This is not an easy post to read…I read it because I have a "subscription" to this guy’s blog…it gave me a whole mixture of feelings…God can work in a number of situations and through any person He chooses. But this comment on our culture of personality really hits home…the issue is when any of us have the opportunity to "increase" in public stature, we’ll take it. When someone has something we want, we’ll covet it. How can we ever get to a place where we can minister in obscurity and be satisfied? You read the post…come to your own conclusions! Here is the link to Scott’s blog:
"Once upon a time, a long long time ago, I went to Chicago. Nine times. There was, in an alternate universe, a church that everyone wanted to emulate. They were big, they had talent, the pastor had great hair. It was the eighties.
I remember the first time I was there. The music was incredible. You could see their lake through the several story high floor-to-ceiling windows. Pure Disney magic.
After the conference in never-never land I remember driving the five hour road from Edmonton Alberta to the northern town I was working in. If you have never been in the north let me explain it to you – there are two gas stations. I wondered how far I could steal the ideas and bring them to northern Canada. I remember wondering what it would be like to pastor a mega-church. I remember Bill’s hair. If I did nothing else I had to figure out how to get that hair.
Bill talked to the audience about being normal. He was, he liked to point out, just like us, only with a wildly successful church, a home in one of the riches communities in Illinois, and a staff of more than attended my church. Legend has it they have a tunnel under their stage. I was struck by the chasm between us – the five foot stage, the suit, the success. I think I was also experiencing a low-burn jealousy that was to last for many years. Bill was not like me. He lived in a particular culture that would lend itself to a church growing to thousands in a short period of time. I am from Canada, where rapid church growth only happens in the cities where we regularly shuffle the evangelical sheep.
A lot has been made in the post-evangelical religious movement with regard to ordinary people. Those who start churches and those who blog and Facebook want to believe they are free of the trappings of their forefathers – a generation of television superstars and celebrity endorsed bibles. The emerging church movement wants to let you know that it is made up of little people, regular fallible leaders and friends. We want to be known as ordinary radicals – regular people who do extraordinary things. We write books and do lectures/write about the power of real people. Then like the generations that preceded us we are quick to jump on the lecture circuit, speak at conferences and work on book deals. We create the un-celebrity.
Some time ago I happened upon the Ordinary Radicals website, a website featuring some of the most highly regarded thinkers in the North American church. Among the names I noticed Tony Campolo – the man I would elect pope if anyone cared about my opinion. It is hard to overstate my regard for Tony, it is the closest thing to hero worship I can admit to. The blog is an advertisement for the upcoming documentary and as it lists, features Interviews with: Becky Garrison, Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Rob Bell, John Perkins, Brooke Sexton, Michael Heneise, St. Margret McKenna, Logan Laituri, Zack Exley, Aaron Weiss and many more Ordinary Radicals.
When I read a list like that, though admittedly I do not know who a few of the people are, I am frustrated by the absolute “un-ordinary-ness” of the people it is about. Several of the people on the list are international superstars in the religious world, have been on “The Colbert Report” and any number of high profile talk shows and television appearances. Most of the above names are regulars on the conference circuit. They are highly educated and enjoy flexibility and some notoriety. Wallis is the founder of Sojourners, a prolific author, and teaches at Harvard. Campolo was a personal adviser to Clinton and a protégé of Albert Einstein. Claiborne is the flavor of the month. McLaren is considered by most to be the foremost spokesman for the emerging church. Bell has been tagged by some in the press to be “the next Billy Graham”. The list goes on.
Though I genuinely laud the intentions for such projects it is simply symptomatic of the problem in North American faith and culture. We cannot seem to get beyond the love affair we have with celebrity culture. Even in a climate of anti-heroes we are easily infatuated with the cult of personality. It is a sad fact that very few people who pretend to speak for the average Joe have ever lived like him. Few of our leaders can truly understand the crushing grind of a lifetime of thankless labor for insufficient money. They do not know what it is like to only have two weeks of vacation a year. They are, after all, on a book tour, or “ministering” in Thailand and conferencing in the Bahamas."
