What is truth?

15813134301_faf9c81d6f_bSnark MeterrealMID.003

Our cultural “believies” and the war against fundamentalism.

Unless you have spent the last two weeks living under a rock you have been stunned by the violence in the name of religion. This is not the first time the news has been bad. And not the first time religion was involved.

In the Christian calendar last Sunday was Christ the King – the one modern day in our liturgical year. Christ the King Sunday was given to us by pope Pius XI at the end of WWI. As hard as it is to imagine, the carnage then was far worse: 18 million died as machine guns, planes, tanks, chemical warfare brought our ability to kill into the modern era.  And an ugly truth: the leaders on both sides claimed to follow Christ.

Pius XI called it, “a failure to remember God.” He thought, “the people need to remember that this world does indeed have a king, but that king is not us. The pope set aside the last Sunday of the Christian year as an acknowledgement of the gracious rule of the King of Peace…and to grieve and groan our failure to walk in the way of peace. It is a day to remember and return – sort of a societal Ash Wednesday.

Christ the King is a powerful idea. But there was another response to the Great War: Rather than deepen religious commitment, some philosophers and politicians sought to eliminate it. The results of the attempt to eliminate religion were staggering. The next 70 years saw the atheistic states of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Amin and the Kmer Rouge kill more people than every religious war in history. Somewhere between 110 and 260 million people died at the hands of those seeking to eradicate religion.

Religion proved far more resilient than they imagined, though. 20% of America was still in church last Sunday. China and Africa are in the midst of the fastest extension of Christianity in history. Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam are also growing. Social science has acquiesced to a persistent truth: Humans are religious.  Maybe you have noticed that the narrative has changed from “God is dead” to “there are too darn many gods.” But a question remains: What do we do when people behave badly and use religion to justify that behavior? Since eradicating religion didn’t work, today another solution is being tried: To relativize and privatize religion.

You may not know it, but this isn’t the first relevatizing’s first rodeo. Pontius Pilate attempted the same strategy 2000 years ago. (John 18:33-38) Hours before being crucified Jesus was delivered to Pilate’s doorstep by religious leaders begging for his execution. Pilate, of the Roman knight class, was governor – the ancient version of being on a military “remote.” Do well and he would retire to a cushy life. Blow it and he would return home in disgrace. The last thing Pilate wanted was a religious squabble getting out of hand. Going inside he asked Jesus,  “Are you the king of the Jews?” (v.33) Jesus replied,  “My kingdom is not of this world, that’s why my soldiers aren’t fighting.” (v.36) In other words, Jesus wasn’t breaking Roman laws.

Pilate pressed him, “So you are a king?” (v.37) Pilate wants to worm his way out of the sticky political mess outside. Jesus wants to get into the mess that is Pilate’s interior: “I have come to bear witness to the truth.” “Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Even on trial, Jesus is inviting Pilate to himself. Pilate shrugs,  and utters the expression forever linked to his name, “What is truth?” (v.38) Then, knowing he is going to condemn an innocent man, Pilate walks out without waiting for an answer.

We all have times when we, like Pilate. don’t want to hear it…times when we want what we want and don’t want others intruding on those wants. Quite the opposite of Christ the King, this is me the king. Comedian Charles CK calls these, “my little believies.” He says, “I have things I believe. I don’t follow them. They just make me feel good about who I am. They are my believies.” “Believies” aren’t new, they’ve been with us since Adam and Eve did what they wanted in the garden. It’s always easier to walk away from truth than to confront where our beliefs lead.

In his book The Reason for God Tim Keller looks at our cultural “believies.” The first “believie”: “There can’t be one true religion.” The claim to exclusivity, we are told, is wrongheaded and dangerous. “After all,” this line of thought goes, “religion is nothing more than a cultural construct – Syrians are Muslim and Americans are Christian because of the culture in which we were raised. The arrogance that arises from the conviction that one has the absolute truth is responsible for the evil in our world.” So, we are told, religion should be condemned and relegated to the purely private sphere of life.

Tim Keller points out, though, that condemning religion is only possible if one holds to some other, some alternate, belief system – and all belief systems require both a “leap of faith” and a perspective of superiority. For the secularist both of these are inherently inconsistent. Keller also argues that privatization is never possible as everyone, no matter what faith or creed, brings a value system into the public discussion.

Now we are hearing a new “believie”: “Religion isn’t the problem. Fundamentalism is.” But be honest, we all have fundamental beliefs. In a pluralistic world the issue isn’t how deeply we hold our beliefs, but where those beliefs lead. Rather than pretending differences do not exist between religions, what if we were honest about them and instead evaluated which set of beliefs lead their believers to be the most loving and receptive toward those with whom they differ? Which set of unavoidably exclusive beliefs lead to humble, peace-loving behavior? Using those criteria, I believe Christianity has much to offer a world in crisis…much more than the secularists solution of relative, culture bound, privatized religion.

