Friday, December 14, 2012

The Moment I Knew This Was Toxic

When you choose to part ways with American Evangelical Culture, those that remain in it often speculate what is going on with you. Usually it is assumed that you are backsliding away from your faith or that you are simply bitter about some personal hurt imposed upon you by the church. I know that people have often assumed the latter about me. And while I won't deny that I have indeed been hurt by the actions of people within the church, it was something else that was a large part of my realization of just how toxic that culture had become for me...

I can clearly remember hearing the breaking news alert sound coming from the TV. I looked up to see what was so important to break into the 6pm newscast and disrupt their other stories. What I saw left me wondering if I was dreaming. It was August 1, 2007 and the I-35W bridge leading into downtown Minneapolis had just collapsed and fallen into the Mississippi River during rush hour. It was one of the most surreal scenes that was playing out in front of me. "What in the world? How does a major freeway bridge just collapse?" I thought to myself. I heard the helicopters overhead, rushing to the scene and wondered how many victims their were.

In the days to come, the scene continued to unfold. Questions would be raised about inspections, numbers of those still missing would be reported, and divers were shown searching the murky river waters to recover victims. Eventually, they came to the conclusion that thirteen people had been killed in this tragedy. Their pictures and stories greeted me from every newscast, but one stood out.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It's Been Awhile...

So I haven't posted anything in quite awhile. I didn't realize anyone had noticed until the emails started arriving. :) I'm glad that what I write resonates with some of you and that you have found value in it. I think that this virtual sounding board is valuable for my own personal, emotional, and spiritual growth, so I plan to continue it. Yet I wrestle, knowing that what I write has an audience, with ensuring that it is worthy of posting. That is one reason why I've never committed myself to daily posting. I'm an extremely contemplative person and I only want to share what I believe is beneficial and worth sharing. I'm also a rather guarded person, so at times the idea of bearing my deepest thoughts, pain, struggles, and beliefs is daunting, particularly knowing how harshly those have been judged in some of my previous religious circles. But, as with many others who've left spiritually abusive situations/communities, I understand that these thoughts and beliefs cannot remain within me for fear that they will overwhelm me. I also know that people in these situations are often led to believe that they are alone in their doubts and struggles with those faith communities. When people take the time to write to me and tell me that they are relieved to finally find someone expressing what seem to be their own thoughts, I know that I need to continue. So I will. I'll try to post more regularly in spite of my busy schedule. My hope is that you find the same strength and healing in reading this, as I have been finding through writing it.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Out of Order

I just finished reading "The Fidelity of Betrayal" by Peter Rollins. It was refreshing. After years of time spent in circles that accepted only views that fit their rigid beliefs and viewed doubt as a disease to be cured, it was nice to find someone making the argument that doubt and questioning of beliefs are not evidence of lack of faith, but rather a necessary process of further exploring faith.

There was one section in particular that stood out to me. In the book, Rollins makes the argument that the current practice of Christianity often gets the order of faith backwards. In the current culture of Christianity, the order is generally belief, behavior, belonging. That is, anyone wishing to be a part of that community must first adhere to the beliefs of that community. Once they have expressed the correct beliefs, they are invited to participate in the behaviors of that community. And only when they have provided sufficient evidence through their professed beliefs and behavior are they accepted as fully belonging to that community.

Rollins argues that the example provided in the gospels is actually the opposite and is in the order of belonging, behavior, belief.  Rather than seeking out a profession of faith, Jesus simply called his disciples to join him. He did not stand on the shore and say "Hey, you! Yeah, you! So, would you be willing to accept me as your personal Lord and savior?" before extending the offer. He simply asked them to follow him. After they had made the decision to follow him, they were welcomed to share in the behaviors of that community. They shared meals and conversations while traveling throughout the land together. It was only through these experiences that they established their beliefs about Jesus.

Their belonging wasn't contingent upon them accepting the right way of thinking about him. They belonged because they were willing to come. Their behavior and shared rituals weren't necessarily an evidence of their faith, but rather a manner of engaging in a community that would ultimately inform their beliefs.

The more I consider this idea, the more I can't help but agree with Rollins on this one.

Monday, April 16, 2012

10 Reasons Not to go to a Christian College

1. Your youth pastor went there

When the majority of your social life consists of youth group, Christian concerts, and church events, the center of your universe that incredibly hip, never gonna act (or dress) his/her age youth pastor. They are the wacky and wild beacon shining a light into the dark world of troubled teens. They are helping forgotten youth. If you want to help people, you need to be just like them! Or do you?

Unfortunately, many church kids are so entrenched in Christian culture that they can't imagine life after youth group. So they take the next best route and seek out the college that made their youth pastor so awesome to begin with. This isn't to say that the college your youth pastor attended is never going to be a good fit for you. However, if this is one of the primary reasons you're making your decision, I'd encourage you to reconsider.

