Reflecting on Donna Freitas’ Talk on Hookup Culture at #QNashville

Another presentation that I find myself thinking a lot about is Donna Freita’s “Hookup Culture.”  Feel free to psycho-analyze – I have been too.

She’s the author of  The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy and she sees answering the hookup culture as a “justice issue.” While I have never thought of it in that light before, I certainly think exposing the damage of things like the hookup culture potentially contributes to the common good, the betterment of society, and better-lived lives.

The first line of her talk:
“I feel like I have to warn you, I’m Catholic. We have the Catholic explaining hookup culture.”

IMG_3465 Rest of my notes:
Young adults believe they are supposed to be casual about sex in college.

The official social contract of the hook-up:
[Read more…]

Reflecting on Andy Crouch’s Talk on Religious Freedom at #QNashville

I was grateful to have attended #QNashville and wanted to share some of my highlights. First, pardon my northeastern snobbery, I had to adjust being in Nashville. Though I spent my adolescent years in a small town, I’ve always been around major cities with huge buildings, crazy traffic, people everywhere, confusing streets, and airports with multiple terminals.

At the Nashville airport, there’s one terminal and its slightly larger than my local Target. But small airports are not unusual. What is unusual is that people were allowed to park their cars in designated “Pick-up” spaces and they didn’t leave them running either. They parked, put some music on, got out and waited for their family/friends.  I think one family had a grill they were about to set up and start tailgating but then grandma came out while they were assembling the tent.  And then when the security officers went around, they would all wave to each other. At Logan airport, my wife and I fold the stroller, dodge the buses, load up our luggage, buckle our three kids in carseats and survive an interrogation from the legions of officers faster than a NASCAR pitstop. And the weird part is, we’re not upset by this because we think this is safe.

Well there I was, waiting for a great friend I knew since college to pick me up in his Prius. He used to want a Ferrari. Now he was on time, he drove carefully, he listened, and his music selections were [Read more…]

“Pre-suppositions & Expectations” – Reflecting on Noah Post 1

The other night, my wife and I went to see the new movie Noah. In short, I liked quite a bit about it which I want to share why but it seems most helpful to begin with pre-suppositions and expectations.

If you need a literal re-telling of the Noah story found in say, the NIV/KJV, I’m not sure I know of a movie to recommend. From what I know, all attempts for a literal re-tellings of Scripture come off comical, boring or flat (as in lacking of any creative imagination). I’m not sure any serious reader of Scripture will ever be completely pleased in a screen adaptation of scenes in the Bible.

As I mentioned in my Facebook post:

”…Frankly, it’s very difficult for me to be satisfied with any piece of art that is describing, re-creating, painting, telling, interpreting our sacred Scriptures. Everything from sermon to canvas to film falls short. So given that, what goodness can be found then? And though things like Last Temptation of Christ and “Piss Christ” are offensive, oddly enough, I think this is where some Christian art has failed us as well – because many have settled for a boring and flat retelling of events that our mind’s eye does a far better job with than their storytelling, cinematography, etc. SO, Noah was actually really good for me (not “perfect” mind you). Ok, blog post coming.”

In thinking about this, I found myself wondering why I even wanted to see this movie. It’s wrought with controversy, I don’t need any more and after an intense week, I could really use a laugh. Frankly, would this be worthwhile for the trouble it might cause? I’ll get to that.

Like most, I desire to be fluent with various aspects of culture – you cannot say you love people and [Read more…]

“There’s a church for everybody.” Well Actually, Not Really – Confronting our Christian Consumerism – Post 4

“There’s a church for everybody.”

I have heard this statement numerous times. The idea is that if you look hard enough, keep your heart open and throw in a dash of prayer, God will lead you to the perfect match. I know, it sounds almost like an E-Harmony commercial.

Still, I have spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about this line. You might think it’s because I have such a big heart for [Read more…]

The Worship Service Snobs – Confronting Our Christian Consumerism Post 3

How many times have I left a worship service raving or complaining about a particular song in the worship set? I’ve been thinking about how we consume certain elements of the worship service and the two most obvious elements are the sermon (covered in the previous post) and during the time of singing.

I remember a stretch of going to church with a consistent group of people where the entire worship service was under constant evaluation. The worship leader’s attire was discussed, “Stop wearing those pleated pants!” The back-up vocalists had a ranking system “She’s like the second worst alto. I literally can’t sing when she sings harmony” and of course, the guys would have a different ranking system “Who cares if she can’t sing, she’s beautiful and she loves Jesus – what’s her name??” Clearly we were here to worship.

