Celebrity Jeopardy, Pastor’s Edition

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It is a game we find endlessly entertaining. It pays lavish cash gifts to the contestants – celebrity pastors long on speaking gifts and ego. Part of the appeal is that the game appears unscripted. In reality it is anything but: First come video-venue multi-sites…necessary because “our man” is “da man.” Then book deals complete with manipulated sales. 16,000′ homes? Of course. “An ox is worthy of its hire.” – That’s biblical. Financial transparency? Not in this game, Alex. And, as celebrity stature grows, church boards are re-filled, not with parishioners, but with the pastors of other megachurches. The final page of the script is to re-brand oneself from pastor to CEO. After all, a pastor can’t take three quarters of a million in “winnings” each year. For the IRS, however, “What is a CEO?” is the answer in the form of a question for the ambitious pastor.

Last summer, in a post entitled “When did evangelicals get popes?” I pointed out the ironic similarities between celebrity video-venue preachers and the papacy that Protestantism rose in protest against. Extending the irony has been Pope Francis’ humility this year in contrast to the growing list of celebrity pastor abuses…

This new generation of celebrity preachers do not disclose salaries. They play shady games with parishioner money. They plagiarize while exhorting others not to. They shamelessly teach even children to idolize them. They bully those who would question their bad behavior. This game turns people from parishioners to Svengali following fans and renders the faith foolishness to an increasingly unchurched culture.

Yes, any public figure draws criticism, and envy is an ever present human problem. However, when you have harmed so many through your teaching and lack of financial accountability that former staff and parishioners set up websites to warn others of you, perhaps it is time for us to change channels?

I am told that I should lay off – that celebrity turnstile church pastors are “making Jesus famous”? I say they are making themselves famous, Alex. Not to mention fabulously wealthy. And when someone viewing at home grumbles we are told by the studio audience that their success validates their ministry and that we should not dare to “raise a hand against God’s anointed” (1 Sam. 26:11).

I have also been told that this is a Philippians 1 issue of “whether their motives are false or genuine, the message about Christ is being preached…so I rejoice.” That, however, is Paul saying, “It doesn’t matter what happens to me.” This is much different. This is not a leader sacrificing his wellbeing for the extension of God’s Kingdom, it the systematic fleecing of the flock by celebrity CEOs. A more appropriate scripture would be the condemnation awaiting careless teachers (James 3:1).

I have my own answer in the form of a question: Did Jesus ask to be made famous or followed?

Like celebrity obsessed groupies, the flock willingly participates in their fleecing. They arrive at video-venues by the minivan full. Then stare like pre-teen girls waiting for a pay-per-view performance of “the Biebs” as they wait for the screen to tune in from across the continent…victims of sophisticated manipulations, emotionally steered to avoid the obvious questions.

Contestant: “I will take “idol worship” for $200, Alex?”

Host: “A big lie, a big secret, and a big bully.”

Contestant: “What are Mark Driscoll’s, Steven Furtick’s, and Perry Noble’s books, salary, and treatment of their critics?”

There are tens of thousands of humble servants of God ascending pulpits and standing behind the table of the Lord every Sunday in churches small, large, mega and super-mega. Do your soul a favor, instead of being a consumer of the “show,” join one those humble folk in their humble work. Be a part of something that exercises financially transparency. Give your time, talent and treasure to a community that is about serving and reaching the world rather than the pastor. Your faith life should contribute to more than the Nielson ratings and “winnings” of the latest celebrity “CEO.”

Cut to theme music while contestants appear to be thoughtfully crafting their latest scripted answers.

How long will we remain glued to this show? Because the kingdom of God is not a game.

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Explaining Arizona: An SB1062 tutorial on the Arizona psyche

 

photo credit: mediabistro.com

photo credit: mediabistro.com

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The SB1062 boondoggle is finally over. But all over the country people are still wondering, what’s wrong with Arizona? Are Arizonans really a bunch of angry redneck bigots without good excuse for obvious discrimination? As an Arizona native, married to a 4th generation Arizonan, who has lived in rural, suburban and urban Arizona, let me attempt to give my friends in other parts of the country some context…

Let me say at the outset: I did NOT support SB1062. But although I opposed the bill, I honestly do not believe it was birthed in hate and bigotry. I believe that because I know too many Arizonans across a broad spectrum of political and religious persuasions. I know very, very few Arizonans driven by hate. Then how, you ask, could our legislature come up with such a horrible thing?

Simple – SB1062 was the product of the Arizona psyche. The Arizona psyche is the reason Arizonans voted “no” on MLK day twenty years ago, and why we keep re-electing a crazy Sheriff.*  It also explains why our legislature dreamt up such a poorly thought through bit of legislation as SB1062.

As hard as it is to believe if you live outside of Arizona, the Arizona psyche is not hateful. O, like everywhere else, we have a few haters. But what drives Arizonans is not hate, it is an independent, oppositional, and reactionary personality. Arizonans are Westerners – fiercely independent. There are two qualities to the Arizona psyche. First, we dislike being told what to do…and we dislike anyone else being told what they must do, either. It’s a cowboy thing…which, come to think of it, explains our weird gun laws. Second, Arizonans abhor bullies. We nearly always rush to the aid an underdog. There is a good reason John Wayne had a ranch in Arizona: He fit in here.

Let me give an example of the Arizona psyche: Back in 1990 Arizona was one of the few states actually putting the MLK Day issue to a popular vote. At the time I lived in the town that reportedly voted against the MLK holiday with the highest margin in the state. I knew at least 50 people who were going to vote “yes” until the NFL said publicly that they would pull the Super Bowl if we voted against it. Those people, many of them Democrats, walked into the voting booth and punched “no.” For months afterward I heard ordinarily progressive Arizonans complain, “Who does the NFL they think they are? They can’t tell us what to do.” Arizonans dislike folks telling others what to do.