How could you possibly trust someone holding the philosophy that truth is relative not to cheat you?

After all how could you possibly trust someone holding the philosophy that truth is relative not to cheat you in business? Not to cheat in your marriage? To finish the job of parenting your children? Oh, a relativist might do all of those things. But there is nothing in their belief system to encourage their dependability. Heck, you can’t even count on the relativist not to crucify the innocent son of God.

The problem with our culture’s believies, is that they leave us with bigger problems than they solve. In contrast to our culture’s “spiritual but not religious” view, the Christian world view teaches:

  1. Truth is Objective (Truth is what is.)

Atheist Bertrand Russell talked about proving a teapot orbiting between earth and Mars.” But my ability to argue the point is irrelevant to that object’s actual existence. Either a teapot is spinning out there or it isn’t. Contrary to the oft repeated myth that truth is relative, Truth is what is, regardless of what I would like it to be. 

  1. Truth is Revealed: Truth is difficult to discern. Luckily we were not left on our own at this point. Truth was revealed generally in nature, but specifically in Jesus Christ and God’s word, the scriptures. Truth is what God says it is…not what I or my culture would like it to be.
  2. Truth is Narrow: The only area in which we struggle with the idea that truth is “narrow” is religion. Think about it…

Do you want a chemist with a broad definition of chemistry? Imagine a “broad” chemist bringing you a glass of H2O2: “What is one little extra atom of oxygen among friends?” Unfortunately H2O2 isn’t water. It’s peroxide. Truth is narrow.

Do you want an accountant who has a broad definition of addition? “Who says 2+2 must = 4? Why can’t it equal 3 or 311?” I’m guessing the IRS auditor will not be sympathetic. Why? Because Truth is narrow.

Do you want a pilot with a broad definition of what constitutes a runway?  “That airport is really busy today, but the freeway is long and straight. How about we set this 737 down on the Interstate?” Truth is narrow.

Do you want a spouse with a broad definition of love? “This is great Janice. Our love is awesome. Why don’t we share it…You have four sisters. Let’s all get married!” The answer to all of these is, No way! Truth is narrow. And finally…

  1. Truth is not private, it’s Personal. For a Christian, truth is not a what, truth is a who. Christian faith is based in the who of Jesus Christ. God loved humanity so completely and so relentlessly, that having seen our rebellion from before creation, God had a plan in place to redeem our fallen world. It involved his son Jesus Christ personally coming to earth, demonstrating a life of peace and self-sacrifice…A life of love and intimacy with his Father. And a life in which our rebellion and God’s wrath would be satisfied by Jesus’ self-emptying love – his personal replacement for you and I on the cross. And we know it worked because three days later Jesus walked from the tomb, seen by scads of people, and was bodily assumed into the clouds before his stunned follower’s eyes. People, truth is personal – bound irretrievably and irrevocably to God’s love for you, personally, through his son, Jesus Christ.

What is truth?

Jesus told Pilate, “I came to bear witness to the truth.” Jesus Christ said, “The truth will set you free.” And Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Looking at Jesus, his friend John wrote, “To all who receive him. Even to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God.” For Jesus, this is personal. It is about you and I becoming family with God.

What do we do with Truth?

The great need for truth in our day is not to win the argument for absolute truth’s existence, but to walk in humility as children of the True One. What part of the truth of Christ’s kingship over your life bugs you? What do you not want to wait around and hear? Where are you passing the buck or fearing another’s agenda in your life? When you see the news do you fear? Or do you see God’s opportunity to share the love and light of Christ? The world cannot afford for you and I to privatize our faith. If you are the follower of a King whose kingdom is not of this world, despair not – light shines brightest in the darkness. The world most needs light when it is dark outside.

(An adaptation of a sermon. To watch that sermon click the graphic. Sermon starts 17 minutes in.)

Christ the King 2015.001


Halloween is awesome


Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

I am an unrepentant fan of Halloween. Oh, I know it is the devil’s day. I know about its pagan roots. I too learned as a new Christian that I am supposed to bring kids to the church for Harvest Festival: the Christian imitation of Halloween.

But every one of my non-Christian neighbors will be in our cul de sac thirty minutes from now, enjoying one another’s company, hanging out, their children laughing and showing off their costumes and drinking hot chocolate together. People drive from miles around to come to my neighborhood because it is a safe place to bring inner-city kids. How unevangelical would it be to pack ourselves into a minivan and drive away on the one night of the year that my unchurched neighbors want to connect? I remember being a twenty-three year old at my first Harvest Festival and saying to my then fiancé Kari, “Here are nearly three hundred terrific people who could be light and salt in their neighborhoods and we are all here instead.”