Ok – some of my "younger" friends might get a bit touchy about this "brief" post…I remember when I was in college. Yep, it was a few years ago…really, over 30 years ago (I’m 53). It was the Vietnam era…and I was a "peace-sign wearing, protest song singing, religiously driven liberal". I thought that if we just gave the world a chance to love each other, that we would all be OK. Get everybody in a room and sing, "kum by yah" and we would hold hands, share our resources, obliterate suffering and hunger and end our conflicts. It was the day of the FIRST gas crisis…and I wanted the government to tax the h*** out of the Oil Companies and share the wealth. Remember, you think and I think in 2008 that a rise of gas prices from $2.99 to $5.00 is outrageous…you should have been around when we were buying as for 35 cents a gallon! I remember putting a buck of gas in the tank for a trip to some sweet surf sessions in Carlsbad…it was HUGE when I had to pay $1.00 for gas! Anyway, let me get to the point. For Christians to be sucked up into a more "socialist" agenda like that which is being promoted by the Obama campaign is simply naive. This man is radically pro-abortion…he promotes agendas driven more by socialistic ideals than those that underscore freedom and personal responsibility…he is a "global warming" guppy…and he is extremely short-sighted in economic issues…and that has nothing to do with the fact that he "sounds" like he is a radical in terms of globalization (although I must admit, the issues surrounding globalization are multi-faceted and complex – what is not acceptable to me is a "redistribution of wealth" strategy or inference). I’m not saying that McCain is a better candidate…I don’t know what to think about McCain yet…fact is, I’m not saying ANYTHING about the election per se. What I am saying is just because Obama sounds like he wants to bring about some sense of "peace and love and universal justice" is NOT what he is actually all about. He is, in many respects, what he has been accused of…an elitist. I say that because I was an elitist when I was young and naive…I think I knew better than anybody about life, spirituality, church work, and the world. I am perplexed and skeptical about any of the "younger" Kingdom people who want to jump on the Obama bandwagon because he is about change. He draws a young and naive crowd. Truth is, I would have loved him when I was 21. Unfortunately, neither he nor his political agenda and persona jive with the wisdom that has come from maturity and having a few miles on your life. More to come…so, shoot away friends! I’d love to have some dialog!
There have been those who have been blasting away at contemporary "prophets" who have been attempting to call attention to the deepening "shallowness" and superficiality of the contemporary American Church. Most often those voices have been marginalized or ignored as people dismiss them as supposed cynics or pessimists. With the release yesterday of the Pew Forum Study, many of the ignored prophets can find some justification. Here is ONE quote from a professor at Rice University that ended up on the front page of the local paper here in Idaho:
"Religion in America is 3,000 miles wide but it’s only 3 inches deep. The issue is not that Americans don’t believe in anything. It’s that they believe in practically everything. It’s impossible for Americans to hold together contradictory beliefs at the same time".
My oh my! Let me turn the clock back…since I’ve been around for a while, I’ve heard the stories of older generations and their "Deep" faith…it was deep, personal, sometimes even hidden but it was embedded in their soul. Previous generations KNEW what they believed…they had a more substantial knowledge of biblical teaching and theology…they knew more than the "steps to heaven" and the practical and relevant lessons ("simple applications") that come regularly from pulpits across the country. Could it be that modern Evangelicalism and "local church" has focused SO much on getting people on the "bus" of eternal life that we haven’t instructed them on the deeper issues of the faith that actually transform a life? It seems that it is getting extremely clear by analyzing people’s actions that are NOT in line with faith and hearing people’s beliefs that are nothing more than pluralistic and syncretistic that there appears to be a need in American culture for some spiritual clarity and challenge. Here’s a question for you to consider – could it be that our rush for big and popular and mega and relevant and more and attracting could be actually destroying the power of the Gospel? Isn’t the Kingdom of God more than simplistic understanding on how to get eternal life? Of course it is! No doubt in my mind…the American Church has GOT to start teaching people not just truth that gets them their "ticket to heaven" and what makes "their life work"…practical principles, simple steps, pure application isn’t deepening anyone’s experience of the faith and the research is showing that is surely isn’t clarifying how Christ-following is unique over against any other faith system. More to come…bottom line, we’ve got some work to do!
Want to look at the entire study? The link is here – read it and weep! It does break the heart of those who love God and are called according to His purposes!
Sigur Ros – a band that I started to enjoy while I was working on a personal video for the Youth Leadership Conference in 2007 has released some more wonderful music and captivating video work. This would be worth seeing on a big screen and enjoying…take a peak!