Second, Arizonans despise bullies.  I was once watched as a neighborhood changed sides and petitions multiple times in a dispute between neighbors over an out of code home remodel. Every time one of the parties got the 34 neighbors names on their petition they ran, not for reconciliation, but the courts. As their chosen mediator, I told them both several times, “Whoa, the neighbors aren’t saying they like you more than him, they just didn’t want you to get messed with. They are on your side because, in their mind, your neighbor is messing with you. If you try that, you become the bully. They will change sides. Fast.” They were transplants and didn’t understand why the neighbors wouldn’t stick with their “side.” Arizonans side with the perceived underdog.

SB1062 was a bad bill. It was so broadly constructed as to have virtually no boundaries. Corporations (Coca Cola or Apple for instance) would have become “individuals” under the law…and with the same Constitutional protections as an individual, with all the terrifying implications inherent in that. It was intended to stop the flower lady from being forced to participate in someone’s same-sex wedding. No. Arizona does not have same-sex marriage. But it will. And everyone knows it. Our legislators are merely doing their cowboy best to keep “outside forces” with social-change agendas from coming onto our range and pushing people around. 

And, yes, those who supported SB1062 did look dumb in interviews. Why wouldn’t they? Anderson Cooper and other media folk were asking questions our legislators never thought to try to answer…the reason they appeared confused when newscasters asked them, “Why do you want to discriminate against Gay people?” is that they were confused. They genuinely didn’t understand the question – they were supporting the flower lady against what appears to them to be a legal juggernaut that wants to push her around. When dealing with Arizonans, keep in mind that we are reactionaries, not haters.

Arizonans are big on independence. And this isn’t about Gay/Straight. Arizonans generally don’t need to agree with a neighbor to ride to their aid. But we do need to know that the neighbor isn’t going to try to take over all of the water holes. And I can tell you this, for a big swath of Arizonans the LGBT community doesn’t come across as what they are, a small and beleaguered neighbor who has always had a little spread over by the Mesa asking to be left alone. To many Arizonans the LGBT community comes across as the new rancher with a lot of money and Eastern friends with political connections riding roughshod into our little town and trying to take over…Yeah, like the sophisticated newcomer bad guys who show up in dozens of the Duke’s old movies.

Ironically, if supporters of same-sex marriage want to speed up the passing of same-sex marriage in Arizona they could use the Arizona psyche to their advantage. The LGBT community could say, “We have told you that our marriage in no way will affect yours. We mean that. We understand that you are nervous about the lawsuits in other states, but we meant what we said. We mean it so much that we will help write a better version of that bad bill if you feel you need it. All we are asking for is the right to live our lives as we see fit. We support your right to live yours as you see fit too. And, to be honest, who wants someone working their wedding that doesn’t want to be there?” That would take the fear out of the folks who feel the need to propose such knee-jerk legislation. Or the LGBT community could beg the Governor to reconsider and sign the bill. The fastest way for the LGBT community to get same-sex marriage in Arizona would be to pass SB1062 and watch Arizonans rush to change sides to defend the new underdog when the few haters acted on their newfound powers of discrimination.

So remember, if you find yourself dealing with an Arizonan and wondering how we will react just ask yourself, WWJWD? What Would John Wayne Do? Like John Wayne, you can assume we have good intent. You can assume we won’t take kindly to attempts to boss us around. You can expect we will ride to your defense if it appears that someone is doing the same to you. You can assume we will probably throw a right cross first and ask questions later. Yes, we tend to be high on loyalty and low on sophistication. But, in the end, we stand with folks right to live their lives as they see fit, whether we agree with them or not. And, yes, like John Wayne, many of us are packing heat.

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Now I change gears to talk to my fellow Arizonan Christians. The saddest part of this whole thing to me was the response of most of the Christian community. I get your nervousness as a citizen, but surely Christ is a higher allegiance than culture? Regardless of whether or not you think that a same-sex relationship is sinful, surely you acknowledge the neither Jesus, nor any other New Testament writer gives Jesus’ followers any directions on the treatment of our LGBT friends and family members outside of loving them. Is that LGBT person a brother or sister in Christ? Then love them. Are they an unbeliever? Then love them. Are they a neighbor? Love them. An enemy? Same deal. So regardless of how we over-react as Arizonans, if you claim the name of Jesus Christ, kindness and care to all are Jesus’ call.

We can do better, friends.

*Among other things, Sheriff Joe keeps our prison industrial complex running by charging inmates for parole, returning them to prison for the inability to pay for their freedom after they have paid their debt to society. He also staged document checks on the steps of churches as parishioners exited.

To Donald Miller and anyone else considering dumping church: The church works best when you like it least

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I do not know Donald Miller. He writes great books though…books I read, recommend, and give away. Miller made a big splash in the blogosphere this week when he posted, “I don’t worship by singing.” In it he confesses that singing is “not his worship language” (I’m with him, it isn’t mine either).  He goes on to admit, “So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest.” His reasons boil down to: 1) It is not how he learns. 2) It is not how he finds “intimacy with God.”

A Christian thought leader saying that he has “dropped church,” naturally creates a stir. Those ripples became waves yesterday with the followup he posted to clear things up. In that one he goes on to tell everyone why he was right. He said, and I am paraphrasing here, “The church is a mess,” “your reasons for wanting me to attend are rooted in fear,” “there are other ways to connect with God,” and, my personal favorite, “I’m just not feelin’ it.” As someone who disliked church intensely for my first twenty-five years in Christ, I am willing to stipulate that Miller is correct on all of his critiques. I am just not willing to embrace his conclusion.