Frankly, it is a blast to be in my neighborhood, handing out candy to the families who will come to my door, sitting around the fire-pit, bringing young adults from church to my front yard with guitars and djimbes to sing and generally make our yard the center of all the festivities. We will hand out fliers to our church’s Fall Round Up tomorrow afternoon after church – a “Harvest Festival” of sorts, but one specifically not on Halloween. After all, why should the devil have all the fun!

Excuse me, I have to go grab my cassock and sunglasses. I’m going as Neo from the Matrix. Oh, and if you are reading this on your way to the Harvest Festival, turn around. Your neighbors need you!

P.S. Feel free to critique participation in Halloween if you are also not participating in that other pagan holiday, Christmas, with its germanic tribal fertility symbol, the tree.

What is the church to do in a 5-4 world?


Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

A Brave New World supplants the illusion of Christian America 

We now know what we have long suspected: America is not and never was “a Christian nation.” We may have put “In God we trust” on our coins and “one nation under God” into our pledge during the red scare, but those were merely the vestigial organs of an America of church attenders familiar with the scriptural imagery of Western civilization. But Western civilization is quickly fading away, swept under the rug of social change in a brave new world of neoliberalism and its deity, the self-identified eros.

Harbor no illusions, neoliberalism is a puritanical and absolutist form of progressivism. It is characterized by “tolerance” – the buzzword of an orthodoxy of the unfettered self. We are watching its fruit as our culture, unmoored from classical ideas of truth, beauty, and dignity, descends into hedonism. Regardless of the rhetoric, in neoliberalism truth is not actually relative. Truth may be a social construct, but it is absolute, and, as in all puritanical schemes, difference of opinion is not “tolerated.”

Artist Theo Eshutu-Brave New World http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/brave/index.html

Artist Theo Eshutu-Brave New World http://africa.si.edu/exhibits/brave/index.html

Perhaps nowhere is neoliberalism on clearer display than in the triennial meeting of my Episcopal Church. For us, the “movement of the Holy Spirit” is determined by popular vote. To oppose the winds of change then is nothing less than to oppose God. The neoliberal “Spirit,” is a “spirit” of triumphalist glory, a big-brother who squashes dissent quickly and quietly. In the deliberations of our bishops yesterday, a small and quiet conservative minority wished to read a statement indicating their disagreement with the redefinition of marriage. They were cut off on parliamentary grounds. Neoliberal tolerance can tolerate no dissent. The vitriol, social shaming, and gloating on my Facebook after the Obergefell ruling stands in stark contrast with the rhetoric of pluralism and classical liberalism we hear so much about. Our delegates heard from a Sunday school teacher shacking up with her boyfriend who has no interest in marriage, then passed a resolution to “continue work studying the growing contemporary reality…that is redefining what many mean by ‘family’ or ‘household.'”  This explicitly includes, “those who choose to remain single; unmarried persons in intimate relationships; couples who cohabitate; couples who desire a blessing, etc).” It implicitly includes “listening” to another type of emerging family structure – polyamorous families. I report this, not to be shocking, but because our church takes its establishment roots quite seriously and is generally a reflection of where progressive culture desires to go next. And, as you will have noticed, for culture crusaders addicted to the fight, there is always a next fight…

Time magazine this week posted an article by Mark Oppenheimer arguing for the elimination of church’s tax exempt status. It is spreading through social media like wildfire. The new elite smells blood: it is the last weak pulse of traditional America. Somehow they have forgotten that orphanages, hospitals, universities, literacy, and abolition were all ideas given to the world by that enemy of humanity – Christian thought.

Somehow lost in both the sophomoric euphoria and the licking of wounds is the fact that political solutions simply do not work. We are forty years into our legislative solutions to our race issues, yet those issues are still present. And in this mess Christians are still forgiving and angry nuts are still burning down our places of worship.

How should the church respond to culture shift?

We could keep financing losing political battles. We could keep encouraging ugly rhetoric. We could fight to keep our tax exempt status’ and tax deduction for charitable giving. We could keep trying to support political parties for whom nearly half of my state has disengaged and reregistered as “independent.” We could do what many have chosen to do this week and simply remain silent. We could flip-flop on 2000 years of unbroken Christian tradition and the clear meaning of the words of scripture.


…we could go back to what the church was good at. Remember, when we were eleven scared dudes hiding out in an upper room? That group had a unique methodology unused since the faith embraced power in the fourth century…

Lessons from the first Christians

First, they gathered in remarkable unity across ethnic, cultural, and social barriers in formational, seeker-insensitive worship services – This may surprise many of my evangelical friends, but there are eucharistic pointers in every NT author. The story of God is taught and formed with remarkable clarity in the format of Word and Sacrament present in Acts and given to us as ancient practice by Justin Martyr in 150 CE. We must form Christians. This is more than sermonizing. It involves enacting and imprinting the story of God on human hearts.

