth the words to Jesus I Love You, close your eyes and sway for five minutes and it’s off to see Matthew Stafford either get carted off the field or break a record for most passing yards in a game. Either way you will be screaming at the TV soon. 

But wait. We aren't done here. That man is still preaching. You check your watch. Another ten minutes. He’s. Still. Preaching. You think, “It’s cool, I’ll do the brats at halftime.” Still. Preaching. That man who was once your pastor should consider what his drive to work will be like tomorrow when his tires are slashed. Thank God you just thought that silently in your head. It doesn't even matter. The sermon lingers on like a horror movie monster that just won't die. Your other half is no help here. She cherishes these moments. Her sinister smile at you let's you know she's in on the racket with the pastor. They both want you miserable. They want you to miss football. You try to stay calm. You tell yourself, “Nothing ever happens in the first quarter anyway.” Still. Preaching. “If he’s not done in ten minutes we’re leaving.” Fifteen minutes later: Still. Preaching. “That’s it. I’m backsliding.”

I really love the church I spent the last six years at before moving to Cali. It's a megachurch so sermons run 25 minutes, tops. This isn't a coincidence. If you weren't good with logic in school, what I'm saying is that the secret ingredient to having a ‘megachurch' is 25 minute sermons. 

Reason being, do you want to go to the church with the 45 minute altar calls or the one with a congregation of season ticket holders?

Personally I’ll take The United Church of All Hail Tom Brady for $500 Alex. When my church went to one Sunday morning service they might as well have put a marquee out front that said, “Love sports? Come here! 11 AM Sunday Service, so even when that unexpected tongues and interpretation forces altar call into Overtime you won’t miss a second of Regulation!” It was euphoric. Church-wide Superbowl parties. Watching every game of the Stanley Cup Finals. That is, until the old people got nostalgic and started scheduling night services once a month, to which I replied “Well you guys have fun with that, ok, bubye now.. To Buffalo Wild Wings I go!”

Once we had an evangelist preaching at our church. He was on the time-schedule of a different demographic. A demographic from a different era. An era with only 3 shades of gray. A demographic that oddly believes the longer the sermon, the more God will move at altar call. This is a lie from the depths of hell. Anyways, sixty-minutes into the sermon he gleefully announces, “I’m halfway through the sermon.” We thought it was a joke. Forty-five minutes later we wished he were joking. The Red Wings were in the playoffs. I was grateful for the half of the third period I got to see.

The worst part of being a Christian and a sports fan is the torment of bringing the musicians up. You know what it’s supposed to mean. But it never really means what it’s supposed to mean. It’s supposed to mean “play softly in lieu of the impending altar call I’m making in 3…2...” What it actually means is “I see you fidgeting, so I’ll bring up the musicians to give you a false sense of optimism because first I have to wrap up the sermon for ten minutes, and then segue into the post sermon sermon, which will easily go another twenty.”

You put your head down and petition the Lord silently. You pray,  “Dear God, please let this coldhearted man wrap it up…” Your wife sees you praying and puts her hand on your back and prays softly with you. Well this is awkward.

The worst day of the year to be a Christian is Superbowl Sunday. I’m convinced pastors treat Superbowl Sunday like Santa treats Christmas. “Tithes are looking good? Check. All the volunteer work on the property is done? Check. The tenor section is looking a little skimpy today.
That’ll cost ya kick-off. Naughty naughty.”

I propose a solution. I propose we follow the model of grade school. I propose we implement ‘extra credit’. I had a few classes in school where, if you completed enough extra credit, you didn’t have to take the final. I propose extra credit is attending a prayer meeting. 

I’ll make a deal with you pastors. We men will go to two prayer meetings a month. In exchange we ask that church be cancelled on Superbowl Sunday. If that’s not enough we’ll make our kids in the youth group volunteer at the church for one Saturday a month and possibly two in the summers. It’s one Sunday that we're asking for here. 

I know, I know, it’s fun to make the same “I know it’s The Superbowl, I’ll have you out of here by halftime,” jokes every year, (Which, by the way, never get old. “ha ha oh pastor, you’re so relevant ha ha”), but I think we can call this one a tax write off. Consider it a donation to charity. I mean, we all know the reason church is never cancelled is because no church means no offering, and no offering means no one is going to save it for next time.

If this doesn’t suit you then have your people call our people. We’re willing to negotiate. Let’s make a deal.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

#258-Using fat preachers to justify your sins

Glen's gonna kill me for this one....

Confession: Stuff Apostolic's Like is guilty of the sins on this here post several times over. Today is the day we get real, and get right with the Lord... I'm so sorry.

At some point, we Apostolics will do the half-backslidden two-step of either going liberal and/or rebellious. We will sneak to the movie theater. The girls will wear seductive skirts just above their knees causing  us boys to go "whoa now" out loud but in our head we say "whoooo."  Our sexual pursuits will be more forthcoming. We will read Rob Bell and make Christianity all about God's love and his acceptance of us just as we are. We will learn new words like "Moderation" and "Tolerance" and we will think too much about the term "Godhead." When talking about God, the word "Grace" will spew forth from our lips at an astounding 4 times per minute. We will all have a secular band we secretly like. We will listen to rap and hip-hop way too much on the radio and hate that we have to turn the beats down when we pull into the church parking lot. We will pray hard and we will play hard. And that's that.

 But then there will come an occasion where our sins have found us out. We will be confronted by someone about our mischievous deeds. If they are for us, they will try to motivate us to do better. If they are against us, well good luck but everyone in the church will know about you and what you have been doing. When confronted someone may try to tell you that it was the Lord who told them what you had been up to. But be rest assured that if this is true.. we have a HUGE problem with God. Because if God whispers to church elders/parents about our playful sins to other people then God is just a tattle-tale. And no one likes a tattle-tale. And certainly no one should like a tattle-tale God. Especially when he could be just right over there in Africa, giving them a few cups of water and Tattle-Tailing on AIDS to a doctor so they can just get that disease done and over with. But no, according to our church ministers, God would rather tell them how one girl in the youth group wore pajama pants around her friends.