The interesting part is that, even though Don calls himself a “post-evangelical,” he still thinks of church through the individualistic lens of the modern American turnstile church (not that other views of the church don’t have flaws, they do, just different ones). Basically Miller defines down the purpose of the public gathering for worship as “how I feel” and “what I get out of this?” Every Christian has had those two thoughts, whether spoken aloud or not.

If you have not articulated those thoughts it was because your next thought was, “Gee, that sounds a bit narcissistic.” Creeping narcissism is pretty difficult to avoid in the big-box church. It is, after all, the fruit of the preference based, target audience specific, focus group tested, “Just you and Jesus” message that modern mega-evangelicalism produces (See “What’s so uncool about cool churches“). If church is about “feelings of intimacy” and “getting something out of it,” then Christians would have given up on church 2000 years ago.

I understand the frustration: Constantly reinventing “relevance” leaves us captive to our own experience. It  becomes like a dog chasing its tail. The reason the church has been clung to for 2000 years is that, unlike the much imitated “seeker model” of the last thirty years, Word and Sacrament are not about “getting” or “feeling” but about being conformed to a Jesus-centered pattern set long ago. As Episcopal priest and former baseball coach, Gil Stafford, once said to me, “The liturgy is like a rock falling into a stream. It rubs the rough edges off of us week after week, year after year. It is an infinitely slow and quiet transformation that is about being with other rocks in the stream as the Spirit works through the years, the prayers, the Sacraments and the community of faith.” It is a long obedience in the same direction. It is about consuming Jesus and being consumed by him. And, I am convinced, the church works specifically best when we do not like it! When we choose to engage and to cooperate with the prayers, and surrender to the Lord of the prayers, and come, kneel, reach out our hands and receive, and “taste and see that the Lord is good,” then we truly worship.

Don Miller is a fantastic writer. He has and will continue to produce works that are well worth the investment of our time and money. And everyone with a keyboard writes things we later regret. The most regrettable line in his post was this one, “I literally feel an intimacy with God when I build my company.” Which was literally when I decided to comment. Of course, all men feel a sense of purpose when they are engaged in meaningful labor. It is an inherent part of maleness given in creation (Genesis 2). That an author with as much wisdom as Don Miller has shown in his books doesn’t see the idolatrous leanings in that statement, is a big yellow warning sign that he has been out of church just a little too long.

Our relationship with the Church should not be about feelings (even if we are feeling creatures), or learning (although learning is nice), or other people, or avoiding spiritual shipwreck. It should be because the Redeeming Lord of all Creation has used the pattern of Word and Sacrament to call out and shape a remnant into his image to participate with him in the redemption of the world.

It is an odd thing we Christians of the Great Tradition (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, many Lutherans) do on Sundays. Oddly dressed people stand before us in garments that seem to say, “I have so lashed my life to the mast of word and sacrament that I am willing to dress like an idiot and drape myself with even more foolishness.” One of these awkwardly attired souls stands up and joyfully announces a message out of place and thoroughly irrelevant to a culture obsessed with its own relevance: “Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” This opening acclamation declares that we have entered another realm, one in which our culture and our preferences are not the measure of our meaning. The congregation responds hopefully, “And blessed be God’s kingdom, now and for ever.” It is a bit of wisdom that we might never come to on our own…that we get through the collective wisdom of the Church, the body of Christ, across space and back through time.

Like Don Miller, I too would like the church to be something I might find meaningful.  The liturgy, developed over two thousand years, and assembled by worshippers who did not fit within their own cultures, makes no such attempt. It is simply about God. And not about the God-who-fulfills-all-my-desires, but about the one who is God-as-he-is-not-as-I-would-like-him-to-be. Every word of the liturgy is about God’s blessedness, not ours. In the words of Mark Galli, “The liturgy immediately signals that our needs are not as relevant as we imagine. There is something infinitely more worthy of our attention-something, someone who lies outside the self.”

The ancient prayers go deep into our pre-rational selves, into our subconscious and mythic selves and transforms our all. As we learn to cooperate with God, the prayers honor and respect and take us. They lift us beyond ourselves to, as friend and priest Jim Clark says, “The Ultimate Mystery who is more than my experience, but who is also in my experience.” As we cooperate, God lifts and transforms our beings, imparting the Gracegiver until every aspect of our being is transformed. In the end, church isn’t about feeling differently or learning stuff. It is about being changed through Sacramental rhythm. And that only happens through time and repetition. Which is why you can’t get it at your company, while hiking, or in Starbucks.

All of which is to say, “Donald, Please come back.”

Exclusive Inclusivity: Will The Episcopal Church Keep Gay Millennials?

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What is going on?

Over the past two weeks I have fielded phone calls from three different young gay men requesting “spiritual safety.” These are not exactly expected, as I am a known traditionalist. The conversations go like this:

Caller: “Hey Matt. So you know how I’m a Christian?

Me: “Yes.”

Caller: “Well, I need some Christian friends.”

Me: “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.”

Caller: “Yeah, about that…as a young gay person who loves Jesus and wants to grow in his faith, I feel like an outcast in my church much of the time.”

Me: “Ouch. Is it really that bad?”