Second, from their deep formation, the ancient Christians moved missionally in service and proclamation into the world. They loved, gave, and proclaimed Jesus’ to the least, last, and lost.

Third, they were annoyingly clear about the exclusive claims of Jesus in a pluralistic world. This made them the target of recurring persecution. A persecution which they generally embraced.

Fourth, they were not worried about their “rights.” They worried about the world’s lostness. We can stop worrying about being persecuted and start embracing and supporting Christians who are actually being persecuted. Embrace the loss of status and prestige! Let us join our African American brothers and sisters in turning the other cheek, blessing those who persecute us, and forgiving the offender.

Fifth, they modeled internal civil discourse (Acts 15). In our churches we can teach the “faith once delivered.” But we can teach it as truths we are being conformed to, rather than using the faith as a bludgeon to beat non-Christians into an eternally irrelevant social-conformity.

Fortuitously, these are exactly the lessons we learn from many of the fastest growing millennial-heavy churches. Millennial-heavy churches (churches with hundreds of millennial generation attenders) tend to be liturgical and artful, with deep biblically-based sermons. They are high on diversity and community. They fearlessly preach on difficult topics with a “hard on me, soft on you” hermeneutic. They actively engage in social action. They tend not to engage in political action. They even seem to have a significant number of young lgbt attendees who respect their authenticity. Or, as one millennial said when she left her mega-church that is moving to gimmicks to drive attendance, “I want to go where the Christianity is what is on display.”

So, church, do not change the “deposit of faith” to make it more “relevant” to the culture. There has never been a time that has not failed to be a losing proposition. There is a reason that the fellowships that change least account for the most of us – Catholicism and Orthodoxy continue to account for 2/3 of the world’s Christians.

The Christian faith is neither the moral improvement program that many conservatives wish for it to be, nor the affirmation of desires that many progressives seem to want to make it. The Christian faith is nothing less than a radical reorienting of the human experiment to a new master. To quote, Abraham Kuyper, “There is not one one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Jesus Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘mine.'”

Or, as our spiritual forebearers said, “Jesus is Lord.” 

So let us stop trying to remake a secular society in our own image. Let us instead worry about God’s priorities: “The redemption of the world through our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (BCP, 101)

We have work to do. Politics is not that work.

*Brave New World photo labelled for reuse.

***I should say that I support full protection under the law for lgbt relationships, not because it is the government’s business what adults choose to do, gay or straight, but because adults have children, and children need the protection under the law afforded by the cultural values of monogamy and fidelity. I also see a big difference between what a pluralistic government protects and what the church, as recipients of scriptures and the tradition of the apostles, defines as marriage.

What now? The Episcopal General Convention and the SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage decision


Snark MeterrealMID.003

A generational explanation of lgbt church engagement and my conspiracy theory that millennials will be used to drive a boomer/Xer agenda.

If you are new to this blog you should know two things: First, I am an ecumenical pragmatist. I am always looking for a way forward in unity. Second, I am a futurist. I am always wondering what the unanticipated consequences of today’s actions will be tomorrow. Things are never as rosy as they appear to the winners, nor as grim as they appear to the losers. With those caveats out of the way, let me offer a reflection upon this morning’s SCOTUS same-sex marriage decision upon our church deliberations this week…

For thirty or more years the Episcopal Church has championed the cause of lgbt people. One of the Episcopal Church’s charisms is the desire to push the boundaries of the tent of grace as far as it can be pushed. This charism arose from our English established church roots that put Protestants, Catholics, and those for whom the church represented the national aspirations of a people at prayer in the same building. Into this “we can all worship together” ethos came the Builder Generation and their “what people do is their own business” ethic. The Builders were followed by Boomer generation “justice” clergy who gave lgbt people voice when they were at the periphery of the culture. Conservatives sneered that lgbt folk only joined churches for social acceptance. And, given the very human and universal desire for inclusion, surely there was some truth to that suggestion.

But the world changed. Lgbt people have gained cultural acceptance. This change coincided with generational shifts: Millennials, for whom the old categories of “right” and “left” only work if you are a product of either a progressive or conservative fundamentalist university, think much more like the Builders (“your life, your business”) and much less like Boomers and Gen Xers (“I am right, you are wrong. And since you are wrong, you need to be fixed.”)

In these shifting generational sands, I noticed an increasing number of lgbt people joining churches that are welcoming but not affirming. Then I noticed an increasing number of evangelical churches becoming affirming: two poles appear to be merging. This is not received as good news by either suburban evangelical power brokers (for whom this represents a loss of cultural status quo) nor mainline power brokers (for whom this represents the potential loss of a carefully cultivated constituency). But it is surely happening.