(Special Tip: Take this from personal experience several times over: When God tells someone about your sins, be rest assured that a vast majority of the time, "God" is the code-name for "Youth Group Gossip" who couldn't shut their trap. Usually they just make up gossipy rumors for the heck of it. No one knows why. And sadly, some of the guessing rumors will be true some of the time. 

The worst is when "Youth group gossip" girl starts feeling real bad about towing that "cover-up/make up" line and also sneaking out to see Twilight. She will sneak up under your scrutinizing gaze to the altar and start to cry and like tremble real gently and basically get all sincere with the Lord and may God so help you because you know the formerly-cool girl is just the type of BAD PERSON who won't be able to shut her mouth about YOU and EVERYONE ELSE that she saw do something a little inappropriate. It's not like she'll be confessing about what she just repented for.... but she may just find the room in her mercy-filled heart to go ahead and let everyone know that yes YOU have been driving your drunken friends to parties as a designated river... even though she came to one of those parties and got so drunk that she made-out with 1/3 of the high-school football team's O-line at the party saying "OMG, I've never been this drunk before...what am I doing?" to every guy she comes around and then proceeding to make out with them. In a separate incident she also made out with your friend's 14 year old little brother.... and yet there she is repenting and you very well know she doesn't have the integrity to keep her mouth shut about anyone else. 

Anything that she is not doing currently in her life, she will judge those who do it. This means if she doesn't read her bible, the  people that read their bible will be bible-geeks and laughed at. And when she stops wearing make-up she will tell on the girls that still do. She goes from most-uncontrolled Apostolic sinner to most-judgmental Apostolic in two seconds flat and in this light, it's almost impressive.

 Except it's not. Because people in church put up with her... since she has gone completely the right way and by "right way" she looks right and listens to only worship music in her car for the time being. She also tells a mean "I'm a victim and I have a depressing background" self-pity story that makes naive people feel bad for her. But don't be fooled... through and through she is just a BAD PERSON. And sometimes bad people are just bad people inside or outside of church.  

 Oh and she is going to Bible College next year  to just about wreak havoc on all those poor innocent momma's boys there, and may God help all of them. To he who survives, congratulations... she will be your pastor's wife. 

Anyways, long-story short... her codename is "God" when it comes to a minister pulling you aside and saying "God told me what you have been doing and we are thinking it's time you took a break from the platform and reflect on life a little. And I'm telling you this because I love you and not because I'm anal-retentive." I've seen this happen multiple times. We're all just human right? Who cares if we mix up God with "Youth Group Gossip?" 

So you get confronted about your deeds. And questioned. Possibly interrogated. At best, you can call it an intervention. You will find yourself sitting in a tiny concrete room with a small table and two chairs and a spotlight and nothing else. This spotlight will be focused right on your face and it's real bright and the man across the table will be smoking cigarettes and have coffee wreaking from his breath and he's asking how much you know. And your sweating.

Okay, it's not quite like that. But it's close enough.

Do you fess up to your sins?

The answer: No. Stick to your guns. Become the offense. Play the blame game. Because you have some tricks up your sleeve.

See Primary Excuse Exhibit A:

Fat Apostolics. Fat preachers. Unhealthy eating...

Tell them. Tell all Apostolics. Point out that "hey now, I may have a few skeletons in my closet but at least I'm ashamed of them. But you Apostolics, well no one around here seems to be pointing out that you get a whole belly full of sins. And I'm pretty sure gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. So who are you to judge me? We all got problems okay?"

So let us review the argument:
Accuser: You are sinning.
You:  There are fat people in church. 

Usually the accuser answers that maybe being fat is a problem and they know they need to be more healthy to respect the temple of God and what not. And perhaps Apostolics should be more outspoken against their little obesity issues....  and then they'll turn the table back on you and completely avoid your point.

And then you'll do the same. Everyone blaming everyone else to justify why their sins and their behavior isn't really that bad. And the liberal/rebellious type of people will say all they are guilty of is that they are involved with some allegedly illicit behaviors that they were raised to believe were culturally unacceptable but that sins are all kind of relative. You'll say people hate the sins that are most foreign to them and overlook/forgive the sins nearest to home.

And you are absolutely correct. Overeating is a sin just like making out with 1/3 of the offensive line at a high-school party.

But even though you're right, to even make this argument is just stupid.

Conclusion: Someone else's sin is never justification for your wrongs.

Because when someone says "hey your sinning" and you say "well your committing different sins" nothing has been established other than the fact that we are Fallen creatures and as fallen creatures we will forgive our own sins quicker than someone else's sins.

If you are one of those liberal types... let's agree to stop using fat people as an excuse to justify your misdeeds. If you're guilty, you are guilty. Paul does remind us that we are supposed to live as Christians according to our convictions. But this doesn't mean that if you don't think what you are doing is a sin that God is agrees with. Whether or not your heart convicts you about something doesn't determine what is right or wrong. But it's a start.

If you sin and know it's wrong, don't point to the pulpit and babble your lips that "there's a fat guy up there though." That accomplishes nothing.

If someone accuses you of committing sins that you don't believe are sins in your heart of hearts, then step-up and say that. Tell the accuser about Romans 14. Do not regret what the Lord has not placed in your heart. But also take responsibility for your own actions at the same time.

Pointing at fat people who judge others in their free time is just too easy of a cop-out. I'm not fat. But I know being fat is a tricky issue in terms of genetics and eating habits. God may indeed judge obesity, I'm not sure.  But at the same time I'm certainly not going to use fat Apostolic preachers as my crutch to justify my own failures. That's just being dull and lazy.

Here's a secret: Judgmental, Gossipy Apostolics are just bad people who mettle in the lives of others because they're really lonely & boring, and would rather look at everyone else's shortcomings than to have to face their own lonely/dull life. My advice to you is to not put yourself in conversation with them. You don't have to answer to them. There's just too many good Apostolics to get yourself caught up in an "Us vs. Them," whose a better sinner argument. If you start giving the bad Apostolics an audience by judging them for judging you, you may just start to confuse them as being the truth of all Apostolics. Which would be incredibly unfortunate and sad.