Caller: “Well, when I talk about ‘Jesus, and the power of the Resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings,’ I get raised eyebrows. When I talk about evangelism, historic doctrines, or believing the Creeds, people tug at their shirt collars…and clergy their clerical collars. They are very excited about Spong, Borg, Crossan and the Buddha, but they get the willies when I want to talk about Augustine, Aquinas, NT Wright and the Messiah.” They tell me ‘we welcome questions,’ but it seems that orthodox answers are the only ones not tolerated.

Me: “I know you well enough to know that bugs you.”

Caller: “Uh, yeah. I joined a church because I want to be Christian. …So, can I hang out with you…even though we are in different places on sexuality?”

Me: “Have we ever talked about sexuality?”

Caller: “No, but well, word on the street is that you’re “not really with us.” You treat me like a brother in the Lord, though, and not like some kind of oddball because I believe the core doctrines of the faith and that the Bible is the Word of God.”

I want to raise a question: How is it that young people feel belittled for being too Christian in a Christian church? And (here comes my conventional logic defying proposition) could orthodox, trinitarian theology be replacing sexuality as a point of alignment for a growing number of LGBT young adult Episcopalians?

I am sure that my politically doctrinaire friends on both the Left and Right are warming up their typing fingers to punch out a fiery response for daring to wander outside of the accepted sexual orthodoxies right about now. But before your fingers fly, let me ask you to put aside the arguments of the past, the ones you have rehearsed and rehashed answers for, and peek around the corner, for just a moment. Think about those three phone calls and ask yourself if they might be pointing at something significant on the horizon…

Imagine that you are a twenty year old Episcopalian. You view the world through post-modern eyes…you place high value on maintaining relationships with people, including those with differing viewpoints from your own. Whether gay or straight, you are coming of age in a world in which, chances are good, that you have not fought over sexuality.  In that world, young Gay Episcopalians seem to be seeking out the theologically orthodox for supportive Christian discipleship.

My snarky side wants to whisper, “Gee, that sounds like actual tolerance.” You know, from before “tolerance” was code for “progressive,” when it was a word that presumed disagreement. After all, I don’t have to “tolerate” those I agree with. We already agree. Much has been written about the exclusivity of “inclusivity” – How the only idea that is out of bounds is the idea that some ideas are, in fact, out of bounds. The old and inherently contradictory notion that there is no objective truth except, of course, the statement that there is no objective truth. But now my iPhone call log is showing a growing list of indicators that at least some of the group the Episcopal Church has most tried to enfranchise are feeling disenfranchised. What kind of inclusivity is it that is gives Gay Millennials the experience of being excluded for simply wanting to follow Jesus according to the traditions and doctrines of our faith, as set out in our prayer book and Scriptures?

And does this point to an emerging generational divide within the Episcopal Church? Boomers, for whom winning arguments is culturally quite important, are wired differently from post-modern Millennials. For Millennials, respect trumps truth. They would rather be in relationship than be right. They embrace mutually contradictory ideas without internal conflict. It confuses those over 40 when Millennials report that they are both significantly more pro-life and more pro-gay than their parents. Many boomers are shocked when they hear of Millennials requesting Rite One weddings (including the “dreadful day of judgment”), and that when playing “Jesus Seminar” on the Creed they vote their marbles more orthodoxly than their parents.

I see winds of change blowing into the Episcopal Church. It came in with the Millennials when they walked through the batwings and bellied up to the bar at the last General Convention. Did you notice that GenCon12 voted to become both more progressive politically while, at the same time, holding the line on theological orthodoxy?[1] Did you notice the groundswell to shrink national structures and sell the national Church Center? Did you notice the Acts8 Moment? Many Boomers seemed surprised at those swirling winds.

But none of this should come as a surprise. It is what always happens with the second-generation after a struggle. And with sexuality, in much of the country, Millennials are second generation people. In issues of race, those who fought for equality are shocked that the second generation has forgotten the struggle. With women, young adults have to be taught that gender inclusive language is important…because “when a woman might actually become President of the company or the country,” as one young African American woman recently told me, “pandering to me with language isn’t important.” In the sexuality debates, most Episcopalians now in college have never known a church in which LGBT people were not welcomed. The last conservative church departures occurred when they were in junior high. Gay Millennials are telling us, “We joined this because we want to be Christian.” And my ringing iPhone tells me that, too often, we are making it difficult for them.

As the culture continues to change, will the Episcopal Church keep Gay Millennials? Or will they end up going someplace else – someplace that puts more emphases on their faith than their orientation?

In another fascinating conversation last week, a friend, a woman in a long-term same-sex partnership, told me, “We want our kids in your children and youth midweek programs.” They live close and trust us. They are not going to give our church a shot, however. “We are going to keep driving (40 minutes) to our megachurch on Sundays. We know they are not Gay-friendly, but the preaching and music are great.”

Her statement was a fascinating example of cultural change coming: In a world in which LGBT people increasingly have public affirmation and political protection, they no will longer need the affirmation of the church. When they engage the church it will be because they long for the faith of the church. All of which leaves a question hovering like incense after a high Mass: As evangelicals become less LGBT hostile[2], will the Episcopal Church hold on to LGBT Millennials?

Is my ringing phone an aberration? Or are we quickly entering a new era in which LGBT people will no longer come to church for affirmation but for transformation? (In fact, maybe they were seeking transformation the whole time.)

