in defense of evangelicals
ok — so any regular reader of this blog knows i appreciate snarkiness. i’m no stranger to cynicism. and even though i still consider myself an evangelical (my heritage, my current church attendance, and to reasonable degree, my theology), i’ve taken my share of blog-shots at everything from the religious right, to our obsession with christianized junk, to my 11 part (way too long, said some) ‘rant from a runt about the american church.’
and i’ve kind of been enjoying the slew of snarky books coming out these days ‘explaining’ evangelicals. ; ; ; and others. really, we have to be able to poke fun at ourselves. and most of these books carry an additional level of meaning or message.
so when i saw a few posts here and there about a new release called , i expected it would be another one of these — maybe a bit late into the foray, but along the same lines.
but today, a friend (who, i believe, would struggle to still call herself an evangelical, though it is her history, and she has a rock-solid, something-a-bit-other-than-evangelical faith these days) sent me a link to an article about the book. the article includes extensive quotes from the book. i expected to laugh at myself, and at all those silly evangelicals who are my brothers and sisters, but are still a bit wacky at times. instead, i found myself getting frustrated with the author’s unfair and inaccurate statements. i felt defensive for evangelicals. i even felt a bit defensive for fundies! and i don’t like feeling defensive for fundies. not that the book is humorless — there were a few funny lines in the bits i read (note: i have only read the pieces in this online article, not the whole book — but, that’s the risk of putting a segment online, huh?).
i was gonna copy some examples here (from the article), but i’ll let you go read ‘em yourself, if you’re so inclined. i just needed to take this shot across the bow of the book (like it’s gonna make a difference!). bring on the fair and informed cynicism, sarcasm and critique. i’ll join ya. but this one looks like one i’ll take a pass on.
books on faith in tough times?
Friday September 01st 2006, 6:52 pm
Filed under: faith
the mom of one of my middle school kids has to give some talks on “having faith when it’s hard”, and asked me for reading recommendations. i suggested yancey’s ‘where is god when it hurts?’ and lewis’ ‘the problem of pain’. but both of those are a bit more specific to pain. any suggestions on faith in difficult times, or faith when it’s hard to have faith — slightly broader topics than pain?
conversation with god on a waverunner
while zipping across lake conroe at 45mph, I was asking god what I should notice.
what about it?
you’re going fast.
crap. that’s too obvious. of course i’m going fast. i like fast.
some voice in me speaks, or god’s voice – i’m not sure (at first i dismiss it as a cliché voice – the ‘it’s obvious, stupid’ voice that only knows how to parrot what every other armchair psychologist or armchair god would say): you need to slow down.
it pisses me off. it’s way too obvious. and way too simplistic.
NO, I DO NOT NEED TO SLOW DOWN.
the voice cowers a bit (which makes it easy to conclude it’s not god). you need to slow down.
me: whatever. if that’s all you have to say, i dismiss you.
act two: 22 hours later. again zipping across lake conroe at 45mph. yesterday, the water was choppy; today, the water is mostly smooth, with occasional patches of mild chop.
it dawns on me:
when i’m going fast and the water is smooth, it’s fun and easy and feels right. but when i’m going fast and the water is choppy, it beats the crap out of me. maybe the first two or three bumps have a sense of thrill or newness or adventure; but, rather quickly, it is jarring, and feels like i’m damaging myself.
hmmm. i should notice that. s’pose it’s still fairly obvious – like the ‘you need to slow down’ thing. but not quite as much. more nuanced. and rings more true and more applicable. i don’t think i’m capable (due to choice or role or wiring or a combination) of consistent slow. it’s not me. but can i choose slow at the right time? at the right times?
i ask myself (still flying across the water), ‘what skills are necessary to navigate this?’
environmental awareness, and
and, more specifically, the ability to regulate speed in response to environmental awareness.
two problems with this:
1. i’m not entirely deficient at environmental awareness. but i suck at predicting it. i can see it in the midst of it, usually a tad past the half-way point, the in-deep point.