So stop using fat people as your object lesson okay?

Man-up if you're a man or lady-up if you're a lady about your behavior. If you think a rule is ridiculous just say that. Don't brag about it or put it in other people's face, but when all gets serious and you stand accused of wearing gender-confusing attire, tell the accuser, "hey man using Deuteronomy 22:5 is absolutely asinine and pathetic to justify the whole skirts/pants thing. For one thing, it's in the Torah which should be enough to throw the argument out. But also one glimpse at the Hebrew and a little exegetical research will tell you it's bad biblical scholarship to use that verse to defend the whole male/female clothing argument since that's not even what that verse is about. And sure you can wear what you want and believe what you want, but I'm not having it. So just toot your little horn all you want but I'm gonna like sit down right here and wear these capris whether you think it's an abomination or not. Because I'm god-fearing, and unlike you, I've done the homework."

And when they tell you that "okay buddy, you are so off the platform," accept it and shut up. Don't fold either. Also don't point fingers. If you are being honest about your beliefs and you think it's the Truth, there's no need to get in an "I am rubber you are glue, whatever you say about me bounces off me and comes back at you" kind of accusation session.

Besides, it's probably a platform you shouldn't want to be apart of anyways. Take exhibit A on the platform: The gossip-stricken 19 year-old girl that told everyone you wear capris, who made out with a 14 year old, who also was awarded a scholarship to bible college and rumor has it, has naked pictures of herself floating all up and down the Eastern seaboard.

Monday, August 20, 2012


*For the record, I know this isn't unique to Apostolics. I just have to get it off my chest. The comment cited as inspiration for this post was not left by an Apostolic, and was found on a Facebook page of a News Organization*

Tonight I saw something that bothered me. It didn’t bother me on a personal level. It bothered me as a person. As a human. As someone who shares this beautiful gift of life with billions of other ‘persons’. It bothered me to the point that, even though I am sitting on a film set, supposed to be working, the thoughts of angst consumed to the point where words began spilling out and I had no choice but to go get my computer and start typing.

Tonight the world lost a brilliant artist. Film director Tony Scott committed suicide by jumping off of The Vincent Thomas Bridge in San Pedro, CA. He was 68 years old. You know him as the director of Top Gun, Crimson Tide, Enemy of the State, Unstoppable, and many others.

Standing on set I opened Facebook on my phone and thumbed through the typical jargon, only to stop at the horrific words “Director-Producer Tony Scott Jumps To Death From San Pedro Bridge.” I showed our directors assistant. His face went blank. “I know his assistant. Oh my God.” Shocked whispers crept through our crew. It was a tragedy. We were stunned. Just a few miles away this great talent had gone on.

I continued to read updates. I wanted to know what happened. An article with more details was posted on a news site I frequent. I sorted through the comments. That’s where I came across this one:

(Note: Ms. Fargo is not Apostolic and left this comment publicly on The Huffington Post's Facebook Page)

I wanted to throw my phone into a wall.

Why? Why did this woman feel the need to make this statement? No article I’d read was putting Tony Scott in Heaven. No comments placed him there. No one was really even thinking where Tony is now. The man leapt to his death just eight hours prior, leaving his family undoubtedly stunned and grief stricken. So why did this woman, this ‘Christian’, not only feel that it was appropriate, but necessary to let us all know not to go saying 'he’s in a better place,' because he sinned and couldn’t repent.

I don’t care about the theology of it. I don’t care about the scriptural tug of war and semantic-loaded bantering debate of whether or not suicide is an automatic one-way ticket to hell. What I care about is the blatant arrogance and disconnection from humanity. Why is this ok?

Two years ago my best friends father met a similar fate. I’ll spare the details for his sake, except for one detail I’d like to focus on. The last morning his father spent alive my friend had a brief dialogue with him. He described it as eerie. Weird. His father wasn’t there. There was something different going on behind his eyes. He wasn’t the man that had raised him. A few hours later he ended his life. And no one could understand why. They still don’t. Because you never understand ‘why’. Unfortunately it’s a question we can’t answer. Doctors, psychologists, therapists, professors, counselors, ministers, newscasters, so-called experts, and many more make conjecture as to what it takes to drive a person to want to end their life. It’s something we can’t truly know because, most of the time, those who reach this point take it full circle before ever being able to open a dialogue about it.

The human mind is a vastly complex anomaly that we cannot begin to comprehend. We marvel at our creations, our complexities and our feats. Within our minds are the synapses that forge the blueprints for space exploration, energy sources, new means of travel, and far more than could ever be listed here. We’re not simple beings. And one of the grossest, most horrific injustices of the world in which we live is when humans detach themselves from humanity and seek to put simple explanations on incredibly complex things. It hurts to think about. It hurts to see.

About two years ago, after my church dismissed I went over to a friends church that my grandparents also attend. When I arrived there I found my grandfather, a man who hadn’t visited an altar in over thirty years, knelt at one, with tears streaming down his face, getting right with God. I called my mother. “Mom, you should turn around and come to grandma’s church. Grandpa’s at the altar. He’s talking to God.” She sped right over. It was a great day for my family. Fast forward two years. My grandpa is gone. He isn’t dead. But his mind is gone. He has dementia. He can’t remember his kids. He can’t remember me. He can’t remember yesterday. He isn’t there. He got upset with my mom recently, when she told him she was married with a son, and she no longer lives with him. He used some profanities. He became angry. But what gives his children comfort is knowing that he is not actually there. That isn’t their father talking. Their father is gone. Those words are coming from a deterioration process of a very complicated structure – the human mind. We choose, and we may be wrong, to believe that he will not be held accountable before God for the things he may say and do that would be considered ‘sinful’ because his mind simply is not there.