2. You are pursuing a non-ministry degree

This isn't a judgement on the academic quality of non-ministry degrees offered by Christian colleges. That will vary from school to school and even between departments at the same school. Rather, it is about cost effectiveness. Yes, you can get a degree in elementary education from a private Christian school, but considering the average starting pay for teachers, would you be better off getting the same degree at a fraction of the price from a public school? It's something to consider.

3. You are pursuing a ministry degree with no clear vision or desire to work at a church.

I cannot stress this enough...when you are evaluating your school choices, be sure to get information from a variety of sources, including those outside of the institution itself. Most schools want to make sure to maintain/increase their enrollment numbers.  I know far too many people (myself included) who were reassured by their Christian university that their major would allow them a high degree of flexibility. They will say that a ministry degree is gladly welcomed to a number of non-church/ministry related fields. Let me clear that up right now....It is not. A degree in a ministry field will never be as a highly regarded among non-Christian circles. If you are uncertain as to what you truly want to do, don't just sit in your major until you figure it out. Go to a community college, get your generals out of the way, and take some time to do a little soul searching.

4. You are a woman who ultimately dreams of being a pastor's wife and/or stay at home mom.

This may sound harsh to some, but I've known these women. While studying at their Christian college, they constantly talk about how really their only dream is to be a stay at home mom and wife. They earn their four year degree, ended up married withing two years of graduating, never work a day in the field they majored in, and end up burdened with tens of thousands of dollars in school debt resulting in high monthly repayment amounts while living on a single income. If your ultimate dream is to meet a nice Christian college guy and live happily ever after with no intent to work, here's what you can do: Rent an apartment near your favorite Christian school. Starting attending church as well as the college-aged Sunday school group at one of the most popular Baptist/Evangelical Free/non-denominational church in the area. You will save tens of thousands of dollars and likely end up with the same result.

5. Everyone else in your family has gone to school there.

Never make you choice based on the perception of others or what has always been done. College is an important and personal choice and should be treated as such.

6. You want to go to a school with like-minded people.

Guess what?? There are like-minded people anywhere you go and there are people you do not think like you everywhere as well. Wearing the label of "Christian" is no guarantee that you think alike. There are countless other matters on which to disagree (politics, music, movies, denominational differences,etc.) even when you share the same basic fundamentals of faith. Christians exist at state schools as well. You are more likely to find people who think like you do by pursuing the activities/causes that interest you most rather than simply assuming all Christians will get along and agree. The exciting thing about discovering such people in non-Christian circles is that it will open your eyes to the common ground that people of differing beliefs share rather than viewing it as an "us vs. them" situation.

7. It is out of your price range.

I have come to believe that one of the absolutely most irresponsible things that Christian colleges tell prospective students is reminding them that "God will provide." My own Christian alma mater actually promotes such an idea in its marketing literature. One of the major statistics that they cite is that the financial aid department has "helped 97% of our students reduce the cost of tuition and an affordable education." Phew. Well, that's a relief....wait a minute...

In this case "affordable" is an extremely relative term. One family's "affordable" is another's "more than twice what we can afford." Apart from that, such a statistic doesn't say what kind of financial aid those 97% received. Grants will indeed reduce your tuition costs. However, when it comes to loans, you will pay for them in the long run. Odds are once you finally get those student loans paid off (I'm at nearly 8 years and counting...) you will have paid much more than the amount of the original loan.

I know it's hard when you really have your heart set on something, but don't listen to anyone who says that money shouldn't be an issue. It is, and unfortunately it is an issue that will haunt you long after you've earned your degree.

8. You don't think you'd ever be able to handle having a gay/atheist/Buddhist/alcoholic/sex-crazed/etc. roommate.

Becoming an adult isn't about being comfortable, it's about learning and growing in an attempt to be a better person. That growth will not happen if you are unwilling to interact with anyone whose beliefs may differ from your own. Also, such reasoning assumes that there are no other Christians at a public school and that there are no gay/sex-crazed/alcoholic/etc. students at conservative Christian schools. Both are a myth. The gospels never suggest that Jesus avoided contact with those he disagreed with. On the contrary, he often interacted with them. If you truly want to live like Jesus, people who are different than you shouldn't be anything to fear.

9. You fear that a secular school will corrupt your faith.

As a general rule, I don't believe in making any major decision based primarily on fear. Unfortunately there are many Christian leaders willing to play into this fear when encouraging people to choose a Christian school. A secular school is no more sure to destroy your faith than a Christian one is to strengthen it. Faith is a personal matter that needs to be invested in by the individual who possesses it. It does not fall or stand based on the label of the school one attends.