What does this new world mean for young lgbt Christians? I suggested a year ago in a post entitled “Will the Episcopal Church keep gay Millennials?” that lgbt Millennials would not stay in a church that is not theologically robust and is politically narrow. Lgbt Millennials, like other Millennials, are voting with their feet that they want sermons with stronger scriptural underpinnings, more rooted in the ancient wisdom of the church, more theological content…sermons that are deeper and, gasp, longer. Lgbt Millennials, like other Millennials, have no need to engage the church for social acceptance. They have that. In other words, Millennial lgbt people think more like their generation than their minority identification. If you accept that orientation is a minority, like race, lgbt Millennials think more like assimilated immigrants than first generation immigrants. In light of this changing milieu, I suggested that lgbt millennials might bail out on the Episcopal Church because we are too fuzzy on our scriptural and traditional roots – too much about Boomer and Generation X division politics and not enough Builder and Millennial generation “agreeing to disagree.” I watched this firsthand in a meeting a month ago between lgbt business leaders and twenty young evangelical clergy. Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian said, “Look, we don’t want to go to mainline churches with a fuzzy gospel. We may be gay, but we are evangelicals.”

My post last year had an interesting outcome: Nearly a dozen young gay clergy contacted me offline to say that they were having trouble staying in our church because of the rampant heterodoxy of their clergy elders. If two people contact me on a post privately I struck a nerve. But this was nearly a dozen. Clergy!

Why share all of this? Because in the euphoria of today’s SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling, our convention delegates, who tend to see the issue of sexuality as their Selma, will feel a groundswell to change marriage canons and begin the process of prayer book revision – Two issues that threaten to squeeze another 100,000 Episcopalians quietly out of our midst over the next decade. People, I might add, that are serving, tithing, faithful church members.

To my progressive friends: You got what you wanted – both in the culture and in the church. From today forward, same-sex marriage is the law of our land. Lgbt people are already, and in the future will increasingly be, either joining us or leaving us because we are a church that proclaims the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. You don’t need canonical or prayer book changes.

What we really need today is for an lgbt delegate to stand up and say, “The world just changed. We don’t need the church for acceptance. We have that. We need the church to be the Jesus loving, God worshipping, body of Christ she once was. That is what will bring us and that is what will keep us.”

No matter what you are about to be told at GC, this is a generational shift not a theological one. In your Convention deliberations, I fully expect (and accuse me of being a conspiracy theorist on this point) that an uber-politicized, super-minority of progressive-fundamentalist millennials, fairly un-representative of their generation, will be the ones tasked by their Boomer and Xer elders with carrying the legislation and begging articulately for canonical and liturgical revision. They will be given the heady task of marching forward to microphones to exuberantly implore you for “long overdue sacramental justice.”

When that happens (and I am certain it will), delegates, resist them. Remember the reams of data you have read on the Millennial generation. Real Millennials like old words and traditions. Real Millennials like diversity. Real Millennials are ok with disagreement. Real Millennials live in a world that lacks neatness – they do not need canonical consistency. Real Millennials, to quote a Millennial friend in the midst of a disagreement with another Millennial, say things like, “I think you are really weird on that issue and I’m not really sure what the solution is, but I know a great craft pub in an old warehouse around the corner. Want to grab a beer?”

So resist the urge to make the world a neater, cleaner place for a generation that is looking for a more ancient, higher quality, more relational church. …A church that is a lot like the one we already are.

Poverty Prevention: 5 car buying tips

64 Studebaker

’64 Studebaker “Wagonaire.” V8 and a wicked sweet roll back roof.

Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

Occasionally I wander off script and into the weeds. This is one of those days…

Automotive industry pitchmen and those who have just dropped big scratch on a new car insist, “An old car will cost you money!” Reality check: New cars are almost always more expensive to own than old ones. A lot more! Let me, a man who has owned far too many cars, make my case by sharing the financial results of my many automotive indiscretions…

Total Ownership Cost (purchase + repairs – sale price)

New (2 years old or less): 5 cars. Loss: $48,000 (avg loss: $9,600 per car)

Old (more than 10 years old): 6 Cars. Loss: $9500 (avg loss: $1580 per car)

Ancient (more than 20 years old): 13 cars. Loss: $1400 (avg loss: $110 per car)

Notice that every additional decade of age cut the cost to own by approximately a factor of 10.

Conclusion: Driving a beater will save you money!

Car buying advice for those on a budget

1) Don’t buy a car you can’t afford. If you can’t pay cash you can’t afford it!

