Glamour Shot Church

Glamour Shot Church

The most accurate picture of what I look like is on my driver’s license. I hate that picture.

On a couple of occasions I have needed professional headshots taken. I love those even though I don’t really look like how they make me look. It reminds me of the time when someone picked me up at the airport and said, “You look different from what I expected.” Silly man, he thought I actually looked like my glamour shot.

I think that one of the real, inner reasons we go to church is not to be impressive, but to be accepted. Yet, if I only show others my “glamour shot,” and I think they like it, then I will never really feel loved and accepted by them. I have a theory, unless God brings a radical healing to us we will forever be living out our junior high years. Over and over we will want the cool kids to invite us to lunch. We will want to be elected, made captain, or just not humiliated because we are smaller, bigger, smarter, dumber, taller or shorter than the others.

To begin to heal this brokeness we must summon our courage, face our fears and walk into church resolved to tell our truth. We don’t have to start with our darkest secrets. It is ok to “warm-up” a bit, practice sharing less severe or dramatic events. Here are some ideas that might help us get started:

1. Create a driver’s license picture church directory.
How fun would that be! Instead of nametags, just blow up your license, put a string on it, and, whamo, instant honesty.

2. Start an inside/out T-shirt collection
You don’t even have to say anything, just have a table full of T-shirts, and pick the one that feels appropriate that day. You’ll have instant conversation starter. Some ideas for the text on the T-shirts are:

I tinkle when I sneeze.
Maybe it wasn’t technically a business lunch.
I didn’t like the hair color God chose, that’s why!
I wear granny panties.
I pray before meals, but only when I think somebody is looking.
I cheat at golf.
I like it when people think I am humble.
I could stand to lose a few pounds.
The weight on my driver’s license is an “estimate.”
When I get pulled over by the police I act surprised.
I cheat just a little on my taxes.
My dog thinks I ‘m a shmuck.
I’m a little gassy.
I’m semi-evangelical.

3. Next time ask for prayer for a character defect instead of Aunt Martha’s bunion.
It is unusual to hear someone publicly ask for prayer for a moral ailment rather than a physical one. Even issues such as depression and anxiety, which are often beyond our immediate control, are seldom voiced as prayer requests.

Feel free to add to the list in the comment section below. Your quest for authenticity might look different from mine, but we want the same result: to say what we don’t like about ourselves, what shames us, what embarrasses us—and still be loved.

Posted in Christian Culture, healing, New Models and Paradigms, The Refuge, Thoughts on Scriptures | 2 Comments

Why Church is a Zoo?

I realize this a common theme in this blog. But imagine if as children we had learned this value.

Last night at church I let the kids pick a favorite plastic toy. They could pick a frog, lizard, or snake. They sat in their respective group and I asked, “who has the best animal?” Of course each child believed theirs is best, and could not understand why everyone did not agree. 

I told them the story of the really bad zoo I went to one time. Each exhibit had only one animal, and it was always a donkey. The monkey house, lion cage and elephant exhibit contained only donkeys (Yes, donkeys).  Even if a donkey was your favorite animal, it would not be much fun to have a zoo with only one animal.

Church is supposed to be like a zoo, but we pretend it is enough to call it a zoo even if all the cages are filled with the same animal.

We read in scripture the need for diversity (see Romans 12 and 16, Ephesians 4) a wild mix under one roof, but we are fooling ourselves when we believe a brown donkey, black donkey, short donkey and a fat donkey means we have achieved diversity.

The animal kingdom exists in gatherings of sameness. Yet the church is the only institution designed to be contrary to our natural tendencies.  It’s a place where power is never rewarded, the lowest in social standing has equal value to the highest, and there is no racial, gender, or economic advantage given. It’s a place where uniformity in thought or even belief (I suppose I am thinking of those faith communities who purpose together to look for and follow Jesus) is not needed. In fact, it is destructive.

No question it is easier to be with our own spiritual genus, but that has no power to truly transform us or display the miracle of Christian unity.

Unity cannot exist when we have uniformity. 

I’m so glad The Refuge is a zoo.  

  I hope we can keep adding more and more different kinds of animals to it over time.

The benefits of being an inclusive and wildly diverse faith community are amazing and numerous, but like at the zoo perhaps the most compelling reason is because it is fun! How much more interesting it is to be with people I would never normally see or be with during the week and together experience transformation. How fun it is to learn from those I would never know if I were only with people of my income level, race, or spiritual background.

The zoo metaphor is illustrated in this scripture, which portrays life when Jesus makes all things right, “and the Lion will lie down with Sheep.”