10. You want to do God's will.

That's not to say that it is never God's will for someone to attend a Christian college. I'm not much in the market for claiming to know God's will. What I mean by this is that it is a terrible idea to choose a Christian school if you believe it is the only way to do God's will. God doesn't confine himself neatly to our boxes and assumptions. Quite frankly, he doesn't care about our categories and is willing and able to work in whatever way he wants, even through people and institutions that do not bear his name. You can serve God and live out your faith wherever you are.

In the end, choosing a school is a personal decision and one that should be made based on solid research about the institution as well as a thorough personal assessment of what it is that you are looking for and wish to accomplish through schooling. As it is the time of year when many graduates are making school decisions, I wanted to share my perspective. If you attended a Christian college (or as a Christian chose not to) is there anything you would add to this list?

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Messenger is the Message

Another Easter has come and gone. This year I spent that afternoon planting seeds (literally not in the overused Christian metaphor sort of way). It seemed appropriate for the occasion. The morning was spent in church. I tend to pay extra attention to Easter and Christmas sermons, mostly because I'm always curious as to the different ways pastors choose to approach the stories their audience is the most familiar with without simply repeating themselves year after year.

This time the sermon surprised me. It wasn't the eloquent oration on resurrection and eternity that one would have expected. Rather, the pastor spent most of his time speaking on the idea of bringing life to places where there once was death and how that is the true call of Christianity. That is what the actions of Christians should always seek to do - bring life and light to dark and death filled areas. To my relief he didn't expand on that be relying on excessively cumbersome messages of spiritual metaphors in the context of evangelism. Rather the example he gave was one of love and acceptance towards others in all circumstances and the powerful impact that makes. I've been thinking about it a lot this week.

I've been thinking about it in the context of all of my personal disappointments with the American church as well as the narrative of Jesus' life we find in the gospels. The more I think about it, I keep coming back to the same thought:

The messenger is the message.

Perhaps that is the core message of Christianity when you boil it all down. Not just in the sense that Jesus is the core message of our faith, but in the sense that we are the message of Jesus to the world. Perhaps that is what Paul meant in the Bible when he said "If I speak in tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Cor. 13:1) What if when the book of Hebrews tells us that "The word of God is living and active..." (Heb 4:12) it doesn't simply mean that reading the Bible can spark inspiration to motivate us, but also that the true word of God is meant to be lived out in an active manner as we seek to live our lives in the example Christ example that spent time with the marginalized, objected to legalistic religious leaders, sought to heal people's pain, and put others before himself.

I can't help but wonder, if the messenger really is the message, what message are most churches and Christians sending to those around them?

This week I haven't been able to stop thinking about it and the more I do, the more I keep coming to the same conclusion:

The messenger is the message.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

WWJB Saturday: Holy Hog Edition

Ever found yourself dying to own an inspiration figurine from the Bradford Exchange, only to realize that those girly glowing Thomas Kinkade options just aren't your style?? Do you have trouble finding the perfect Pastor Appreciation Month gift for your testosterone fueled, MMA loving preacher??

Fret no more!

via The Bradford Exchange

via The Bradford Exchange

As  you can see, this heavenly hog features multiple Jesus fish, praying hands on the back wheel, a portrait of Jesus, scroll hand grips, golden chalices, a trinity symbol, and a crown of thorns detail encircling the seat. Oh! And a giant cross on the front, because how would you know this is Christian without a cross??!?

Now, I know what you're thinking.....

"I only regret that I have but one inspirational motorcycle figure to buy for  my Lord."

But, wait! That's not all!!

Not only can you adorn your desk, bookshelf, or sermon podium with "The Holy Roller" for only $59.99 (plus S+H), you have the option to purchase a subscription now so you won't miss any future installments in the "Riding with the Lord" series. Get in with this premiere offering and then be the first of your friends/small group members to own:

"Devotion in Motion"
"Rebel With A Cause"
"Alpha and Omega"
Plus many more to come!!!!

Don't miss this amazing opportunity for spiritual growth. Your faith journey will be renewed each time you gaze at this figurine and reflect on the time Jesus climbed off the cross and hauled ass on his chopper down to Hell to defeat Satan in a cage match.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

WWJBS: Tebowing Edition

Today's the day of another play off game for the Denver Broncos. To get you ready to cheer on God's chosen QB, witness to the rest of those heathen football fans, and read a little too much into the final game stats, here are a variety of Christian themed Tim Tebow products. Enjoy!

Found on ebay

You know how that song goes, right?
"Jesus draw me close. Closer Lord to the Super Bowl. Let the defenders around me fade away.
Jesus draw me close. Closer Lord to the Super Bowl.  For I desire just one more win in OT."
That is how it goes, right?
Via Mother Falcon

These jerseys are customized and have caused a bit of controversy.