A few years ago a young woman named Traci Johnson, a happy, healthy, bubbly IBC student, was found hanging in the bathroom at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis. She had been paid to test an antidepressant called Cymbalta. The doctors, as is normal for testing these drugs, switched her to Placebo (a sugar pill) without telling her. The effect of this drastic fluctuation in the serotonin levels of her brain took this happy girl and caused her to walk into a bathroom and end her life. Did that action send her to hell? I don’t know. I’m not God. But my opinion is that it didn’t. She wasn’t herself. She wasn’t in her right mind. She wasn’t Traci.

Back to Mr. Scott. Just a few hours after the Los Angeles Port Police pulled him from the water this Christian woman already knew that he would spend eternity in hell. She is judge. She is jury. He is in hell. How can she know this? Because she knows all she needs to know. Suicide. The factors surrounding it don’t matter. His medical history is of no importance. His psychological health is irrelevant. He took his life. So he’s in hell.

I don’t really have anywhere to go with this. I just had to put my frustration into words. A man is dead. And I am sad. May God be with his family during the difficult days ahead. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

#256-Upgrading to be a Youth Pastor (A how-to-guide)

Consider Tommy Boy here. He's 17 and Apostolic and he's just itching for the youth pastor position that will inevitably open in a few years when the current youth pastor, Pastor Mike, either gets promoted to being an elder in the church or just gets all antsy once he realizes the real Pastor doesn't really have plans for him to become the next church's pastor and leaves the church in a cloud of controversy and accusation.

Tommy Boy wants that position so bad he can't stand it. And he's slightly fearful of the competition. His Apostolic peers in his church that are around about the same age as him and seem to all secretly be vying for that sacred position. No one says it of course.This is how the game goes. Tommy Boy knows it. And as for him and his peers, they all know the others are trying to veer towards that same sacred cow of being a youth pastor. They are all friends. They are all suspicious of each other. They all want the same thing. One of them alone will get the role. And one of them, "Soggy Bobby T" has a leg up on the competition. He is the pastor's son. Hate Soggy Bobby T. Hate him because he is always sweating when he prays and is always brandishing a handkerchief at the altar. Hate him because he is entitled. Tommy Boy would hate him but he knows that this would also be ministerial suicide. Instead he keeps his enemies closest and is thus Soggy Bobby T's best friend.

To be a youth pastor means a whole lot.  It means people will listen to you and look up to you. It means the entire world in terms of Apostolic Culture. It means headlining at youth rallies. and if you preach good enough and meet the right people and suck-up without making it obvious, you could preach youth conventions and special conferences all over the great land of the free, the United State of America. It also means girls. A lot of girls. It means you have your pick of girls when you are a youth pastor.  This is important.

So Tommy Boy, here's my advice to you... just a few rules to enforce to ensure yourself the role of one day becoming a youth pastor:

1) Have a bright future.

2) Make sure Soggy Bobby T gets involved with drugs or alcohol. The key is to deliver them personally or introduce to a view shady lads who have the hook-up. Do not tattle on Soggy Bobby T when he falls. If you did, the pastor will assume you are the enemy. It's paradoxical indeed. Just make sure he gets the drugs/alcohol. If you do it right there will be no need to tattle on Soggy Bobby T. He'll just about give up on caring about the ministry altogether and say mean things about the church. 

3) Do not take drugs or alcohol (see the predicament of Soggy Bobby T above for reason why you shouldn't.). Likewise, Don't get caught in the backseat of your car with a girl who you know is there just to control the urges and is in no way a viable candidate to be a youth pastor's wife. (For the female thing, notice that I said "Don't get caught" and not "Do not end up in the backseat...."

4) Pray longer than all your competition at the altar. Note: You don't have to pray harder than the competition because hard prayer with many tears is interpreted as a prayer of repentance for major back-seat-with-girl kind of sins.

5) Do not get caught eyeing the competition at the altar to ensure that you are the last one praying. Never pray with your eyes open. It's weird. And reveals that you are a fake.

6) Cry only at the altar.

7) Ensure you are in the proper position to always get prayed for by big-time visiting preachers at the altar.

8) Read expensive Christian books with cool covers and textures sold at Barnes & Noble. Yes they are stupid and have no substance and act like they have a way more significant meaning than they really have. It's not the message you're after. It's the lingo that they use in the books that you need to learn. Also, they are each totally good for two sermons to preach that you can act like are your own, original, God inspired idea. The best books can be stretched into an entire preaching series. 

9) Never ask to preach or teach. It looks selfish and self-indulgent. If you aren't getting asked to teach and you absolutely need to let the authorities know that you want to preach... tell them God gave you a word to preach. That way your request is not your own fault but rather God's fault.

10) Tattle on ministers whom you think are secretly emergent to your pastor. If you don't know anyone whose secretly emergent, accuse the competition of being emergent anyways. This will demonstrate loyalty.

11) Come up with a mantra that says "The message doesn't change. It's the methods that we need to be open about changing." Embrace the head nods of everyone you say this to.

12) Start praying for others at the altar as if you are superior to them. The key is not to pray from the side of a person but by standing right in front of them, with your hand on their forehead and like, begin to rock them heavy, with your hand. This tactic is especially useful when used on your friends who are competing to be a youth pastor. Be militant here.

13) Talk to guests at altar call. It doesn't even have to be about God. You can talk about sports or a television show. Everyone seeing you talk to the guest will assume you are witnessing.

14) Only pray for those at the altar who are already praying very sincerely. Otherwise it can get really awkward really fast.

15) Be relevant. Be cool.  Dress dapper. Become vain. Ignore the vanity of others. Never bring the issue up as a sin. This is essential to getting in with the "in crowd."

16) Listen to podcasts of other ministers. They don't have to be Apostolic. Use the podcasts for your own sermons. Tell no one.