Posted in Christian Culture, New Models and Paradigms, The Refuge, Thoughts on Scriptures | 2 Comments

Why I Don’t Want a Christian President

Why I don’t want a Christian president

I think Christians should live and act like Jesus and want what Jesus wants. In other words, Christians should embody the way of Jesus. I wish I were that kind of Christ-follower. I want to be, but I am not there yet. I am at war with what I want and with what I believe is right. That is why I do not want my nation to have a Christian president.

I do not think a truly Christian president would emphasize the need for a larger middle class, or if he or she did, it would need to factor in the entire world, not just one corner of it. I have a hard time believing Jesus would look at the vast majority of people in our land, relative to all other nations, and feel particularly distressed. I am not speaking of those who are hungry, unclothed and unhoused. (But i have grown accustomed to my middle-class life. I like having a car, a small home, and plenty of food.)

A truly Christian president would not use violence to further national interests. I believe Jesus would use force to protect the vulnerable and weak, but I think those geo-political situations are rare. I do not believe a Christian president would seek retaliation in the name of national defense, especially knowing that the collateral damage would include the deaths of innocent men, women and children. (I like the sense of safety I have from living in the country with the most advanced and well-funded military on earth. I am embarrassed to realize that I have a sense of safety not from my trust in God, who says He will be responsible to watch over me, but because I live in country with really big tanks and bombers.)

A Christian president would not only be pro-immigration, he or she would promote it! I am positive a Christian president would not close the borders. How could a Christ-follower, having read both the Old and New testaments, even consider any option other than hospitality? How could a Christian president say “No” to people fleeing poverty or oppression? (But what happens when schools, hospitals and government agencies are stressed beyond their already-breaking points? Will my grandchildren be part of a classroom that has doubled in size since I was a child? I can’t help it, I hate it, but I worry what will happen if we are flooded with people, when I hear that police departments are already severely understaffed and under-funded.)

A Christian president could not love America the way presidents are supposed to love America. The beauty of the gospel is that it creates for people a new identity, a “nation” of priests and priestesses. It invites us to forsake our old allegiances for a “new Jerusalem.” It describes in vivid terms the glory of being transformed from someone defined by gender or status—a slave, a woman, an aristocrat, a Jew, a Greek—to someone defined by the way of Christ who belongs to the family of God.

I am by no means anti-American, but I just don’t think we are as great as I have been told my whole life. I am incredibly grateful for my country, but I don’t think I am blessed to be an American any more than a Frenchman is to be French, an Englishman is to be English or a Brazilian is to be Brazilian.

I believe this year’s U.S. presidential candidates are good men who highly value public service. I think they are well-intentioned. I have no judgment on which of them is or isn’t a Christian—I will take each at his word. But I know that I am in a bind. I believe, for me, it is wrong to vote for myself benefits at the cost of others. How can I seek self-preservation in the polling booth when Jesus has asked me at all other times to surrender?

Posted in Christian Culture, New Models and Paradigms, politics | 16 Comments

Afraid of “L”

Afraid of “L”

Most of my Christian life I have been afraid of “L.”

It is similar to grade school, when more than anything I did not want to be a sissy. I don’t think a worse epithet could have been hurled at me. So great was my fear that I not only did all I could to avoid that label, but I of course avoided those who were identified as sissies. But what exactly is a sissy?

When I first became a Christ-follower in high school, the only Christians I knew were very conservative evangelicals. I am really grateful for the Bible training I received from them, but their constant fear of “L” lingers with me, even today. The threat of “L” is still used as a weapon, and the wounds it inflicts can be painful.

By “L,” of course, I mean “Liberal.” They were seen as the worst category of people, because they were bright, educated and wrong. To be liberal was to be wrong in moral or willful ways, not simply ideological ones. While in Bible College and seminary I was taught being “Liberal” was the greatest threat to the cause of Christ and the kingdom of God. But what exactly does it mean to be “Liberal”?

Politically, those who would prefer to see a more equitable distribution of wealth via government action are called “liberals.” They are the enemies of conservatives. Since I have always been on the side of the conservatives, my enemies were supposed to be liberals.

Here is what happens then in real life: I am confronted with an issue regarding politics, sex, money, heaven, etc. It used to be easy to weigh in with my views because I used to know exactly what my team thought. I could give a “right” answer, and I knew it was right because my friends all agreed with me and they were all conservative. Ah, so comforting.

But what happens if you start to think a thought that you know is not conservative? (Think, what happens if I cry on the playground and my fear of being called a sissy?) You become fearful that your conservative friends will think you are a “Liberal.” And then you won’t have any friends.

I am in new phase of life where I want to think thoughts that scare me. I might not be conservative anymore, but I am afraid I will be without friends.