2) Don’t throw away money on depreciation. If you buy a car that is anywhere close to new the depreciation will cost you piles of money.

3) Buy a car that is uncool. If you buy a car that is or ever was a status symbol you will pay too much.

4) Buy a car that was dependable when it was new. An undependable car is always undependable (like Rover or anything made in Europe with that cool engineering). Buy cars made in the right continents…i.e. any continent not named “Europe.” This will save you PILES of money for each part that will continue to break. If all you want is dependability then buy Japanese. However, the cost of Japanese cars on the used car market is relatively high because of their reputation for dependability. If you want cheap and dependable:

5) Look for old American iron that was well cared for. I have driven several hundred thousand miles on old American cars without a major breakdown.

In Summary

Buy a well maintained, fully depreciated car (10 years or older), that no one wants (like a 4 door), and you won’t get hurt financially. If the 1980 Cutlass that you paid $1200 for dies after 2 years of $50 bucks a month worth of repairs who cares! You are only out $2000. If you had bought a new Toyota Matrix (like I did) you would have spent close to $300 per month in payments, watched your car insurance double, paid 10X the $20 per year for tags on a Rambler from the ‘60’s and lost another $5000 in depreciation. Over the first 2 years of owning a Toyota Matrix it cost more than four times what the Rambler cost per mile to drive! Finally,

6) Don’t buy a car from someone who has to make a profit on it (like a car dealer). Oh yeah, and every mistake I have made buying cars was from making the decision too quickly, so…

7) Wait until tomorrow to buy that car you really want. Take a day to think about it. Take it to a mechanic and have them make a grocery list of things that are wrong (so you can negotiate and deduct them from the price). Go home and check online at kbb.com and edmunds.com for the cars value. Mostly, don’t rush and make an expensive decision on emotion. If you do it will cost you. You will buy something way too expensive (like the really nifty VW Passat I once bought) or miss something big (like a rusted out floor pan) or buy something just plain bad (like the’62 Ranchwagon I bought on a whim).

Or you could just do what my cousin did: after spending years driving new European status cars he found a really nice underpriced older Lexus 4 door. He paid $6000 for it. He has driven it for 5 years, made no repairs other than brakes and a battery, and is still in it for less than it’s worth. Now all you have to do is find a clean $6000 Lexus. Good luck with that.

But even if you are still reading, I’ll bet you a tenspot you won’t follow my advice. You will rationalize buying a shiny sporty new thing on the grounds that you will save money on repairs and the improved gas efficiency. You will go out and find a car you can’t afford. You will buy it from a car dealer who will make a fatty of a commission on you, and then even more when you finance this status symbol. Then you will pay thousands more in tax. All so that you can start paying the expensive annual tags and monthly insurance premium increases….but you have all that spare money sitting around, so you can afford the $10 bucks you now owe me.

Pay up.

Some of the Cars I’ve Owned…
61 VW Micro. A great car for youth ministry.

61 VW Micro. A great car for youth ministry. Here it is exploding with YL boys after a bikeathon.

48 Packard. Tons of chrome. The best sounding straight 8 ever.

48 Packard. Tons of chrome. The best sounding straight 8 ever.

A ton of steel and a half ton of chrome. It was illegally exported to Saudi Arabia.

The person who bought it illegally exported it to Saudi Arabia.

61 Rambler 6. I drove four Ramblers at a profit.

61 Rambler 6 with push button tranny. I have owned four Ramblers – all at a profit.

Volvo 1800 ES. Like all Volvos: Lots of electrical problems. Volvo was a mistake I made three times.

Volvo 1800 ES. A great car that I made money on. But like all Volvos: Lots of electrical problems.

68 Rambler Rogue

68 Rambler Rogue

A very nice ride

A very nice ride

Full size Jeep and a 240 Turbo coupe

Full size Jeep and a Volvo 240 Turbo coupe

I didn't own a Model T. Driving one was a birthday gift.

I didn’t own a Model T. Driving one was a birthday gift.

