in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness.
Not that I want to be defined by ‘what I’m against’ or slap on a trendy label, but after being called a ‘good post-evangelical’ recently, I prayed to St. Google and realized it was time to send away for my membership card and decoder ring.
No, I’m not draping myself in the mantle of Indignant Victim/Misunderstood Prophet, nor am I jettisoning foundational orthodox doctrines. I’m weary of the bullshit is all. Celebrity ministries, flatulent egotism, unrepentant rationalizations for long-term character flaws, imperious immaturity, moral failures, financial shenanigans, organization politics, dysfunctional and disproportionate sermons… Sad to say if you’ve been in church longer than five years, you probably know what I’m talking about.
Looking over 28 years of following Jesus, plus what I can discern and analyze of the current state of the American church, I wonder if in this Providential place and season, my service to God must be developed and engaged outside the traditional venue of the church. That recognizing the present options are not only less than ideal, but out of my purview, if I am being forced to grow into new areas of faithfulness and fruitfulness. I also wonder if this large shift – which I find myself a part of – isn’t a falling away as critics claim, but rather a divine pruning that requires Christians exercise missional impulse (i.e. obey the Great Commission) outside the traditional pyramid scheme church. Perhaps like the Acts 8 persecution in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen, this scattering is God’s intention. Maybe He’s saying it’s time to stop congealing around brand-name ministries in mega-churches, and go into the highways and byways and deal one-on-one with people.
If so, I need to move forward rather than drag old modes of thought and practice behind me.
It’s not a little scary – this pushing out into the deep and leaving sight of the shore. But the boat is solid, tempest-worthy if you will. The instruments work. So long as I keep my destination in mind and don’t lose sight of the North Star, I’ll get through it. The shore behind me was the starting point, not the goal. And it wasn’t what was keeping me dry either.
It’s just a thought.
Writing fiction is a full-time vocation jammed into part-time schedule. Glass work is my full-time job. Some days it strikes me how incredibly fortunate I am – blessed even – to make a living in the arts. Occasional slices, client aggravations, and heat-cracks aside, this is a good gig.
Here’s some shots of my studio.
Here’s a link to my Studio website: Glass Graphics Studio
Remember: It’s not a real project until you’ve given blood.
Thanks all. Enjoy your day.
*WARNING. Off-the-cuff 2nd Amendment/Gun Control talk follows*
Listening to the alarmist hyperbole on both sides of the gun control debate, watching respective parties pounce on the tragedy in Ferguson MO to ‘prove’ their point, I’m appalled how much mileage Stupid gets these days.
I mean there are hundreds of thousands of responsible, law-abiding gun-owning citizens (read ‘voters’ there) who respect their Second Amendment rights yet don’t feel violence is the solution to every problem and who aren’t ready to snap at the drop of a hat and shoot up a school/mall/church. Owning guns does not make one a sociopath.
On the other hand, we are talking about firearms here. Always potent, potentially deadly. No, guns don’t make you a killer; killing makes you a killer, but what exactly is wrong with mandatory gun safety courses? We do it for motor vehicles, motorcycles, trucks and heavy machinery. And Background Checks are wise. After all, how about we not give guns to crazy people.
So in search of middle ground, I am forming my own Gun Rights Organization: CITIZENS for RESPONSIBLE GUN OWNERSHIP. (Pronounced Ser-Go.) We’ll have nifty t-shirts, ball caps, bumper stickers, and large annual barbecues where we eat lots of good food then all fire our weapons in a celebratory manner. (safely, downrange)
CRGO firmly and vocally upholds the Second Amendment, the law-abiding citizen’s inalienable right to defend property and family, as well as carry concealed for personal protection.
CRGO believes there is nothing inherently wrong with firearms, firearm training, military service, police and security professions, or the time-honored traditions of hunting and recreational shooting.
CRGO maintains any law-abiding American citizen without a felony record or domestic violence conviction should be able to own a firearm for any and all lawful purpose.
CRGO believes children of both genders should learn basic firearm safety and handling under qualified supervision starting at a young age. Education is the best defense against accidents. Ignorance, fear, and hyperbole are never good strategies for any endeavor, certainly not firearms.
Recognizing gun ownership is an enormous responsibility, CRGO firmly supports mandatory firearm training, background checks, and secure storage for firearms and ammunition.