2. i plan my calendar months in advance, sometimes a year in advance, so speed regulation (most impacted by my calendar) is extremely difficult to change in the moment.
sure, i can (in theory) be more proactive about planning cycles – making sure there are slower periods in-between the mad-rush periods (that’s why i’m here on this three-day mini-sabbatical). but that isn’t so much in response to the choppiness that is less predictable.
how do i learn to read the water out in front of me? in real life, i learned this back when i was crewing on a racing sailboat. we learned to read the water for wind. maybe i’m in a bit of self-denial: maybe i already fully know how to read the water in front of me, but don’t want to admit it, because that would provide accountability i don’t want.
and a lingering question: why do i like fast? is it merely that “i’m wired that way?” or is there more to it? is it adventure or adrenaline? is it the inherent risk involved, knowing Iim living life in a way that is ‘close to the edge’? is it arrogance, wanting to prove that i can live ‘close to the edge’ while others can’t? am i trying to prove something, that i have worth, or that my worth comes from what i do, so i have to accomplish big and more? why do i like fast?
if i stopped
if i was quiet for a minute
if i was calm
if i was still
if i turned everyone down
if i switched everything off
if i ceased looking everywhere all at once
if i was silent
if i was still
if i stayed at home
if i didn’t pick up the phone
if i was out even when i was in
if i was silent
if i was still
if i slowed
if i simply sat
if i stood on my head
and emptied out the contents
if i stopped
would you be there
would you speak to me
would i be able to hear you
would it be worth it?
if i stopped
would it be long enough?
if i was silent
would i hear anything?
if i heard something
would i know it was you?
if i did
would i be interested?
if i was
would i stop again?
(Martin Wroe from ‘When You Haven’t Got a Prayer: A journalist talk to God’; ht to paul chambers)
sorry for the days of blog silence without warning. it snuck up on me. i was in grand rapids friday morning, when our email went down as part of a change-over to the zondervan/harper collins system. for those in the office, it was only down for a bit, but required some tweaks on everyone’s computer, and mine was with me. i flew out saturday morning (after going home to san diego to sleep) for texas, to attend jeremy bush’s wedding (jeremy’s the drummer in the crowder band, and a great guy and friend of ys) and start my quarterly 3-day mini-sabbatical/spiritual retreat/silent retreat. and when i found out monday that i could get the reconfiguration done over the phone, i decided it wasn’t very conducive to my retreat purposes, so stayed off-line. i haven’t seen email since friday noon (still haven’t, won’t until i’m in the office tomorrow morning), only used my cell phone to call home once, and haven’t been online until now (sitting in the houston airport).
(just had a youth worker from sacramento walk up and say hi. too weird. nice, but weird.)
anyhow, it was a great retreat, but i’m really missing my family. i read 3 books, slept a bunch, watched 6 movies, spent 2 hours (in 1 hour intervals) on a waverunner flying across lake conroe, sat silently and listened to god, and generally shut my stinkin’ fat mouth for 3 days. i’ll have more to say about it all tomorrow.
if you’ve grown up in the church, like i have, you’ve seen the ‘footprints‘ thing (one set of footprints in the sand? “that’s when i was carrying you,” says jesus) enough to hurl. one pass through the gifts section of the christian booksellers convention leaves you plotting ways to bring bodily harm to whatever schmuck wrote that thing. so, this nice little rumination on a revised meaning pleased me to no end.
(ht to think christian)
prophecy and spiritual direction
i don’t come from charismatic stock (i mean, my people have plenty of personality, but not charismatic theology or practice). i’m not, howver, a cessationist (is that how it’s spelled?). frankly, i’m kind of ambivilant about the whole thing. it’s not really something i long for, or something i’ve afraid of.
so, being at soul survivor is an interesting space for me, as their fairly ‘into’ the charistmatic gifts (this year more than last year, as it connected more with the theme of ‘in spirit and in truth’). i’ve appreciated how mike pilavachi has explained things like praying for each other, ‘ministry time’, and even prophecy. basically, he ‘normalizes’ the whole thing, and takes away (or tries to) any spiritual heirarchy from those who have experiences and those who don’t.