Just got back from being in Colorado hanging with my three wonderful grandgirls…there is NOTHING like a week with a 6, 5 and 2 year old. Reminds me alot of many of my friends, coworkers and pals in this life’s journey minus the early bedtimes! Anyway, I’m back, reading, thinking and starting to percolate on some new posts. I’ll be with you soon! More to come…
I’ve had my doubts…I saw the movie…read some articles but I also have a healthy perspective on the audacity we have as human beings to think that we can "change" the creation of God. Are we supposed to be stewards of creation? Yes! Without a doubt! We have harmed the earth…but to throw the entire planet into a climate crisis? I not only suspect that this is the science of elitism and radical environmentalism gone amok but I believe that we need to see all the facts and engage in healthy dialog without jumping to conclusions!
Below is an article from John Coleman that I think you should take a peak at…John founded The Weather Channel, serving as its CEO and
President during the startup and its first year of operation. He has been a vocal opponent of the alarmist reactions of those who are the Chicken Little’s of the world who say that the "sky is falling". I don’t want to be sarcastic and, if I am, I apologize. I am conflicted…do we need to get out of the "oil business"? Yes! We’ve had technologies that can release us from oil and its negative footprint on the planet around for a while. But going to grain-based Ethanol is throwing our "planet" into a food crisis!
I don’t know what people were thinking…we had issues with world hunger for decades…with rising populations and food shortages due to extremely complex political situations, we need every bit of grain we can keep our hands on for feeding people. There are other things that we have to do to be good stewards of the earth that was given to us as a gift…but to assume that we can change weather patterns and issues that are clearly in hands "bigger" than our own, that’s a little wacked out. You just have to look at the book of Job to get some idea about how God feels about the BIGNESS of who He is versus the SMALLNESS of who we are. It just seems to me that the more we think we can control the planet, the more we think that we are God. Oh well…think about it!
I know I’m messing with some "holy" ground here…not doing it to play with you or anger my faithful "readers" but rather to get us all thinking about the types of symbols, music, images, and visions that permeate our lives. Art summarizes so much of what we feel…it captures aspirations and dreams as well as giving us a heart-felt foundation from which to express ourselves to the world. I was ‘spinning’ this morning in my three-times-a-week spin class (not bad for an old guy) while listening to a Nickelback song…as I was listening, it dawned on me, "why do we have to hear songs like this from people who supposedly DON’T speak for the Christ-following community?" Frankly, this is a "psalm" of lament and hope and a calling out for justice and a new way of doing life and relationships. Now, "juxtapose" that song with a song that is regularly sung in Christian circles…good song..song that communicates truth…but also one that promotes (in my humble opinion) a sense of escapism…as if our only goal in life is to make it to heaven. Now, don’t get me wrong, OK? I’m not slamming Mercy Me…man, that would tick off tons of my pals. What I am saying though is look at what we "sing" on a regular basis…what does it promote? What visions are being communicated? What are the dreams that are on our community’s lips and hearts? Escapism or Engagement? Getting to the eternal Kingdom or bringing the Kingdom into play in our lives and relationships? So, you tell me…here are the videos…turn it up and enjoy and reflect!
Mercy Me, I can only Imagine
Nickelback, If everyone cared
Send all your hate email to my son, Aaron (firstname.lastname@example.org)…Ha!
Hey, today is a "slow brain day"…I’ve got some huge things on my mind so it is refreshing to say that the broader "community" in my life have insights that need to be passed on! Thanks to Len (again) for these on his great blog. By the way, I got schooled by a response about the "gasoline" rant I had a few days ago…I’ve got to go back and reread some history…thanks to the broader community of bloggers and friends. Proof again that old dogs need new tricks!
McNeal (Reggie) “gets it.” The Holy Spirit does not live in buildings made
with hands. We have reversed the original lens and view the kingdom
through the lens of church, where we should view the church through the
lens of kingdom. A missional lens begins with the gospel of the
kingdom. Or as Rohr put it, “The church is supposed to be the dating
service; sometimes she thinks she is the date.”
In McNeals terms,
as he tells it tongue-in-cheek in the AUDIO/VIDEO linked HERE, the church is
like an airport: it’s the connector. When airports get this wrong
things get nasty. “When the airport thinks its the destination.. thinks
its winning when all the planes are on the ground course to the hub..
and the concourse is throbbing with people.. boy we’re winning now!”