17) Ask a lot of questions to your pastor to make him think you value his opinion. You may already know the answer to the question but ask anyway. You may find the questions stupid, but as long as it makes the pastor feel like you see him to be in a position of authority, you'll win every time. Just make sure the questions are more the "served on a tee to be hit out of the park" kind of questions and not the Tough Questions.

18) Casually and frequently mention something you read in your Bible during your own devotion time. But never do so like it's forced.

19) Tell people you are praying for them. 

20) Consider bible school.

21) Minister to the 12 and 13 year olds no matter how boring and stupid they are. The mothers will like you.

22) Always go out to eat after church.

23) Don't read Romans. If you do, do not try to comprehend Romans.

24) Psalms is always a solid source to preach from. Simple stuff here.

25) Pay thousands of dollars to go on a three week missions trip. It's easy. And IT'S A HUGE RESUME BUILDER.

26) If you are a bad preacher, become a teacher or missionary.

27) Do not state your ambition to become a youth pastor whatsoever. It's ministerial suicide. When it comes to the ministry, you must never state your wants out loud. Instead you must earn the position silently and innocently. You must act like you are seeking God first and foremost, and when you've been having a go with God long enough, a pastor will pat you on the back years down the road and say "welcome aboard Youth Pastor." Then you must act shy and unassuming and unworthy of the role. You must say "golly" and "shucks" a lot and say "you really want me to be youth pastor? Me, I'm a nobody." You may mention from time to time that the Good Lord, Himself called you to "The Ministry" at the altar at Summer camp, but also know that this gets you few friends and many enemies.

28) Make Christianity to be about submission and obedience and not love. Ignore the story of Jesus washing the feet of Peter. Of course this can change once you are youth pastor and have earned a little-freedom-of-theological interpretation. But this is only after you are youth pastor.

29) When the issue of the trinity comes up... always answer "Fully God, Fully man." Ignore the fact that this doesn't make sense. If questioned further tell the person asking to "quick, look over there" and while they are looking, run like whoa.

30) If you are not from the South, develop a pseudo-Southern accent and say "Yes, sir" and "No Ma'am" a whole lot. If you are from the South, move up North. We're waiting for you to be our shepherd.

Follow these things and you will reap the benefits you soon-to-be-youth-pastor, you.

Edit: What rules did I miss? We already got some real nice one's in the comments... And I'm a hankering for a repost of the added suggestions.

Monday, August 6, 2012

#255 - Not "The World" - Part 2

**I wasn’t planning on adding more disclaimers to this, but some feedback has made it necessary. A few readers singled out a paragraph from part one and were quite upset due to their being under the impression that I was speaking about people they knew. I can honestly and emphatically say that said paragraph cited several things as singular events that were, in fact, multiple occasions. It should also be noted that the stories cited were from several churches, cities and states, not just one and most certainly not only my own church. I make no apologies for citing examples, but I can apologize to those who thought I was airing their dirty laundry when I absolutely was not, and would not. I have far more shameful secrets than those cited and do not think myself superior or better than those cited in any way. Thank you.**

If you haven't read PART 1 yet please do, as I picked up where we left off.


A little reading music...


I’ve learned a lot about church. I’ve learned not to allow a ministers words to strike fear into me. Said often, but rarely understood, I’ve learned that the man behind the pulpit is a flesh and blood human being, born of a man and woman just like me, and allowed to make mistakes, just like me. I’ve learned not to be afraid to ask questions. I’ve learned that it’s okay if you disagree with your pastor. I’ve learned, as a friend said on Twitter, ‘that the questions we are not allowed to ask or discouraged from asking are absolutely the questions we must ask.’ I’ve learned that the answer “God is not logical” usually a cop out. Of course God is not logical, but odds are that when a minister says it, basically he’s really saying “my theology is logical, and when it ceases to be logical I just blame God for being illogical.” I’ve learned not to settle for an answer being over my head. I've learned not to accept that there are answers and theologies that I "can't handle". I’ve learned that God doesn’t whisper secrets to preachers about a cryptic law beyond the Bible. I’ve learned that if I’m to be expected to live my life a certain way then it is imperative that I understand why I live that way. I’ve learned not to settle for any answer that makes me feel inferior in the eyes of God. I am the one bound to work out my salvation, not anyone else, contrary to what they’ll tell me. I’ve learned not to be afraid to be wrong, but more importantly not to be afraid to call a wrong answer what it is. I’ve learned to be suspicious of men who can’t recall a place where they’ve been wrong in their beliefs.

There’s a quote that says ‘sometimes things we build have to fall.’ If you’re anything like me this is easier said than done. If you’re journey is like mine, you’ll have people in your life that you’ve grown to respect, but as you grow and study, you’ll realize their status has to diminish in your mind. This will hurt a lot. I’ve learned however, and this is important, that those leaders DO have good intentions. The people placing restrictions on you and striking fear in you are doing it because they love you. They do love you. They aren’t lying when they tell you that. They want the best for you. They just don’t know what the best for you really is. They’re not malicious and they’re not trying to hurt or control you. I’ve learned that you should not conspire that preachers have hidden indignation toward you. We aren’t that special. I had those conspiracy theories too. I hated the preachers that I felt misled me. But then I realized they really were doing it out of genuine love. I realized it was just misguided love. When I realized this, I came to be at peace. I’ve learned to accept responsibility for myself and respectfully walk away in peace.

But know this: If you walk away, you will not like what they’ll say about you. It will tear you up inside when the words said about you come from people that you look up to and care deeply about. They’ll call you bitter. They’ll say you have a reprobate mind. They’ll say you’re rebellious. If they’re semi-intelligent they will just say that you are just confused and that they’re praying for you. Their words are passive insults. But none of that matters. What matters is how you respond. You can use these words to justify why you’re bitter. Or you can let them build your character and move on. Those things they say about you are simply words. They have no depth. They’re a last resort. An insurance policy, to make sure you know they don’t approve of your conclusions. It’s what they believe and you can’t change them. You can only change you.