It is a familiar story and a familiar message. We all want friends, and that desire clouds much of what we do. I miss the clarity of my staunchly conservative days, it was so much easier. I don’t really want to have to make all new friends. Can it be okay to have a just a little bit of “L”? I can already hear the concerned responses of my conservative friends, “No, Karl, it’s a slippery slope…”

Do I maybe just need new friends?

Posted in Christian Culture, New Models and Paradigms, The Refuge, Thoughts on Scriptures | 20 Comments

Am I Still An Evangelical?

 

 

I am a granddad, an unaffiliated voter, a half-Swede, half-Alabama hillbilly, and a scooter rider. My spiritual/religious identity used to be just as clear.

I began my spiritual life as a fully committed fundamentalist. I proudly belonged to the elite Christian sect that was defending the faith from a liberal invasion from Princeton Seminary and places like it.

That for sure does not describe me now, but I don’t know what does. I have been told that I am “an Emergent,” “a Progressive,” and “a liberal.” But I am not sure I know what those label mean either. I thought I was “an evangelical,” but I am not certain of that anymore.

Writer Anne Lammott has said “I am too Jesus-y for my liberal friends, and too liberal for my Jesus-y friends.” I feel the same way.

Here is what I think I believe today:

The Bible

  • I believe the Bible is true. I believe it is supernatural. I do not have the intelligence or interest to prove that point.
  • I believe it ultimately asks me to do what I do not want to do, but is for my own good and the good of the world.
  • I am not convinced of its veracity because the archeology fits, the numbers match, or that every story makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I believe it is true because I am amazed at how every story makes think, “Wow, that is so true!” I am compelled to consider, think and even change. Often I avoid it because it haunts me with its insight into the depths of my being. And sometimes it draws me close and comforts me like no other words can.
  • I believe it is true because it is the only book that tells me about Jesus, and He is amazing. I do not think you could make that stuff up.
  • I think the Bible is the starting place for decision-making and arbitration, not a secondary source. I think that an early church practice was to gather together to listen to the letters read for encouragement and training.

Salvation

  • I think people need to be saved and I think Jesus does that. I think people are saved for today as much as for eternity. I think “believing” and “following” are the same thing.

Hell

  • Jesus used this word. When He used it, He seemed to be warning somebody about something. Is it forever? Is it literal? I don’t know.

Church

  • I do not think church is primarily for God, but for us. I think it is a place to practice loving each other and ourselves. I think church is where we escape to experience what it means to be important, valued and loved, and to be sacrificial, humble and generous. It may include other things like preaching and worship, but those things must serve the greater purpose.

Homosexuality

  • I am not gay, but I will let those that need to figure this out do so with my encouragement and love. I have friends who make good cases for both celibacy and monogamy in the context of homosexuality.

Women

  • I am an egalitarian. I believe the apparent restrictions on women in leadership in the New Testament are rare exceptions not the rule. I believe where they occur they were for only in effect for a season and were necessary to further the gospel in a specific cultural context.
  • Consider a parallel contemporary example: If my wife and I felt called to minister in a Muslim country, she would have to make some adjustments in her public mannerisms and dress, and I would have to stop having conversations in public with female acquaintances.

I am sure I haven’t covered every important identifying topic, but I would love your input. Do you think I am an evangelical?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Christian Culture, New Models and Paradigms, The Refuge, Thoughts on Scriptures | 23 Comments

Known By Our Fruit?

Known By Our Fruit?

I am from Alabama. Therefore, I am a tomato aficionado. I do not mean to sound stuck up, but if you have never picked a fat Alabama tomato in midsummer, sliced it thick and put it between two pieces of Wonder Bread, spread thick with mayonnaise, then you have never really tasted a tomato.

I will grant you that tomatoes from the grocery store look better. In fact, each is a clone of the other. Perfectly round, bright red, and not a blemish, the only problem is they taste terrible. In fact, “taste” is too strong a word for them.

In Christian circles, you will often hear the idea of “fruit” tossed around. Jesus said you will know a tree by its fruit, and of course we know that to be true. But what happens when you trade a consistent look for a deep flavor? What happens when you define fruit as having a uniform appearance versus being flavorful? I agree the goal of the church is to create beautiful fruit, but how do you measure good fruit?

You can mass-produce a beautiful looking fruit or vegetable, but you cannot mass-produce a tasty fruit or vegetable. To achieve sweet, nutritious produce you must be willing to live with a variety of blemishes, shapes, and sizes. You will need to allow that some fruit is oddly shaped or colored.

What is true in the produce world is true for the church. You can have large, uniform gatherings that look appealing but lack sweetness and nutrition, or you can have “ugly on the outside” communities that have a unique substance under the covering.