-74 VW Super Beetle. Sunroof & an AC that never worked well (I broke even).
-61 VW Microbus. Bought it in a junkyard. Put 60K on it. (Made $400)
-78 Honda Civic Wagon. Cute, but only a 60k mile engine. (Lost $200).
-88 Suzuki Samarai. They were brand new. A well engineered toy…absolutely no power. One rear ender totaled it. A new car (I lost 6k bucks over 3 years).
-87 Nissan Sentra. Kari’s car. Nearly as underpowered as the Suzuki. Another new car: (lost 8k over 5 years).
-48 Packard. Beautiful. Everything about it screamed quality. The straight 8 might have had the best engine notes ever. (Lost $1500 over 5 years).
-62 Rambler Classic. (pic). Great car. Push button automatic tranny, but no AC. (Made $600 on it)
-63 Rambler Wagon. Had AC. Fred Flintstone could’ve driven it though: I learned about rust when my foot went through the floorboard. (Lost $300).
-63 Ford Ranch Wagon. A terrible car straight from the factory AND worn out. I just wanted to buy a car that day. (Lost $200).
-71 Oldmobile Cutlass sedan. Another bad car. How did GM sell them? And why did I buy it??? (Lost $400).
-64 Rambler Classic. 3 on the tree. Good condition. No AC. It was such a good car I drove it 2 1/2 years anyway. (Made $500).
-64 Studebaker Wagonaire. A very cool car! Installed AC. Drove it 7 years and 70K. Lost $3200 (only about $40 per month!) because of money spent on the paint and AC.
-91 Dodge Spirit. Another Kari Car. Strong 6 cylinder. Went 140k miles before a major repair! (Lost 8k over 5 years: really good for a new car)
-93 Chrysler Grand Caravan. Kari’s kid hauler. A complete lemon. Even found a union statement under the carpet insinuating that employees were sabotaging cars. (Lost 6k over 2 years)
-74 Volve ES. Very cool car. In great condition. Someone offered more than I paid. I should’ve said no. Made $800)
-96 Volvo 850 Turbo Wagon. Great Seats, Great Motor. Loosened my fillings going over man hole covers. Kari’s. (Lost 3k in a year)
-84 Volvo 240 Turbo Coupe. A pretty cool car. AC, sunroof, 5 speed. After 2 yrs of constant repair I gave up on it. I ran into the girl who bought it 2 years later. She hadn’t spent a penny. Terrible AC. (Lost 3k in 2 years)
-87 Jeep Grand Wagoneer. A friend gave it to me for free. A nightmare of vacuum hoses and 10 mpg. I had three fender benders in it: did thousands in damage to each of the other guys. Scratched the paint on me. Mostly Kari’s while I drove the 240T. (Lost $3500 in 2 years)
-2001.5 VW Passat Wagon. V6. Leather. Loaded! Incredible technology. Broke weekly. I learned my lesson on new cars. (Lost $13,000 in 3 years)
-2003 Toyota Matrix. Kari’s car. Needed a rebuild at 170k! (And depreciated $9000 in the first 4 years)
-1998 Chevy Suburban. 4wd. Solid. Holds 8 kids but has power for 20…A gift from a friend!
-1968 Rambler Rogue. 290 V8. AT, PS, AC, power front disc brakes, solex windows, electric wipers/washers. A very nice little car. (I over paid: $5,000, spent about 1200k more and sold it for $6700)
-2000 Ford Expedition. V8, Power everything. Another gift. It has needed $2100 worth of work, but we have put 30,000 miles on it, which isn’t too bad.
-1991 Pontiac Firebird. A base model. Luke’s car. Total invested: $2050. Totaled last week while parked. Settled for $2440.

The Justice-ification of the Church: Where we went wrong and how we can do better


Snark Meter Sorta Snarky.002

Years ago a Catholic priest from India told me, “Ghandi said, ‘I look at Jesus and I want to be a Christian. But then I look at the lives of Christians…and I don’t want to be a Christian.‘”  The great scandal of the church, for Ghandi and for us, is the troubling lack of love shown by those of us who call ourselves “Christian.”

Having made pilgrimage to the Holy Land this spring, I was astonished at how small it is: The events in the Gospels can mostly be seen from each other: Bethphage, the village from which Jesus had the disciples borrow a donkey and her colt, is on the Mount of Olives. From this hill you can look across the narrow valley and over the Brook Kidron at the walls of Jerusalem and the gate Jesus rode through on the day we call Palm Sunday. The temple, from whose courts all four Gospel writers record Jesus casting the money-changers, was just inside the city wall. When Jesus entered the temple and focused on the failings of the religious establishment rather than shake his fist at the Roman occupiers whose Antonia fortress stared down into the Temple grounds, Jesus set the stage for the crowd’s turning on him when he stood before Pontius Pilate five days later. You can walk the Via Dolorosa, along which Jesus carried his cross to the place of crucifixion in minutes. The spot where Jesus was crucified and where he was buried are also remarkably close – so close that both the location of the crucifixion, Calvary, and Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb are under the same roof today. It is stunning how little geography God used in the great saving acts of his Son.

Scandalous also is how small the distance between, “Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” and “Crucify Him!”

In the Gospels this took five days. In the Episcopal Church our liturgy places both the Palm Sunday and Good Friday scripture readings on the same day. My guess is that this is, in part, an acknowledgment that many will not prioritize attendance at the commemorations of our Lord’s redeeming acts in the Paschal Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. But it is also an acknowledgement of basic human nature: The distance between celebrating someone and demonizing them is also remarkably short – because, as humans, we have a remarkable capacity for…small.