The world is not your enemy. Don’t make an enemy out of something impartial. It’s what you, as human being, do with the world that is either bad or good. There is no longer a holy land distinct from the rest of the world. Jesus died to such a distinction. We are all born from this world. To forget this fact is dangerous. To act like your ties are severed from this world and you’re just passing through to the next not only absolves your ability to witness in this world but also attempts to do something God Himself would not do. God could have stayed apart from the world but he came down here and showed that a part of holiness is to live within this world while not conforming to it. Christians believe the devil is clever and I agree. I believe a great tactic for such a clever nemesis would be to take the focus off of himself, and make us focus on things that are not inherently bad or evil. He’d make what is banal appear dangerous, and what is really dangerous seem invisible. I can imagine an enemy like that tricking a religious culture by aiding it in creating it’s own alternate perception of reality. How much would this cause the isolation of these people from the others outside of this alternate reality? Causing the ‘Out There’ to be viewed as extreme and crazy? How many people would begin to distance themselves from the strangers next door or the next cubicle over, who don’t believe in the alternate reality? How much would those within the alternate reality begin to shrink and shrivel and yet pound their chest in triumph? They would say the reason they are so different is because they are Holy. They are separate. They are Full of Truth. And the Devil, here, he may just be smiling.

I know the background of most of the men I heard preach about ‘the world’ for most of my life, and the interesting thing is that they never spent much, if any, time in it. For the most part, though not always, they were either born in church or converted at a young age. They were preaching in their teens and have never known a life outside of a pew or pulpit. Not that there is anything wrong with growing up in church, but they go on to brow beat and cast fear into impressionable minds, claiming they have divine knowledge and irrefutable evidence of this dystopian wasteland ‘Out There’ that is really just constructed in their minds. Their knowledge comes from men before them, spewing the exact same hyperbole, and a few worst-case scenario’s that wandered into their churches broken and hurt, whose stories serve to verify everything they’ve said all along in regard to ‘the world’.

And the worst part about this is damage done to young minds. Most will spend their lives believing this, and living in an alternate reality, happy and comfortable in the confines of The Village, not functioning properly in society, keeping their classmates and coworkers at arms length, for fear of becoming contaminated by the icky ‘world’. They’ll isolate themselves; their only major interactions with people will consist of their examining conversations for an opportunity for a church invite or home bible study offer, never really making a true connection, turning people off to God and religion all along the way. They’ll believe they know things about people, not because they’ve been given reason or empirical evidence, but simply because the man behind the pulpit said it, so it must be true. Their church becomes the sole defining means of understanding of the self, and society around ones self, which makes those in church feel good about themselves. But at the same time those outside of church gradually become more and more alien and strange. The enemy becomes a silent threat and the man in the pulpit the only voice to listen to. The convenient thing here is that living in such an environment is pretty simple and doesn’t require much soul searching or self-education. There are good guys who tell you how things are. There are bad guys not to listen to. This is simple. But it’s also harmful. And it’s really sad for those who grow up under it.

But few others, and this is very extreme and semi-rare, will keep this picture in their head as they step out into the world as they grow older. They were told the world is lawless and when they step into it they begin to live out this lawlessness. The ‘backslider’ (a vitriolic term that should be abandoned) will think in order to fit in they have to dress the way the church has told them the world dresses. They will dress skanky. They will wear too much make up. They will become a lush, a whore and allow themselves to be used. They’ll have promiscuous sex, abuse controlled substances and become battered and broken. The men will abuse women, drugs and alcohol. They’ll go to the extreme because they’ve been taught to believe this is normal. And while this is happening the pastor or preacher or parent that planted these seeds of misinformation will look from afar at a self fulfilling prophecy and say “see, I told you so,” ignorant to the fact that they’re the one who set these wheels in motion. Now, as I said, this is extreme. My circle of friends didn’t do this, but I have witnessed those who did, both growing up and now, as an adult. Loose acquaintances that grew discontent with the church and segued into the world, trying to fit in, in all the wrong places. It’s painful to watch, and even more painful to be powerless to help.

‘Worldly People’ (another vitriolic term) are offered no forgiveness by the church. If you’re in ‘the world’ and you sin your sins are viewed with contention and degradation. If you sin, well that’s just typical because you’re worldly. However, when sin rears its ugly head in the church, well, “we’re only human, thank God for grace. We may fall but we’re covered by the blood.” I could go pages on this but I’ll settle for saying that this is just plain ugly, it turns people off, and it’s poisonous rhetoric. We’re all human, we all sin, sinners in church are just as much sinners as those outside of it, and while yes, our sins are covered by the blood it doesn’t make us any more righteous or put us in any position whatsoever to play this game of justification and lack of humanity.

This is what I meant when I said that this post is about being a part of the human experience. Joel posted a few weeks ago about a funeral in which a pastor used the deceased as an object lesson, completely dehumanizing him in the process. We do this every day when we refer to people as backsliders, sinners, worldly, and so on. We’re taught to be separate for our own safety, like the world is contagious and we have to always be guarded, which indirectly objectifies those around us. We view people as these creatures and puppets, under control of Satan. They remain this way until we manage to sneak Jesus or church into a conversation and then they become ‘a lost soul’, which is really just another jewel in our crown we attempt to gather like a vintage video game. But they’re not a creature, a tool, a soul or a jewel. They’re a person. Just like you and I. They have feelings, goals, families, emotions. They have pain and joy and angst and love and beauty. They’re complex. They’re human. And when we turn humanity into a game of Us vs. Them we commit a sort of cosmic injustice and turn our world into a very ugly place. Everyone deserves the mutual respect to have their humanity acknowledged.