The church today has confused uniformity with unity. When a church forms it must decide whether to value unity or uniformity. You cannot have both. Uniformity is the archenemy of unity. People are most likely to gather with others who look, believe, achieve, earn, and live in a similar manner. But those kinds of gatherings do not require the supernatural love of Jesus.

For example, it is not difficult to create a mass gathering of economically stable, white Republicans. There is nothing wrong with being a resourced white person, but it is not difficult to love people who are like us. Here are some ways to discern if a church may have confused juicy fruit with pretty fruit (or uniformity instead of unity):

  •  Policies—When a large number of policies exist, the result will be a group that is able to conform. It replaces the high value of each relationship having unique needs and challenges with the relative ease of assuming everyone needs the same thing. Does a single mom only get one gas card because that is the policy? Or should each situation be uniquely considered?
  •  Time Limits—My experience in many churches is you have about 6 months to make significant change. If you are still getting high, drunk, laid, have a contentious marriage or are just socially deficient then something must be done. The assumption? Most people will change in 6 months. The church becomes populated with  “quick change” folks, but the “slow change” folks are nowhere to be found.
  •  Undisturbed Worship—When you have a gathering that includes large numbers of marginalized people you cannot have a smooth service. Impossible. Many marginalized folks do not have the social grace to understand when to be quiet when someone prays, for example. Folks with mental illness ask questions in the middle of sermons. Folks without resources smell and ask for money.

The fruit of our small, fringe gathering is ugly. It is different, weird, and disruptive. But it is filled with love, acceptance and hopefully juicy fruit.

 

Posted in Christian Culture, New Models and Paradigms, The Refuge, Thoughts on Scriptures | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

A Theology of Kindness

A Theology of Kindness

Being right has never once resulted in a romantic encounter. April has not yet been so impressed with my reciting of the truth that a spark of passion was lit. Being right does not increase the warmth, safety or attraction of a relationship. I have had plenty of arguments with my wife, and every one of them was ignited by this thought: “I am right.” In my head I arrange my evidence, and it is clear to me that any jury would agree with me that I have the facts correct and she is wrong. I have often assumed her lack of understanding must be an auditory issue, so I increase my volume, always to no avail. Never once in the heat of an argument has she (or have I, for that matter) stopped and exclaimed, “You are right, I am wrong, have your way with me.” Not once in 31 years of marriage. Here is a little secret I have learned: the nicer I am, the more romance I get, and the better my relationship with my wife gets. I am not saying be nice so you can get some, I am saying it is the more natural response. I think a similar principle applies to theology. Not long ago, I began to re-evaluate my theological perspective. I come from a fundamentalist background, so I tended to think of the Bible as primarily a tool to win arguments. “You believe in evolution? Here is what the bible says. You are gay? Here is what the bible says. You believe in Jesus, love God, want peace in the world, but believe that Mary is without sin? Here is what the bible says.” Of course, it was what the bible says from my perspective, but I honestly used to wonder how a thinking person could see it differently. So I argued. I presented evidence. I tried to make others see how wrong and even stupid they were. And I did not make one convert, much less one friend. What changed my life and my theology was this single shift in my thinking: You are right when you are kind. Because of this shift, I no longer agonized about the Greek translation of obscure verbs. I ask “Will believing this make me kinder?” If, as the scriptures say, faith is validated by our actions, is not kindness the easiest and best test of rightness? I am annoyed by the current fried chicken debate, especially the apparent need of a few of my evangelical Christian family to prove that they are a powerful majority not to be trifled with. “Look, we can mobilize and create 3-hour waits for fast food chicken–you better watch out” seems to be their message. We have power, we are right, join our team seems as ineffective in evangelism as it does in romance. Has one person been persuaded that Jesus is the way because we proved our point? When did we begin to believe that our message would be heard if we could show our power? Why would a person who loves Jesus be motivated to make life harder for a gay person? Unless you feel that your own heterosexuality is in danger, why would you want a gay person to have fewer rights than you? Don’t my LGBT friends deserve to be treated kindly? Theology that does not result in kindness is heresy. The best apologetic is kindness. Imagine Jesus saying this: “When you give a drink of water to those who agree with you, that is good. When you clothe those who believe what you believe, that is what I want.” I think theology–what we believe about God and the world–is important. The difficult thing is to relinquish the power that comes from needing to believe I am right. Being right without being kind has made me feel powerful, but being kind without needing to be right has made me friends. Was the appeal of Jesus that He made a good point, or that He was kind to sinners?

Posted in Christian Culture, New Models and Paradigms, Thoughts on Scriptures | 24 Comments