And how do we give transformation? What if we simply remember who we are – a prayer book using, Lambeth Quadrilateral believing, transformation expecting church?[3] Ditch the fuzzy Christology, hermeneutic of suspicion, and denials of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Return to basic Christian teaching that we are dead in our trespasses and sins and there is one solution, to be made alive in Christ. Proclaim, without fingers crossed or apology, that humanities’ ills are only be solved by casting ourselves on the mercy of God to receive the gift of salvation purchased on the cross at God’s initiation and God’s expense, “For by grace you have been saved.”[4] I am not arguing for the dropping of the ability to question in the Episcopal Church. We learn by questioning. I merely argue for the charitable assumption of the Great Tradition and, at the end of the questions, the clarity of our leaders to say, “Here is how Christians have clung to God for 2000 years.” To quote Greg Boyd, “faith isn’t about trying to feel certain about your beliefs but being willing to commit to living a certain way despite the fact that you’re not certain.”[5]

A new wind is blowing. One in which young people, including young Gay Episcopalians, will engage with churches because they want help to walk with Christ in a community of other Christ-seekers.

How will the Episcopal Church fare in this brave new world?


[1] Politically progressive: Same sex blessings, affirming inclusion of transgendered people. Theologically orthodox: No Communion of the unbaptized, Confirmation as necessary for parish office.

[2] Check out the Christianity 21 Conference and the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference, both of which feature unambiguous and unashamed Jesus speak. The way evangelicals talk about homosexuality, or choose to avoid talking about it, and the way most evangelicals treat LGBT persons is certainly changing. Influential evangelical, Tim Keller’s comments in an Ethics and Public Policy Forum is telling of this direction: “Large numbers of evangelical(s)…will continue to hold the view that same-sex marriage runs counter to their faith, even as they increasingly decide they either support or do not oppose making it the law of the land.” 

[3] BCP, 877-8) 1) The Bible as Word of God teaching all things necessary to salvation, 2) The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of faith, 3) The 2 Sacraments given by Jesus for the life of the body and 4) the historic Episcopate as the organizing principle of Christ’s Church)

[4] Ephesians 2:1-5, Rite One Eucharist: “All glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption.”

[5] Greg Boyd’s post

Why Child Celebrity Begins at Church

Matt Marino:

Blogger Paul Wilkinson points out a sad truth: the church trained many young music stars for professional success but failed to help them know how to cope with that success…

Originally posted on Thinking Out Loud:

If you’ve ever held a hymnbook in your hand, or sung in a church music production, you are at a distinct musical advantage compared to the other kids in your class. Doing drama productions, singing in a couple of middle school choir things, and playing in the school orchestra all certainly furthered my musical education, but going to a large and musically diverse church enriched that education greatly.

Sometimes more is caught than taught, and that was definitely true in my case. I played in the church orchestra and was pianist for the college and career youth group. The church was the first in Canada to broadcast on television, and regularly did major theatrical-style productions ranging from contemporary to operatic. I also learned about sound, lighting, make-up, camera-blocking, stage set-up, mixing paid musicians with volunteers, and learned about the relationship of all these superficials to the ultimate end: the communication…

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Polygamy/Polyamory: CNN feeds us their agenda. Do you like how it tastes?

Photo credit: CNN

Photo credit: CNN

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Poly is the new Black.

CNN appears to have a new agenda this fall: Broadening the definition of “marriage” from the not yet universal “two people” to “whatever.” The specific terms are polygamy and polyamory. What is polyamory you ask? You should ask. You are going to hear more and more of it. You will hear of it because CNN appears to be engaged in a systematic attempt to make sure you do by normalizing polyamory and polygamy in American culture. CNN not only can’t wait for the ink to dry on Same Sex Marriage, they can’t even wait for the ink to be put to paper in most states.

Consider this incomplete sample of the diet CNN has fed us this fall:

December 18: CNN runs a belief blog by an Episcopal priest, Danielle Tumminio entitled, “How I learned to love polygamy.” (Her post is so chock full of theological problems that it warrants response from the blogosphere, but our seminaries’ apparent weakness in explaining basic trinitarian theology, and why supporting the release of “spirit babies” to work their way to heaven by people holding an Adoptionist view of Christ are a separate issue.)

December 16: CNN runs an opinion piece by Mark Goldfeder, from the Center for Law and Religion entitled, “It’s time to reconsider polygamy.”

December 14: CNN runs a news piece on the Utah polygamy law being struck down as unenforceable.

These could be considered “responding to the news,” except that on October 26th, CNN ran this seven page puff-piece in support of polyamory: Polyamory: When three isn’t a crowd.

It appears that for CNN, “poly” is the new “Black.” My not so subtle mixing of the wardrobe metaphor with the genetic-causality metaphor is most intentional. Many African Americans have long been incensed by the LGBT communities equating race with orientation. Now the LGBT community gets to experience having their argument co-opted by another’s agenda (“It’s my Civil Right…a right to privacy”).

Many will say it is a good thing to move from narrowness and judgments to freedom…that telling people how to live is invasive and repressive, best left on the dung-heap of our once Christian culture. Has anyone bothered to ask, as we rush pell-mell into a wholesale rewriting of cultural norms, if this brave new pansexuality has ever worked in any other culture in any time in the known history of our species?

By the way, the church is not immune. Polyamory is in the church already- and not just in the pews. The week before the “Three isn’t a crowd” post came out I was at an ecumenical Christian formation conference. Although the information at the conference was very helpful, the level of cultural accommodation among some of the conference’s SF Bay area attendees was stunning. Over lunch a very nice Children’s minister asked a clergy person from Idaho (a heavily LDS area) if she had access to LDS children’s materials. Since the LDS are non-trinitarian, I curiously asked, “Why would you use LDS stuff?”  The answer: “O, their materials are helpful in our polyamorous context.” Taken aback I asked, “You have polyamorous families in church?” She seemed to think I was pulling her leg with the question. “Seriously?” she asked. “The definition of families is changing, you know.” Surprised I responded, “Wow, that sure sounds like the ‘slippery slope’ conservatives are mocked for fearing.” A clergy person at the table jumped in: “And what’s wrong with slippery slopes?”