I covered, in part one, what I haven’t done in ‘the world’, and before posting this second half I have gotten a few comments and a small handful of text messages questioning if I believe the world is as safe as the church, have I turned my back on God, what I hope to accomplish, etc. All that I can hope to offer now is perspective. The perspective of someone who grew up believing things that I now believe are, at worst, wrong, and at best inaccurate. I cannot tell you how to live, but I can tell you what has worked for me. A scripture has resonated with me since the first time I read it five years ago. Of all the sermons and all the teaching I have ever heard the scripture that took hold of my heart the strongest was a few summers ago when a group of friends were studying our way through Romans. The scripture was Romans 2:7, which states: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life. Or to put it in plain English – Steady persistence, consistent growth is the best way to live, and likely a way to heaven. It’s a principle that I hope to always guide me. It’s tattooed on my arm, so that I may never forget, in all I do, that God wants me to be consistent, and to grow. The points in my life that were the most problematic and difficult for me, both in the church and the world, were times when I was living without consistency and moderation. When lacking moderation in my diet I gained an inordinate amount of weight, began having chest pains, back pain and skin problems. Only through consistency in diet and exercise did I lose the weight and become healthy. Inconsistency with my money management led to debt, but consistency and moderation in spending got me out. Lacking self-control caused me stress, heartache, pain and angst. Gaining consistency rectified these things. Yes, I did things I regret. I committed sins far worse than any I cited in Part One. As Paul said, I am a sinner, worse than most of you. I do not presume to write all of this from a place of arrogance. I was arrogant, but I was humbled. I made mistakes I can’t undo. I have skeletons in my closet I’m ashamed of, as we all do. But that doesn’t mean I just got caught up in ‘the world’. It simply means I didn’t live consistently.

In conclusion, there is only one thing left to say:

There are no creatures in the woods. Let’s go exploring.

One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons--marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.”
-C.S Lewis

Thursday, August 2, 2012

#254-Not Gay Marriage (Partial Repost)

First let me tell you about Logan Miles. He is an online friend that I've never met. He has an opinion I admire. He wrote a piece about the whole Chic-Fil-A fiasco of yesterday with some interesting perspective. You should read it here.

Secondly, two days ago Chady had his own post here about Chic-Fil-A.... and he was taking prisoners. That said, he had some brilliant monologue towards the end that addressed common claims that some Christians use as a defense against gay marriage. He said it wasn't good enough to merit it's own post. But I thought it deserved it's own spotlight. Plus I have added a bit of commentary below that...

Odds and Ends: Here are a few untimely meditations that aren’t ARE DEFINITELY substantial enough to merit their own post,  (editor’s revisions noted by lines-through-words and any word that is in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE HIS WORDS ARE more IMPORTANT than the article’s author).

1. Pathetic Critiques of Gay Marriage: In the interest of full disclosure, I support the right of the GLBT community to get married and start families. My rationale is pretty simple, I’m not convinced enough by biblical evidence that homosexuality is any more a “sin” than interracial marriage/relations were one time sins according to widespread readings of the text (hey, wow, some Christians still can’t handle it, apparently! ), or that slavery and servitude were just fine, as long as you were nice (Ephesians 6:5-9).

2. Realistically, why would non-Christians and former Christians care what the Bible says about homosexuality? Do you care what the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Analects, or the numerous writings of Buddha have to say? Jesus used the scripture because He was speaking to an audience that believed in its cogency. Paul, on the other hand, became all things to all men, including, for example, engaging in Platonic discourse with Greeks and Romans who would have summarily dismissed a Judean subject ranting about their one God.

3. The more personal complaints about homosexuality strike me as objectively paradoxical, particularly in light of the political inclinations of the people who launch them. The pro-family lot is generally politically conservative, favoring a smaller, less intrusive government, American values (whatever that means), and policies in support of the “free market.” Well and good; so you basically want the government to stay out of your business, but not other people’s business. This emerges in some weird and predictably stupid ways:

Predictable Q1: “But what about my children/grandchildren? How am I supposed to explain two men kissing?!?”

A1. Why am I supposed to raise your kids? Do it yourself, that’s what ‘Murrica is about. Seriously, these are the same people who flip out about schools giving their children shots because of intrusive federal policy, but when it comes to homosexuality, it’s someone else's job to handle it or, better yet, make it go away. If your child/grandchild can’t handle the idea that adults can fall in love with someone of the same sex, but can learn on their own about the centuries of horrific torture and murder falsely committed in the name God or learn to subtly look over Brother Smith at church, who dresses flamboyantly, regularly quotes Barbara Streisand movies, found his "calling" in the music ministry, and has remained a bachelor because God just hasn't sent him the "right one" yet, then you’re a patently terrible parent/grandparent.

The anti-Gay marriage folks being the same people who picket and attend political rallies for Tea Partiers who threaten to slash funds for government programs that do some of the following for children: Food Stamps, low income area schools, education loans and after school programs for the at-risk, and medical insurance programs. Why should they have to pay for other people’s children to have basic services? I don’t know, because it makes you a decent person and a baseline Gospel living Christian? This is what people mean when they say Christians are hypocrites.

Predictable baseless statement1 : Gay homes are bad homes.

Truth1: It would be one thing if this has been proved sociologically, but it hasn’t and won’t be. I’ve never seen someone come out and say, “My parents were gay, it just ruined my life.” What I do see is, “My parents are gay. I had a childhood pretty much like everybody else. In fact, it was probably better, since unlike many a straight family, it wasn’t a forced marriage because they were too stupid not to use protection. They actually wanted me and were prepared for it.” (Paraphrasing, of course.)

       i. Even if the “Liberal Media” were doing a really great job at covering up these counter-narratives, there are how many Christian channels that these children of    broken gay homes could run to? Certainly enough to make millions of dollars in tithing and gift giving drives. Enough to keep Kirk Cameron in a job, making      terrible movies about bananas as God’s ultimate weapon or something.

       ii. Why does it blow people’s minds to imagine a gay couple as a family? Especially because families are already so problematic in the first place. Think about how weird it is to talk about your family life with others. I don’t mean just   the sort of genial stuff that normally pops up in chit-chat, like, “Yeah, my dad     always steals from everybody’s plate at dinner” or “I hate/love the appointed time  my family gets up on Christmas morning.” It’s the type of stuff that fuels bland conversation, while also humanizing you enough so that the other person thinks   you’re probably safe and well-adjusted. What I’m actually talking about is the private stuff, the things you’d never ever talk about with the majority of the people you meet for fear of ridicule or the chance that you’d never make meaningful friendships. 