The song selection began another conversation. “Not another Chris Tomlin song!” “I think they dug this hymn out from from the lost tapes of Charles Wesley. They should have left it there.” “Please stop singing ‘Second Worst Alto!'” and “Crowder’s ‘O God Where Are You Now?’ would have worked better here.” And on it went. As I look back, not only do I regret our lack of reverence and hate the thought of how distracting we must have been, I also regret how our cynicism might have shaped our understanding of worship and community for each other.

We were worship service snobs. We picked on the shortcomings and expressed how unimpressive the better moments were, “I’ve heard [Read more…]

Does the Sermon Matter? – Confronting Our Christian Consumerism Post 2

No one thinks of themselves as a consumer when it relates to church. Most church-goers wake up thinking, “Should I go today?  Yeah I should …”  not “Well, what’s in it for me?” It’s not until we get moving do we think things like, “I hope the preacher doesn’t get on his soap box again,” “I hope the service doesn’t go long,” “I hope they don’t feed my kids Smarties” and “Please, no more Chris Tomlin songs.”

Anyway, no one really wakes up in the morning thinking, “I have to consume church today.” But the truth is, we don’t need to actually say that in order to consume. I am hoping these posts help in the reflection of our hearts, expectations and practices as they relate to things like the preaching, the music, the ambiance, and the ministries.

If I could talk about my vanity (as opposed to yours), I’d like to say here’s how and what I have been guilty of consuming and [Read more…]

Confronting Our Christian Consumerism

If you’ve been following lately, I’ve been blogging all about people (and millennials) leaving the church and in an attempt to segue to a different part of the conversation, I want to focus on Christian consumerism in the Church.

Yes, it obviously exists.

Sometimes we think of what some people call “church-shopping.” This is generally said of those looking for a church to join but that shopping mentality often exists long after.  We often leave the Sunday morning “experience” and say an assortment of things like, “I really liked the music, the preaching, the kids ministries, the youth program, the parking lot guys were nice, etc.” I have always found that word “experience” troubling but for lack of a better term, I tend to give it the benefit of the doubt. Maybe more on that another time.

Christian consumerism also happens with people who have been part of the same church for years and they leave Sunday saying, “I love it when he preaches on the parables” or “I hate it when he preaches on the parables” or “I love/hate that new song/hymn/chorus/singer/musician/etc.” They are loyal patrons who have a particular expectation and they leave satisfied when it is met consistently (but still feels “new and fresh”) and frustrated when it does not satisfy (“different and inconsistent”). In this instance, church is more of a favorite restaurant “experience” than a community of fellow worshippers committed to growing, serving, and connecting.

A more subtle way of seeing Christian consumerism is in this sentiment: “Another good message today – I needed that honestly. And our worship was beautiful – our time of prayer seemed sincere, our music was alive. It seemed that people left encouraged, some found hope for the first time and some some drew closer to God. It was great to worship in our church today.”

Now at first glance there seems to very little wrong with that and depending on the heart, there may not be anything wrong BUT what if the opposite of this statement were said in kind.

As in “Another poor message today – I didn’t need that honestly. And our worship was “so-so” – our time of prayer was super-long, the music felt mediocre. Seemed some people left bored/annoyed/frustrated. I’m not sure anyone found hope for the first time and I’m not sure anyone drew closer to God. It was not a good day or worship in our church today.”

The one sentence seemed sincere and noble. I know I have said it many times in describing a “good Sunday.” And while I don’t know how many times I’ve actually said the latter, I know I have felt some of these sentiments while I sat restless in my seat.

We would conclude that the heart committed to worshipping God while gathered with fellow believers can have a “good Sunday” regardless of what happens or doesn’t happen in the collective worship service. Further, it has always felt freeing to know that my worship is not contingent on the preaching, singing, announcements, etc.

I think this is why we hear the voice of God when we watch children choirs singing – I’m just going to say it – their “performance” is generally terrible. One kid is always waving, one kid is crying, and it’s really hard to see their collective talent shining when the one kid is determined to moon everyone and the dozen around him are determined to watch or copy. Typically, they are not singing the same song, at least not at the same time and I always feel so bad for the choir director kneeling on the floor, mouthing all the words, doing all the motions, while pulling up that kid’s pants. It took her (yes, usually a her) 4 weeks to pull off that mess but for some reason I can’t get enough and these moments are often the best part of the service.

So what does this mean? If it all depends on the individual heart then why bother with all the planning of a worship service? If we just like children’s choirs, let’s just throw them up on the “stage” every Sunday – they’re bound to improve. And do we really need all these different churches with their different worship services?

I am a firm believer that we ought to do everything with careful thought, with a commitment to excellence consistent with our heart and gifting and all this is done for the glory of God and to invite each other to connect deeper. This goes beyond our worship hour and includes our ministries for children, youth, families, and the many related to those in need, those in pain, those trying to grow in the Christian faith.

All of the functions of the church can be consumed as a patron but these very same practices can also be beautiful and life-giving personal and collective experiences the call us to a deeper love and service to our Lord.