CRGO also supports restrictions on genuine military-grade weapons and mechanisms. However, understanding appearance does not equal function, CRGO maintains gun owners have the right to accessorize their firearms however they please.
Regarding Gun Laws and Gun Control, CRGO believes our nation has a glut of firearm laws and regulations presently on the books, many of them convoluted, contradictory and confusing. For the sake of the citizenry, police and judicial system, our nation needs a uniform set of concise regulations, firmly and consistently enforced. Not more laws, but clear laws fairly enforced.
There – that’s done. If this sounds good to you, chime in. We get enough people, the gun companies will send us free stuff.
Have a great day.
“Somehow or other, and with the best intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore—and this in the name of the one who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through the world like a flame. Let us, in heaven’s name, drag out the divine drama from under the dreadful accumulation of slipshod thinking and trashy sentiment heaped upon it, and set it on an open stage to startle the world into some sort of vigorous reaction. If the pious are the first to be shocked, so much worse for the pious—others will pass into the kingdom of heaven before them. If all men are offended because of Christ, let them be offended; but where is the sense of their being offended at something that is not Christ and is nothing like him? We do him singularly little honor by watering down his personality till it could not offend a fly. Surely it is not the business of the Church to adapt Christ to men, but to adapt men to Christ.”
― Dorothy L. Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine
I attend a local, monthly open-mike story slam patterned after NPR’s The Moth. Here’s my story from two months ago. The theme was ‘High Anxiety”
So it’s 1992 and I’m a young pioneer pastor in Nova Scotia, Canada. My wife has just given birth to my second son, Noah, in a Halifax hospital. Because of strange international legalities and the fraudulent financial dealings of certain big-name ministries and charities in the past, I’m barred from working a regular job, so I’m on a monthly stipend. Me, my wife, and now my third child.
My job description is ‘Missionary/Inner-City Ministry’, which sounds more spiritual than it is. I’ve got this little store-front church, which used to be a local credit union. There’s smelly, threadbare commercial carpet, a large room with small offices to the side, and a huge vault in the back. I spend most of my days evangelizing, visiting people, talking with them, praying for them, preparing sermons and Bible studies. I’m trying to see the grace of God touch people, transform lives, preach the Good News. I’m looking to build a congregation not with ‘transfer growth’ from other congregations but from scratch – with new believers, genuine conversions.
Despite the distance from friends and family, the challenges, the fixed income, the odd foreignness of the place, I’m excited. I’m still relatively young in the faith and definitely a newbie pastor, but I’m raring to see souls saved, see the Kingdom grow in hearts and lives. Very sincere, enthusiastic. A true believer.
Now as a Christian and spiritual person, I firmly believe in divine appointments – crucial, specific moments in time when you have the opportunity to reflect God’s grace and redemption to another person, either by what you say or do. All these decades later, I still strongly believe in them, and recognize they’re more common – and crucial – than I could have guessed.
Problem was at the time, my concept of them was very small. Whenever I prayed about them, for them, imagined them, even taught and preached about them, they resembled caricatures – these painfully scripted scenes in Christian books and movies,. They were Chick Tract dialogues where the Believer and Non-believer have this escalating conversation, this perfect Question and Response Ping-Pong of spiritual ideas. They’re short, direct, sprinkled with Scripture, have tears or choked-up moments, and usually culminate with the Non-believer falling to their knees asking, “What must I do to be saved?”
So that’s my mental picture, and here I am, earnestly contending for and on the lookout for just such a creature.
Now back to Noah and my family… After Noah arrives home, I decide I’m going to have a vasectomy. Three kids are fine by us. My wife is a wonderful woman and mother. It’s a relatively easy procedure, much less complicated for me than her, and by the grace of God and the Dominion of Canada, foreign ministers and missionaries receive free health care. So I book the appointment.
I have a brief, initial consultation where my doctor – a very professional, well-mannered Indian man (sub-continent, not native American) – answers all my questions, after which I schedule the procedure.
The day of arrives, and I show up early. A nurse leads me to a room where I strip from the waist down, then go lie on an operating table under one of those big round florescent medical lamps. I’m waiting for the doctor, alone and semi-naked on a metal table like something out of a crime drama morgue scene, or a fetish cyberpunk book.