And of course there's a tract! How will people come to Jesus if there's no tract!??
This 6 page tract along with samples of its text can be found at

Found at Armor of Truth
And bonus! If you enter the code "WIN4GOD" you get free shipping on this one.
See what they did there??

Thursday, January 12, 2012

We Won't See You, You'll See Us

Recently, I saw a video advertising upcoming revival services that will soon be held at a large church. I'm not going to post the video here, because inevitably that will only lead people who support that church to think that I am speaking out specifically against that church, which obscures my actual intent. It was a brief video that showed the pastoral staff discussing their plans and why you should join them at the revival services. Apart from my scepticism towards the idea of being able to plan a revival, there was a statement that caught my attention. While concluding his statements, the head pastor said "We'll see you at [the revival]...well, we won't see you, you'll see us."

That statement was like a bolt of  lightning suddenly illuminating my thoughts. The second I heard it, I realized that he just summed up my greatest problem and sorrow with the practice of many American Evangelical churches today. "We won't see you, you'll see us." The words fell heavy on my heart. Not because I disagree with that pastor, but because those sentiments seem to be at odds with the essence of the person of Jesus as described in the gospels. Of course, Jesus did preach to crowds, but throughout the gospels, we see him stopping to provide individual attention to many that were largely ignored by both society at large and the religious leaders of the day. The core command to love others as God loves us seemed to lie not in merely preaching to them about the gospel, but in making personal connections with them, listening to them, and doing what you can to help them. As I read the gospels, I see a Jesus that seemed to relish in those moments where he could reveal the love of God to individuals in clear contrast to the religious legalism of the day.

The teachings of the Bible seem to reinforce that point. You look at the references to caring for the poor, the widowed, the orphans. In Matthew we are told to "make disciples." Jesus didn't simply tell his 12 disciples to make a decision to follow him and walk away once they did. He spent time with them and invested in their lives. It wasn't just about them seeing him, it was about him seeing them. The New Testament enshrines the idea of servant leadership, that whoever wants to be the greatest should make himself the least. It tells us that the greatest love is that which lays down its life for others.

Now I understand what this pastor meant...that the services will be so large that he will not see people individually, although they will see him. I know he wasn't trying to dismiss people through such a statement. But he did. Unfortunately, the trend is that many choose their churches based on who they see, not who sees them. Head pastors are put up on a pedestal. In my own community there is an extremely large church who proposed breaking apart to plant a new church due to their size, so they could maintain smaller more intimate settings. The congregation refused, largely because should they break into two churches the majority wanted to stay with the current pastor and wouldn't agree to leave. Because of that, they spent their money to rebuild a massive church, one able to seat the entire population of my hometown (around 5,000) in a single service. Instances such as this make me wonder if congregations have bought into the false idea that they are there to see the church/pastors. But the beauty of the gospel is that Jesus loved and met people individually. It was in those intimate moments that he revealed his true nature, and what would come next. Some of the most profound parts of the gospel were never shouted from the rooftops, but taught among small groups of devotees.

"We won't see you, you'll see us" enshrines this concept of church as entertainment or self-help seminar. It is that ideology that launches mission trips filled with dramas and VBS programming, but does little to care for the needs of the communities to which they travel. It is that ideology that causes churches to seek to quantify their work and speak of success primarily in terms of numbers. When it is their job to see you, you have placed the burden on others to seek out the church and discover if they can find the help or fulfillment they are looking for there. You have redefined the role of church as a marketing firm rather than a service industry. I just don't see that taught as our ideal anywhere within the gospels. Jesus didn't preach to the masses and say "Find a religious institution. Enjoy their amazingly relevant preaching and cutting edge worship to feed your soul. Be sure to join a small group in order to make sure that you have a more intimate community."  Jesus didn't preach to us to find intimate community once we were involved with a group of other believers because the natural result of a gathering of followers of Christ should be building a more intimate community. Contrary to popular belief, community is best established not through shared viewpoints, but is the natural result of valuing people over programs or doctrine. No amount of programming or brand marketing will be an adequate substitute for that. It is an ideal that is simply not found within "We won't see you, you'll see us."

Hearing that pastor express such a sentiment, suddenly clarified my discontent with American Evangelical Culture. I don't believe in a gospel that is there to be seen. I believe in a gospel that sees and loves others. I don't want a church that exists in the midst of massive marketing campaigns trying to bring everyone to itself. I want a church that meets people, not to grow its own numbers, but to serve them in the example of Jesus Christ, because they believe that is the core purpose of church - putting others' needs ahead of your own. In a world where people are increasingly simply labeled as part of a certain group or statistic, isn't about time that we started seeing them as valued individuals rather than insisting that they see us?