I identify myself as a Christian pluralist and have come to truly appreciate the various different forms of Christian worship. I may not connect with all of them but I do appreciate that others do. I love that some church communities meet in living rooms, in bars, in school auditoriums, “in third places,” in 100 year old cathedrals, in brand new sanctuaries, and the many different forms in between. Liturgical, traditional, progressive, whatever the “experience” is – let us not judge, let us not consume, let us worship the Lord as we see fit together and serve others.

Yep, I’m Still Thinking About Why People Are Leaving the Church

Let me just say it – I am not ready to let go of the “Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church” conversation from the Rachel Held Evans’ CNN post that went viral almost 3 weeks ago. I’ve blogged all about it and have left quite a bit in my “Drafts” folder.  Truth is, I can let go of the hype and some of the fall out but why Millennials and why people in general are leaving the Church, why they should be part of it, well, I can’t let go of.  Honestly it’s pretty much what I do with a great deal of my energy.

Again, minus the name-calling, the demeaning of others and the redrawing of some of the dividing lines, I was grateful for the conversation.  Some people shared some tough stories about their experiences in the Church.  The act of sharing was good for [Read more…]

Reflecting on Rachel Held Evans’ Why Millennials are Leaving the Church Post 1- Style Vs. Substance

I have huge respect for Rachel Held Evans. I like her blog, I’ve enjoyed her books and I follow her on Twitter. Further I appreciate her mind, her love for Christ, her heart for others and from where I sit, I find her to be a wise and faithful steward of her platform.

The other day she wrote an excellent piece on CNN Belief Blog and her basic thesis was that Millennials are leaving churches because they are looking for “more substance than style.” In short, she concluded “we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.” Ouch.

Her critique is too many churches are making the mistake of seeking to be “more relevant” as opposed to being more substantial.  That may not sound original to some but the real problem is it’s a consistent and oft-heard criticism.  Seeking to be a “little more relevant” is a very tired practice in many congregations throughout our country [Read more…]

Reflecting On Rob Bell’s Comments – Post 2 – The Pastoral Response to the “The Ship Has Sailed”

The previous post focused on whether or not Rob Bell still matters. Contrasting the different reactions of whom I respected, I concluded that Rob Bell still does matter to me and if his popularity/ability to create buzz and controversy, he does to many others as well. That said, he doesn’t need to matter to you.

Some have been asking me what I think of Rob’s comments. For most it’s the innocent ‘what do you think about this’? But for some, it’s another evangelical loyalty test. If you’re reading this, I know you, don’t act like it isn’t. ;) (said with love). Who are my loyalties to – Rob (i.e. the face of trendy spirituality that appeals to the masses) or to the Scriptures (the God-breathed, infallible Word of God that knows no equal …!)? (said with sarcasm).

A false dichotomy if there ever was one.

Well, I have failed and passed the loyalty tests throughout my ministry and I don’t see this changing. I have heard crazy stories, been a part of a few too. I am concerned with “getting in trouble” and some days, I’m just as concerned with the day of looking back on my life regretting that I didn’t get into more. May my words/actions always honor the Father, be Christ-like and Spirt-led but this is where I find myself.

So what about Rob’s comments? Well first consider his context now – He is a progressive coming out of the evangelical sub-culture and this is an interesting dilemma for him. If he comes across as too conservative, some will say he has weary from his Love Wins bashing and is hoping to get back into the fold. And of course if he plays the cards he’s playing, it’s the “We told you so. We told you he was wolf/heretic/apostate/(insert hurtful word of choice here).”

So partially given the position he is in, I can’t say I’m surprised that Rob has come out as a supporter of same-sex marriage but I’m not exactly sure on what he really means by what he really said. As I mentioned previously, “These are the tricky posts because they cover on a number of topics, like “Gay Marriage,” “What the Bible says about Homosexuality,” “The Church’s posture toward the gay community” – these are all different questions … and answers.” So let’s be careful we hear what he’s saying and be wise and mindful of our own. (Really, let’s actually do that).

I have paused on the “ship has sailed” line. Could that be the reason he really changed his mind? It’s just difficult for me to conclude that the guy who doesn’t use footnotes could point to a precise point in his thought process. The reference to the culture is obvious but he doesn’t actually finish the sentence (in a Q&A mind you as opposed to a written statement) so how can I come to any conclusion that has any integrity? Further, no one, and I mean no one, in the evangelical world is suggesting the boat has not sailed. We’re wondering what to do about it.

Well, I don’t know anything about shipbuilding, naval engineering or oceanography. But if the ship is being used as the allegory for the “culture” which in this case seemed to imply “the people” – well, I do care about people. I’m a pastor, people are an essential aspect of my job description. So what are we going to do about “the people”?