Apparently slippery slopes aren’t a problem for some in the church nor for CNN either. And apparently we are to be fed a steady diet of CNN’s new “whatever” agenda.

I have one question: Do you like how it tastes?

How do millennials experience your church?

I asked Christopher to guest post after his comments on my “Kinnaman” post were so eerily similar to statements made by millennials in a recent Q & A hosted by one of the nations most effective ministries to millennials led by millennials, PhoenixOne.

Why Millennials are Leaving the Church: A suggestion.

By Christopher Jones

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I graduated college two and a half years ago. Unlike many in my generation, I haven’t stopped attending church. I have, however, stopped being part of the church.

According to most metrics, I haven’t “left.” I still show up on Sundays. But wherever I go, I find myself almost completely ignored.

Our problem: Most American churches are structured around families. If you don’t have a family, you are put into a box. Youth ministry. College ministry. And after that? No one knows what to do with you.

In the modern American church, if you’re not married, you’re not an adult. And we millennials are part of a generation that’s getting married later and later for economic reasons.

It takes a lot longer to build a stable career today than it took our parents’ generation. My parents had me when they were 25. I’ll be 25 in four months. By that time, I will have been enrolled in higher education for nearly twice as long as my parents. I’m unmarried, have never been in a serious relationship, have hardly any money, and have moved regularly to pursue my education. Its next to impossible to work towards marriage in such a situation. My situation is hardly unique.

Inter-generational economic differences are another huge rift in the church that no one is talking about. At one church I mentioned to a middle-aged woman that I was likely spending the next year unemployed. She burst out laughing. For some reason the pressure and debt our generation faces to develop future competitiveness in the emerging job market was humorous.

From the minute we step inside the doors on Sunday, post-college millennials face a wall of negative judgments and assumptions. Those with successful careers wonder why we can’t just “work at a factory or a newspaper like I did when I was your age.” The assumption is that we are lazy and think that we are entitled. A better explanation is that those jobs simply don’t exist anymore. Married people, in both overt and covert ways send us the message that the purpose of Christian singleness is marriage (never mind that Paul said the exact opposite in 1 Corinthians 7, but I digress).

Our generation graduated into a world of part-time jobs, unpaid internships, and student loan debt. A world in which shrinking paychecks meet inflated living costs. Yet from the pulpit we still hear sermons attuned to yesterday’s economic concerns. Sermons about not working too hard and not making your career into an idol ring hollow when you’re working late hours struggling to make next month’s rent.

Whatever the cause is, it is certainly not that the church is too conservative. If liberal politics were why we left the church, then we’d be flocking to churches with liberal politics. Yet mainline Protestant churches have declined much more sharply over the past ten years than conservative ones.

No, we millennials often embrace liberal politics as a substitute to fill some of the void that the absence of religion leaves in a person’s soul. Liberal politics provides a supportive community working towards a common goal and offers a promise of an ultimate end state of justice and equality. It’s a substitute for religion, not a cause for rejecting it.

A person can personally believe in salvation through Jesus Christ without going to church. A person can feed the poor and care for the sick without belonging to a congregation. What they cannot do alone is become part of a fellowship of believers. And if our generation doesn’t find that fellowship at church, we’ll stop going.

In short, we millennials just want to be treated like adults. We don’t want to be catered to. We don’t want to be entertained. We certainly don’t want to be eyed suspiciously as some sort of dangerous element by people more interested in passing judgment than trying to understand what life is really like in your twenties in modern America. We want to be included. It’s not that hard. We’re human beings like the rest of you, and we’d like to be treated as such.

*Christopher Jones is an aspiring historian of the ancient Near East currently working towards completing his Master’s Degree in Biblical Archaeology at Wheaton College. He blogs about the ancient Near East at http://riversfromeden.wordpress.com/.

Funerals: Recovering hope in a culture terrified of death (2 of 2)

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I promise you interesting reading on a topic you were not looking for in the middle of Advent. Although not the usual topics for youth ministry and/or church planters, as advertised in part one (The obsession we cannot avoid), here is the text to our Q & A on funerals.  It will give you a glimpse into the purpose and power of the traditional burial office. It was produced by Nicholas Knisely, Bishop of Rhode Island, Bryan Owen, Rector of St. Luke’s Baton Rouge (blogs as Creedal Christian), and myself. It is available as text for websites or as a customizable flier.

Why have a funeral in a church?

One of the characteristics of an Episcopal or Anglican Church is that you will often see graves inside the church or on the church grounds. When we speak of the Church, we mean both the church militant (those who are alive right now) and the church triumphant (those who have died and ended their earthly race). When you worship in a liturgical Church you are literally and tangibly in the presence of the whole Church. A funeral in the church building is a sign that, even though death seems to divide us from those we love, the Body of Christ is never divided. As members of Christ’s body, we are still connected with those we love but see no longer. Therefore, a funeral in the church building foreshadows that day when we will be reunited with the entirety of the Body of Christ in the presence of God.

Why a burial office (prayer book funeral service) instead of a memorial?

Rather than focus on what we believe to have been important about our loved one’s life, the burial liturgy reminds all present that we are brought into a reconciled relationship with God after our death because of what God has done, not because of what we did in life. Using the burial office rather than trying to create a particular and personal memorial service is a consequence of that belief. In the burial office the gathered body of Christ expresses gratitude for God’s redeeming work in our loved one’s life, hands them over to God’s gracious care, and looks forward in hope to God’s future resurrection of us as well.