When this happens lives get screwed up. “I came that you might have
church, and more abundantly…”
The Journey Guy writes,
“Reggie McNeal led this session. He related that while working with a church staff, he gave them the following:
Assignment: Leave staff meeting and find a Starbucks, mall or park bench and simply pray, “God, help me to see what you see.”
came back and shredded the church agenda. It changed the church because
it changed the staff. They realized that what God was concerned about
was not what they had been concerned about.
ministers in North America are saying, “The pagans are getting to me,
I’m leaving the ministry. Rather, they say, ‘The club members are
getting to me, and I’m getting out.’”
tracks with the rise of the service economy, where we outsourced
everything. We also outsourced spiritual formation to the church.
“Heck, we pay 7% tithe down there at the church, so we expect a good
children/youth ministry.” For most of Christian history, it was not
outsourced; it was home-based spiritual formation.
staff meetings with calendars and budgets. We’ve done it so long, it
feels normal. We even say, “How’s your church going? Your Sunday
School?” We don’t start questions with, “How are your people doing?”
There’s no people development marks on the score card. We
don’t keep track of more healthy marriages, thriving spiritual lives,
and people praying earnestly for God’s kingdom in the world.
got to have a new “scorecard” for the missional church. How many, how
often, how much? We’ve got to expand the bandwidth of what we’re
measuring. It’s got to be more poly-dimensional than what we’re doing
now. We talk about kingdom, we must realize it’s not about church. How
do you measure people development? It’s hard stuff…
Adjective – any member of a class of words that in many
languages are distinguished in form, as partly in English by having
comparative and superlative endings, or by functioning as modifiers of
nouns, as good, wise, perfect. The part of speech that modifies a noun or other substantive by
limiting, qualifying, or specifying and distinguished in English
morphologically by one of several suffixes, such as -able, -ous, -er, and -est, or syntactically by position directly preceding a noun or nominal phrase.
Adjectives, generally speaking, screw us up in the pursuit of
faithfulness to Kingdom purposes. The problem with adjectives is
that "by limiting, qualifying, or specifying" types of
Christ-followers…in other words, in attempting to describe something
unique about a movement, person, or community of people, once an
adjective is added, usually harm is done. You see, adjectives were
never meant to become NOUNS…they are mostly words that are used
subjectively by the speaker/writer. But the problem is once an
adjective is used, it easily transforms into a noun and it used in an
abusive manner. Try this on for size:
- When it appears that a person is TOO literalistic in their
interpretation/use of scripture, we are tempted to describe them as a
"fundamentalist" and then marginalize them
- When a person lives the flow of their life in the context of a
denominational church body, they are morphed into whatever that
denomination is…they are a "Lutheran", "Pentecostal", "Baptist",
"Anglican", etc. Then they are pigeon-holed based upon our subjective
ideas of the reality of that denomination.
- When it appears that a person has blown it in some way, instead of
focusing on the behavior, calling it what it is as "broken behavior" of
a person who is called a saint within biblical texts, we have a
tendency to move sin from its place as a descriptor of actions to a
labeling of a person as a "sinner".
- When a person is performing a specific function within the Body of
Christ that is, according to the biblical witness itself, simply one of
numerous "callings" from the Spirit of God…that person is "pastoring"
people effectively as an equally vital part of the overall economy of
the work of God. The problem comes when the "pastor" becomes not a
descriptor of action but a noun describing a person…suddenly that
descriptor takes on power and separateness…and thus can and has been
Where is all this coming from? Well, in recent months, I have again
felt the sting of being marginalized by a descriptor that was supposed
to simply describe something from my past NOT become the basis for a
subjective judgment of my character/etc. Somebody referred to me as a
"Lutheran"…now, I have no problem with that descriptor/adjective if
it is simply one way of referring to something that has been a part of
my life. In other words, I have been involved in a Lutheran expression
of Christianity. But, as mentioned above, Lutheran is an adjective NOT
a noun. It describes a certain theological and liturgical heritage
within the flow of Christendom. It helps someone who doesn’t know me
understand a bit about my background IF they understand what is special
about a "Lutheran" understanding of Christ-following. The problem
comes when the person using the adjective uses it as a noun…when
their subjectivity (usually negative stereotypes and misunderstandings)
becomes more than opinion but something that gives them an opportunity
to disconnect from community. Remember, when adjectives become nouns,
they mess us up. We have all felt the sting of broad generalizations
of our lives…"oh, they are only an artist"…"that person is a
flake"…"she’s an idiot". You see, all those descriptors are
adjectives describing something that is meant to be seen as transitory,
situational and circumstantial. Can we try to let the adjectives be
just what they are meant to be? Can we put aside the temptation to
make a descriptor into a label that gives rise to marginalization and
rejection? You tell me…what do you think?