Get another boat and go after them. Maybe it’s a paddle boat, maybe it’s a raft, or maybe it actually is this sea-worthy vessel that we’ve been reimagining/building this last decade. I don’t know, these metaphors tend to break down but pursuing others in the love of Jesus seems obvious to me. Now we don’t pursue to fight, or to proselytize, or to debate, or to warn, no, none of that. The sad reality of all those statistics of people who are disenfranchised by the church comes from these “strategies” and practices.

Which reminds me of what Jesus did when he faced a morality test.

Do you remember the scene with the woman caught in adultery and the Pharisees and various teachers try to trap Jesus and bring her out to him and asking, “The law of Moses says we must stone her, what do you say?”

And I love Jesus’ answer, “Well, that’s a great question fellas. Listen in no way do I endorse this sort of adulterous behavior. And I want to be on record here and explain that I am very much against any forms of sexual expression outside the covenant of marriage as the Father has instituted from creation. Further in a few decades, my buddy Paul, is going to say, “Love your spouse the way I am loving the Church and clearly this case is in violation of that.”

You remember this scene right?

I mention it not to justify anything in terms of sexual practice but it has always served me as a valuable reminder of love, judgment and mercy in such necessary moments. Back to the disenfranchised people on the ship. Many of them are hurting and needing to hear the we love them, God loves them, and yes, the Church as in the community of Christian believers love them. This love includes kindness, generosity, respect, reconciliation, a commitment to grow closer and a desire to serve the other – you know – love. There are no exceptions. The gay community is not an exception, nor are the fundamentalists/liberals/conservative/post-something/etc. No exceptions.

A short while ago a couple approached me regarding getting married but their situation is quite complicated, very untraditional, very repentant and perhaps a bit unrepentant , I’m sure by asking the right questions, I can get them to profess what I want to hear. But is that what inspired me to accept the call into pastoral ministry? I believe so much is situational, I believe in context, I believe in patterns, I believe in policy, and I believe in exceptions. Which I hope makes me a humble believer of prayer. Which is very needed for a pastor.

Our seminaries, pastoral resources and clergy conferences would serve us well to constantly tell us, “Remember, you can really mess up someone’s life if you’re not extremely careful.” We have been faithful with many but we have also not been careful with many and if this is what Rob Bell means when he says “the ship has passed,” well, I’m not going to argue.

It would be convenient to conclude this post by saying, “While you argue about the issues, some of us will help the wounded …”. Well in the pastorate, that’s only a half-true. It’s been my observation that some pastors/thinkers/ministry types know too much doctrine and too little mercy and while some others are committed to a particular hope but risk ignoring certain ramifications. Perhaps more on that another time.

But as a pastor/citizen/child of God my heart aims to broken for the broken-hearted. This very much includes the gay community. I want to avoid the risk of objectifying anyone but I care very much for all those who have identified themselves as part of the gay community and have trusted me with their thoughts and feelings. This has shaped my ministry.

As a pastor, I’m praying that God will use me to lead others to trust Jesus and live in submission to the Lord – every conversation has its own context but for lack of a better summary, that’s my “agenda.” And for those who disagree or pursue a different phrasing/ideology/life for whatever reason, grace and peace to them, for God is gracious in giving us all free will, how can I insist otherwise. In the meantime, may we live in peace, conversation and serve the common good.

Fellow brothers and sisters, particularly fellow pastors, the Church does not get stronger if we get rid of Rob Bell. The Church does not get stronger if there is no such thing as the gay agenda, gay marriage or gay people. The Church gets stronger by loving Christ and loving the other – I really believe this. The Church finds its vision by searching the Scriptures and allowing the Spirit to truly lead. It gets stronger as we pray for those who hate us, forgive those whom have hurt us and seeks reconciliation with whom we have hurt. Christian discipleship grows in this context, community deepens, and our theology becomes stronger.

I know I’m preaching here but the Church is not failing because of the attacks from the culture, it is struggling because of the issues from within. We can be apathetic, we can be careless, we can be greedy and prideful and even hateful, simply put – we are not Christ-like enough. I know because these are my sins – and maybe others can relate.

We talk a lot about the culture war but let us not buy into the notion that we can build God’s kingdom and simultaneously fight in it. We can fight evil, we can fight the evil people do, but the Christian objective is to separate people from the evil, to be filled with saving grace as we have been forgiven and redeemed through Christ. Holy Week seems like an appropriate to reflect on such things.

“The ship has sailed”, yes, now how will we respond?

For a little more context, please see the previous post

And here are 2 more reflecting on seeing Rob Bell this past fall:
Reflecting on Seeing Rob Bell Speak Recently & Why He Still Matters To Me – Part 1

Reflecting on Seeing Rob Bell Speak Recently & Why He Still Matters To Me – Part 2