Why do clergy accompany the family on the initial consultation with the funeral home? 

It is often a good idea to have the church funeral planner accompany you to the mortuary in order to coordinate arrangements at the beginning of the planning process. The clergy/church representative is your advocate and a calm and supportive presence at a time when difficult decisions must be made.

Why is it important for the body or cremains of the deceased to be present?

Christians believe in the bodily resurrection, not just of Jesus, but of each of Jesus’ followers. We do not know what our new bodies will look like, but we do know that God is going to transform the essence of our whole selves, our minds, our souls, and our bodies. The presence of the body or cremains of our loved one is a sign to all of our trust in God’s plan to redeem and transform us in the end.

When there is a body, why is the casket closed and covered with a pall? 

Holy Scripture tells us that “to be away from the body is to be home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). We close the casket because our loved one is no longer present-only their remains.

Once inside the church the casket is completely covered with the “pall.” As Easter people we are dressed in white in our final church service. The pall points to the reality that, whatever our station in life, we all come before God by virtue of being clothed in robes made white by Christ’s loving action on our behalf.

Why are there no eulogies?

Although there is a degree of latitude granted in some parishes, there is a longstanding tradition of not having eulogies in the burial office. This is because the burial office, rather than fixating on the past, orients our faces toward the future promised by God that is a consequence of our relationship with Jesus. It is a good thing to remember the lives of our loved ones and to give thanks for all they have meant to those who remain behind. That work of remembering, though, happens best when we can do it in conversation. Perhaps you will want to have someone speak about your loved one’s life during visitation hours before the burial office, or at the reception following.  You also have the option of having a Vigil the evening prior to the funeral as a time to offer prayers and to share memories of the deceased. (BCP, 465-466). *Feel free to speak with your priest if you wish to discuss this further.

Why is that ‘big candle’ used in the service?

The Paschal Candle is first lit each year in the Easter Vigil to symbolize Christ dispelling the darkness. As the candle is brought into the darkened church, we sing that the light of Christ has conquered the darkness of the grave. The Paschal candle is lit every time the Church celebrates a baptism. In baptism we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit” and “marked as Christ’s own forever.” (BCP, 308) The candle is lit at every funeral to remind us of this unbreakable bond and the truth that nothing in all of creation, including death itself, can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Why Is the church adorned in white?

The church is adorned in white because the burial office is an Easter liturgy and focuses on the unexpected joy of the resurrection, which the Church has proclaimed for two thousand years. In the liturgy, there is a beautiful phrase, “Yet even at the grave we make our song, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” It is in the hardest, darkest times of our lives, that we insist on proclaiming our hope that “in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Why does The Prayer book select certain Scripture readings to be used in the service??

The Book of Common Prayer is the result of centuries of thought and theological reflection. As the result of this intentional conversation across generations, the prayer book has provided selections from the Holy Scriptures to sustain us at the time of death. There is a certain latitude given to the officiant and the family planning the liturgy to chose favorite hymns or alternative readings, but the appointed readings have been chosen because they speak directly to the resurrection hope that lies at the heart of the Christian faith.

Why do we have Communion?

God has given us the chance to be united with those we love but see no longer through the redeeming action of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. When we share in the sacrament of bread and the wine, partaking in the body and blood of our Lord, we are united with all the hosts of heaven, and all the members of Christ’s Church of all time. We share this final Communion meal, the family meal of God’s own household, in anticipation of that great day. We will not be able to share Thanksgiving or Christmas, birthday or anniversary meals any longer with the people we have lost, but we will, for eternity, share this Eucharistic meal with them. *There are occasions in which communion may not be desirable. Discuss this with the church when planning the particulars of the service.

In Summary

Few are the times in this present age when people are aware of God’s acting to graft us in to his larger and eternal purposes. Baptisms, weddings and funerals are among those occasions. It is in those events when time and eternity touch that we and our loved ones need the truth, beauty, and comfort of the words of Holy Scripture and the great tradition. The burial office exists because the final goodbye to your loved one is simply too significant a matter to make it up as we go.

The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy that finds all its meaning in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It gives us permission to express deep sorrow over the death of loved ones.  It also reassures us that all who die in Christ share in the victory of his triumph over death.  Using this liturgy in the church for the burial of a Christian reaffirms and strengthens our faith that just as God raised Jesus from the dead, he will also raise us.

We are glad that you are considering our church for this important event in the life of your family.

Please contact the St. Jude’s church office at (602) 492-1772 to set up an appointment to plan the particulars of the ceremony.

We are planning for this to be the first of a series entitled “Your Church. For Life.” It will include Baptism, Confirmation, & Marriage, four events people look to mark in the church.logo

All of which is to say: When I die, do the world a favor. Give me a funeral.

Death: The obsession we cannot avoid and dare not admit (1of 2)

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In our rush from the church, have we begun using entertainment as religion to answer the questions fundamental to human thriving?

Our culture has almost entirely insulated us from the reality of death. Most of us are awkward with the topic in conversation and go to great lengths to avoid the appearance of nearing death with a plethora of products, services and surgeries designed to cheat aging at any coast. Our post-modern avoidant/fascination with death struck me last night at our local cineplex. The new release lists are heavy with vampires, zombies and time travel…except for the ones about super heroes with death-defying powers. When did death-avoidance become the central theme of our entertainment?