With just a little dollop of disappointment we can move from kindness to vitriol in a single motion. We look for scapegoats, rush to judgments, and hold others in bondage with binary thinking. We litmus test and sort people into categories of our own devising. And we wish those short of wholehearted endorsement of the platforms we embrace cast into outer darkness. A few exhibits:[1]

  • Several months ago at lunch I overhear the animated conversation between a socially active pastor of another mainline denomination and an atheist college professor sharing our table. The pastor labeled group after group, “Evil!” until the atheist professor finally asked him, “Where’s the love, man?”[2]
  • A student asked me to breakfast the next morning and confessed (tearfully) that he was considering leaving the seminary. He was trying to grow in prayerfulness and was told that his pleas for his fellow students to act in love toward others was evidence of insufficient commitment to the social causes espoused by his peers. He was certain he would never gain their acceptance.

A progressive friend posted on Facebook several weeks ago, “I am uncomfortable that my church’s stance on every issue seems to completely mirror the culture.” I think he is right…

…but I am not nearly so nervous about aping the culture as I am about the next exit on this highway: the justice-ification of the church.

The conflation of church and culture is surely foolish, and I think, also small. But there is a great Protestant tradition of church by focus group. What I cringe at is the way Christians (progressive Christians in particular, but we are not alone in this), have managed to systematically turn social causes into “justice issues.” We do this with seemingly little self-awareness of the ramifications of these crusades. When we label an issue “justice” we stop working for sensible public solutions and begin brandishing swords. This is never so clear as on social media…

We call the press, issue positions, and forward polemics on our Facebook feeds.

But in the public sphere in a pluralistic society there will always be those who do not endorse our worldview. Can we make room for them? Can we “seek to understand before being understood”? Can we begin with the presumption that people are generally of good will and work from there toward solutions? What if, instead of “justice,” we argued our great disagreements starting with, “How do we find a ‘win’ for everyone?” And, “What will lead to human thriving?” Or better yet, remember that the church is first and foremost a place to worship Jesus Christ. How did the church become ground zero for the activism industry?

“But Matt,” you say, “justice is biblical. The Old Testament prophets spoke truth to power.” Yes, but you are not a biblical prophet, and this is not 2600 years ago. In our day “justice” is not helpful because it can never make room for another. Enraged justice usually results in the shaking of fists and mobs with torches in the night. When we drop the “justice” card then someone is guilty…and they must be punished. “Justice” is not served until the evil is purged.

When we label a disagreement “justice” it generally ends one place: “Burn the witch!”

But I do see examples of hope in the emerging generation of leaders: Two weeks ago a friend who is active in LGBT politics asked me if I would organize a meet and greet between an LGBT political action group and evangelical pastors. Yesterday seventeen young evangelical pastors and thought leaders met with Matthew Vines and others engaged in promoting same-sex marriage. While there was clear theological disagreement, it was a time of relationship building, healing, and mutual respect. Here is another: Next week I will be at a luncheon in the Roman Catholic bishop’s office to discuss spiritual unity between evangelicals and Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is a short way down the hill to Jerusalem. It is a short way from the cross to the tomb. It is a short way from “Hosanna!” to “Crucify!”

But it is also a short way the other direction.

Going from “Crucify!” to “Hosanna!” is the exact same distance. It does take more work, but the Prince of Peace went up to Jerusalem and was crucified so that no one else need be.

Next week we will celebrate the forgiveness of both human and institutional sin on the cross. We could join Jesus in the way of that cross, extending our arms in love to all who are near. Perhaps if we did that, those who are far will see and notice. And the scandal of the church will be swallowed in the scandal of the cross.

As that old Indian priest said that day, “I implore you. Make Ghandi wrong. Be Easter people. May the love of our Lord Jesus Christ so shape and form you that all the world would see his mercy.


[1] Out of politeness I will only use examples from my own tribe. Evangelicals and Catholics will be able to think of many of their own examples.

[2] These evils included fracking, pipeline building, driving petroleum based cars, failure to recycle, and the fact that Darren Wilson had not been lynched. (The pastor was white.)


Parenting to grow great teens

Being parents has been one of the true life-joys for Kari and I the last twenty years. Youth ministry veterans Ken and Julie Moser like our children so much they wanted me to come lead a seminar on parenting teens.

I am not sure how much credit we can take for the people our kids have chosen to become (Kari can more than I can to be sure), and I fear that setting myself up as some sort of parenting “guru” might jinx them.

The slides and notes from parenting seminar at the “Q Event” in the diocese of Qu’Appelle is available by clicking on the photo.

Click on pic to download pdf of slides and notes

(Click on pic to download pdf of slides and notes)