       iii. As a child, your own family is really the only referent for what constitutes a “normal” family. It isn’t until you get older and start visiting other peoples’ families that you realize, to your eternal shame and mortifying embarrassment, that it’s only your dad that lounges around the house all day in his underwear,     scratching himself freely. Other families keep their ketchup in the refrigerator to keep it cold (disgusting), keep aside an hour per day for family prayer, don’t get   into semi-violent debates over the logical paradoxes of time travel (and its overall  merit as a plot device) in the Back to the Future franchise, or don’t have relatives  that maintain multiple virtual marriages over the Everquest Online servers. You     found yourself defensive, offering weak, “but, in our family we…”apologetics and coming to secretly loathe your friends and cousins for saying the  same. In other words, part of becoming an adult is understanding that everyone’s family is different and, in the process, learning to accept your own dysfunctional home.

My family is not typical. My dad left us when I was thirteen, it sucked, a lot. Before he left, he was an angry, abusive monster. After he left, my mother struggled to make ends meet and raise three kids. If you don’t think that it messes with your head that your family doesn’t look like other people’s normal families, then you’re wrong, it does. When you get older, when you can move past the hold that images and representations of families have on our minds and understand that a real family is much more than what it looks like, it becomes fairly obvious that if two men or two women can love and protect a child, it constitutes a good family.

(End Chady's Comments.... Please Applause)

My (Joel) Thoughts:
If you haven't heard... we here at SAL are committing emergent suicide these days.  The truth is we've been driving Left for a while now. As of now we're 106 miles outside of Chicago, have a full-tank of gas, a half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark and we're wearing sunglasses. For some reason Glen keeps telling us to "hit it" even though we're already moving pretty fast.1 We drove past the Emergent train about two years ago and waved and smiled and then hit the pedal even harder.... 

But we aren't doing this just because we do what we want and can't handle people telling us no. We aren't doing it because it's easy. But at some point you stop looking at yourself in the mirror on Sundays and you begin to look around at those you can see but have never heard from. You see your neighbor. Not just the neighbors that live down the block from you and certainly not the neighbor at the end of your pew.

The Neighbors I'm talking about are the hideously deformed neighbors. The malnourished. The malfunctioning. The weird neighbors. The one's your mother told you to watch out for growing up. I'm talking about the neighbors you only see on television who live in sad houses in crappy neighborhoods, who seem to be around a murder almost nightly. Sure you live only twenty minutes from those neighbors, but you only know them from TV. I'm talking about the sick neighbors whose smell is more of a stench. 

I'm talking about  the neighbor lady with the tired eyes who buses up 15 miles from the ghetto, leaving her two toddler kids behind for 16 hours a day just to put your groceries into a brown paper bag. Yes she's always cold and smells like cigarettes and doesn't say anything. But if you had to grow up watching your mother get beat half to death by your alcoholic father on a nightly basis and also find yourself having "playtime" with your auntie alone in a dark room on holidays, then maybe you'd be a little cold to the world too. 

When you start focusing on the people you never focused on, and start asking them about their story, be very careful. You'll hear your neighbor speaking and find out there's monstrous human beings out there way worse than backsliders or demons. Some of these monsters are hiding in your church too....just hope you don't hear about it for your own clean conscience.  But they're out there man and the worse part is that they may be evil in part because someone was evil to them when they themselves were children. 

What you see when you start paying attention to your neighbor and not those who you're comfortable around is a lot of fear. You see a lot of scared people. I'm scared myself. You realize quickly that the difference between an alcoholic, a workaholic, and an apostolic shopaholic is the way you fend off fear. And when you start paying attention, you begin to face a dark truth that you may have suspected was true your whole life, but you've been trying very hard to avoid ever sense:

"That God — unless you're Charlton Heston, or unhinged, or both — speaks and acts entirely through the vehicle of human beings."2

And this means it's up to us. God isn't picking up the tab for those neighbors you just didn't have the time to get around to helping and loving. This means stepping in when you aren't obligated to and speaking up when it's in your best personal interest not to speak up.... like addressing stuff like this video from an Apostolic preacher's church (non-Upc)....

And I saw many Christians say that this homophobic church is in the wrong here....and talk about a middle ground about being nice to gay people and to hate the sin, not the sinner, and that we should just not think being Gay is okay with God.... And my question to those people: You do realize a middle ground in such instances allows that "homophobic" Apostolic church to represent us to the rest of the world in all the media circuits? No one's listening to you speaking to yourself about everyone else being slightly right and also slightly wrong and therefore the middle is the right answer. 

Not to mention that when you say homosexuality is a sin but also think the church in the video was wrong it is received by everyone else as you saying: 

We are okay with the church's message. We just aren't okay with how loud the church said it's message. Nor the attitude the message was delivered in.

 The middle ground doesn't do us any good. Balance is for bad people too lazy to think about what may be actually right & wrong.

I said all of the above to say this: I'm truly sorry that I haven't spoken on the issue of gay marriage before any of this. Gay people are our neighbor. Anyone who knows me personally will tell you that I care like nobody else's business about this issue. I do think it's important. I don't think most gay people "have a choice" whether they want to be gay or not. I think some people are born gay. I think some others have terrible things happen to them growing up that kind of force the trajectory of their sexuality the rest of their life. I think gay people can go to heaven. I don't think the only solution is to tell a gay person to spend the rest of their life celibate like Paul. I think gay marriage should be legalized. And I have no problem with saying that most of my opinion about homosexuals and marriage is informed by Jesus on the cross. If I'm misrepresenting the cross when I say that, I pray by the love of God that he would strike me down as soon as possible. 

Goodnight all of you. And if you don't mind, I'm heading to the land of the weird, the hideously deformed, and the broken souls who have stories that'll make your jaw just about drop off....

2: From David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.