Although we may abandon organized religion, it appears that we do so at our own existential peril. In our rush from the church, it seems we have begun using entertainment as religion to answer the questions fundamental to human thriving.  Last night’s trip to the theater was instructive. The opening line to the movie The Book Thief is “Everybody is going to die someday.” The closing line of the last preview before the movie started was from The Winter Tail: “Maybe it is possible to love someone so much that they cannot die.”  Interestingly, the Christian message is precisely that there is a love so strong it will overcome death. But instead of considering that message, most of us will avoid thinking about death until we stare it in the face – literally looking down at the remains of someone we loved lying in a casket.

Our obsession with death becomes even more curious when viewed in light of our near total buffering from it. In previous generations death came earlier, more often, and closer to home-most likely even in the home. Today we have longer life expectancies, become infirm in care facilities, and enter hospitals when illness becomes terminal. Today when we take our last breath it is usually in an institution rather than in the places of our lives. (This has been covered in the press recently (NPR) and was picked up on the Episcopal Cafe.) Add to these layers of insulation, the entertainment industry. Big entertainment includes in it’s notoriously unreliable curriculum the lesson that people don’t actually die at all. They are “offed” (often quite creatively) only to appear next week on another network, perhaps even in the same time slot.

The media is merely a barometer of our desires – It packages and sells us what market research tells them we want. Having discovered our discomfort with our own mortality, it sells our anxieties back to us in the form of a seemingly endless array of zombies and vampires, with their promise of a life-of-sorts. Perhaps, though, the clearest barometer of our post-modern denial of death is found in the new Tumblr site, “selfies at funerals“. If we cannot cheat death, at least we can laugh at other’s deaths. Turn up the music, dude!

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Perhaps the epitome of our post-modern denial of death is found in the new Tumblr site, Selfies at Funerals...Turn up the music, dude!

All of this, of course, affects the church. Many Christians now have an “It’s a Wonderful Life” theology of the afterlife more akin to ancient Greek (or perhaps LDS) beliefs than orthodox Christianity – this is the popular view we “pass on” to become angels trying to win our wings by aiding the frustrated left on earth.

Contributing to this fuzzy theology is the demise of the traditional funeral. You may never have been to an actual funeral, but you have surely been to a memorial service. A memorial is, of course, about looking backwards – of “memories.” The general liturgy of a memorial is to sing a few of the deceased’s favorite songs and, to continue our It’s a Wonderful Life metaphor, share our remembrances of Uncle Billy.  Occasionally a few too many remembrances, and for too long…glossing over flaws and overstating things a bit on behalf of someone whose life might have actually left a lot to be desired. To be realistic, returning again to It’s a Wonderful Life, although Uncle Billy’s absent-mindedness was cute, it caused the family a great deal of trouble. The pastor then closes the memorial with a short message that makes some reference to Jesus’ as accounting for the deceased’s goodness and gently asking those present to consider a relationship with God in order to join Billy in his eternal home.

As heartwarming and well-intended as it is, the memorial is all about looking backwards. A funeral is all about looking forward. It is about promises and hope bought vicariously. It is about real and eternal life, new bodies, and paradise found, purchased at another’s initiation and another’s expense.

The memorial, when viewed in light of the old-school funeral, reveals a very low view of the transition between life and death, and a fuzzy view of the afterlife…both of which, when added together, diminish our understanding of the purpose of the time we have here on earth. The memorial has very little teaching on the afterlife, very little explanation of what comes next and very little of the historic Christian narrative, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” (BCP 363)

In our times of greatest loss our most profound need, besides the presence of those we love, is for the comfortable words of the faith. We need reminders of what lies ahead rather than what lay behind. We need to know that we do not stand alone at the precipice – we are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 11:1). And because death could not hold Jesus Christ, neither can it hold those who are found in him (1 Cor. 15:20-23). That is why in the traditional Christian funeral we shout in hope, “even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” (BCP, 499)

Here is where I may get into trouble with you: It may feel as if I am treading on the toes of those of us who planned the final services for our parents or wife or brother or Uncle Billy. I should say that, as a pastor, I have done more than a few memorial services myself. We sent my mother on her eternal way with a memorial service. After more theological reflection I can only say that I wish I knew then what I know now. I was the victim of a lack of theology of death and the afterlife. And, as a result, those under my leadership were limited by my lack of understanding. I now see the memorial as a far cry from a prayer book funeral.

Interestingly, while this end of life conversation was going on, three clergy in the Episcopal Church: Nicholas Knisely, Bishop of Rhode Island, Bryan Owen, Rector of St. Luke’s Baton Rouge (who blogs as Creedal Christian), and myself have been working on a question and answer on funeral practices as a customizable parish resource to give people a brief glimpse into the purpose and power of a proper funeral service. It will be available as text for websites or as a customizable flier. I will put up the text that we have worked out as a post in the next several days.

We offer this, not as a condemnation of what anyone has done, but as a resource to help us have a broader perspective on life, death, and the afterlife. The hope is that this would be a helpful planning resource for a time when you need it. The traditional funeral has the perspective of twenty centuries of Christian reflection that both blesses and relieves us of the absurdity of seeking for answers to our deepest longings in zombies and vampires. It offers a more hopeful hope. Not just for Uncle Billy, but for us as well.

Halloween: Trick or Treat?

The Gospel of Halloween. A very well-done video of the medieval church’s view of “All Hallow’s Eve.” According to Wikipedia, experts cannot agree if Halloween is of Christian origin or an example of Christians “baptizing” secular culture (like Christmas trees and Easter eggs).

Watch the video and then weigh in. What do you think? Harmless fun for the kids and a chance to be a witness by being present in your neighborhood? Or a bizarre pagan ritual that should be avoided?

*Thank you to Fr. Bryan Owen at the excellent blog “The Creedal Christian” for posting this.