Kinda weird, but hey – it’s free, for my wife and family. I’m good with it.
After what felt like a long time, (it was getting chilly) my doctor arrived in scrubs. We exchange the usual weather/traffic pleasantries before he donned a surgical mask, told me to relax, and got to work.
Now understand a couple things; the very first thing he did was display the instruments he’ll be using: hypo for the local anesthesia, a very sharp scalpel, a handful of wiry, pokey probes that resemble heavy-gauge dental cleaning picks, and what looks like a pair of needle-nose vise grip pliers. Second thing is he apparently had two plus cups of coffee that morning and is in a very chatty mood.
And you think it’s awkward when the dentist wants to talk.
Well let me tell you this guy was downright garrulous. He started in and didn’t stop. He wanted to know everything about me: where I lived, the neighborhood, my wife, my kids. When he learned I was from the States, he asked where I had moved from, where I grew up. He asked about my parents, did I have brothers or sisters… my life story.
The kicker came when he asked what brought me to Canada.
He’s so intrigued when I mention ministry, he gets more talkative, if that were possible. And right then and there, starts engaging me in this huge philosophical, theological debate.
I’m lying there, doing my level best to respond. He’s asking about my ‘journey to faith’, my conversion experience, the validity of the Biblical record… like everything Christianity 101.
So much so, as it continues I break into a sweat because the conversation is starting to sound like something ripped out of a TBN or Cloud Ten script. His questions are so earnest and direct, I’m looking to see if he’s joking.
But he isn’t. In fact, as he keeps talking, it dawns on me: ‘Oh my God… God is answering my prayer. I’m getting my ‘Perfect Witness.’
And I don’t like it. Not one bit.
I mean, the doctor’s talking, I’m trying to answer, but inside I’m praying:
“Really, God? Now? Here?”
“Can you make him shut up? Please God. How about changing the subject? Hockey? Politics?”
But noooooo. I’m riding this train to the end of the line.
Imagine if you will the doctor speaking in stereotypical convenience store clerk Indian-accented English, and understand he’s sprinkling our discussion with updates on the procedure.
He’s saying things like:
“I have always been interested in the teachings of Jesus Christ, but I’ve never fully read the New Testament. Hold on – I’m about to make another incision, so you might feel a bit of a tug.”
“Tell me more about the claims of Jesus. Did he really say he was the only son of God? Ah… wait a second – let me find and cut the right tube here.”
“So Jesus died for the sins of all mankind? How is that possible? *snip, snip* (holds up tiny piece of me in the needle nose vise grips.) There we go. Got it.”
Now I’m a good evangelical. I know my Scripture: John 3:16, Romans 8: 28, 2 Corinthians 5: 17, Revelation 3: 20 and loads more…. but I’ll be damned if I can recall any of them just then. My mind is empty as a broken bucket. Every time the doctor asks about Scripture, all I can think of is that song:
“Jesus loves me, this I know…”
I must have told him God loved him seventy times. Seventy times seven, in fact.
It was awful.
I mean the whole procedure couldn’t have taken more than 30 or 40 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. The Doc finished up, still talking away. I remember groping for answers (mentally, that is) but can’t recall anything definite or special on my part. Certainly not inspired or anointed.
When it was done, I got dressed, went home and ignored his recommendation to take it easy for a couple days. But that’s another story.
Now I’ve told this to a few select friends and the more evangelical ones always ask, “Did it work?” To which I reply, “It must have. We haven’t had any more kids.”
“Not that,” they say. “The witness. Did you lead him to the Lord?”
That doctor could have informed me he was a neo-Nazi, skinhead, Satanist who read Mein Kampf as a devotional, and I’d have been like “Well hey, you have to start your journey somewhere.”
So that’s my ‘High Anxiety’ story. It was twenty-two years ago and I’ve learned a couple things since then. Like what divine opportunities really look like, and to be more careful about what I pray for.
Thanks for listening.
Hot Space Station Justice is four years old today.
My heartfelt thanks to everyone who reads, visits, comments, endures. Your long-suffering and graciousness is a genuine blessing and constant astonishment to me.
You’re all invited for cake on Saturday. There will be a bouncy house, pony rides and face painting. (or is it target shooting, Thai take-out and wargaming?)