he told a hilarious story the other night of the first time he experienced prophecy (as in, experienced himself being the deliverer). after telling all the students that prophecy is only meant to be for encouragement and building others up (never for criticism or correction), he went on to talk of how he really wanted, years ago, to deliver a prophetic message to someone. some guy who was known to be quite prophetic was coming into town to meet with a group of ministers and spouses, and invited mike to join him. mike was totally sweating it, as he’d never delivered a prophetic message to anyone. he was praying like crazy, begging god to give him something profound to say (i love how self-effacing mike is). when they stood with the first minister couple, they prayed for a few minutes, then the prophet guy said something profound to them, including a passage from scripture he felt god had for them. mike continued begging god to give him something, and he said the only thing that kept coming to his mind was the ABBA song “dancing queen”. he was a bit ticked at god, and prepared to say nothing. the prophetic dude turned to mike and asked him if god had given him anything to share with the couple, and he mumbled “you can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life”. as soon as he said it, he wanted to run, thinking he’d just made the biggest fool of himself. the couple started laughing, and he was sure they were laughing AT him. the prophet guy asked why they were laughing, which ticked mike off, because he thought it was obvious they were thinking he was a total loser. but the revealed that the wife had recently begun a dance ministry in their church, and on the way over that evening, she’d expressed that she was thinking how ridiculous it was that she’d started that ministry, and that she should end it.
somewhere in the midst of mike describing this, i was struck by the similarities between the charismatic/pentecostal practice of prophecy, and the ancient/new practice of spiritual direction. there are probably very few people who are into prophecy who practice spiritual direction, and the other way around also.
my wife, jeannie, finished a two year course in spiritual direction last december, and meets with a handful of ‘directees’ each month now. i meet with a spiritual director once a month also (though she’s gone for the summer). a spiritual director helps you listen to god. they don’t give advice (mike clearly said the point of prophecy isn’t to give advice). mostly, they ask questions, along the lines of “what do you think god might be saying to you about that?” or “where do you think god was in that experience?” (i’m oversimplifying it, but it’s probably fair to say i’m oversimplifying prophecy also.) there is a significant difference, of course: a spiritual director would (or at least should) never say, “here’s what i think god is saying to you.” but while someone exercising prophecy may say that, they’re supposed to do so with a humble attitude that reflects an attitude of “i could be wrong about this”.
anyhow. i think it would be fascinating to get a few spiritual directors and a few humble prophecy peeps in a room and listen to them talk about their ministry and approach, the differences and similarities. i’m thinking there’s a ton of overlap, yet a mostly different vocabulary.
anyone want to chime in?
the spiritual formation of “being there”
i was reading scot mcknight’s the jesus creed last night in my cozy bed in our 15th century home, and the section was talking about spiritual formation. so it’s on my mind a bit today. this morning, liesl and i were sitting amidst about 11,000 british teenagers in the largest tent i have ever seen in my life. this event, these 11,000 teenagers (even even moreso, the organizers of the event), are a slightly different tribe than liesl and i come from. they’re charismatics — but, good charismatics (the we’ve got the spirit, but we still engage the world kind, not the we’ve got the spirit, and we’re withdrawing from the world kind). in fact, i never hear american charismatics talk about justice like this. but i digress.
we were sitting there in singing time, and there was a time when the band stopped playing, and the 11,000 teenagers kept singing. and liesl was singing along with all the voice she had, and the whole thing sounded so beautiful. and it struck me, liesl was being spiritual formed by this experience.
so often, as a curriculum guy, i tend to think of formation as something one does, or maybe pursues. i don’t tend to think of formation as something that happens. not that singing a christian song is necessarily formative for liesl. but something about singing a worship song with 11,000 other teenagers, all of whom are british and very “other” than her (which she clearly feels), but sensing that she is connected to these british charismatic teenagers in some way, that she is one of them. and this experience — being here — will form her (spiritually). i expect she will remember that moment last night when all the power in that massive tent went out, but everyone kept singing, even notching it up a bit. and this will all become part of her journey, part of her story.
sure, she’s stoked about going to london this weekend. but i’m pretty excited about seeing her in this parallel universe (british, charismatic).
oh, and did i mention it’s freezing cold, and i only have shorts and t-shirts? doh.
fascinating and beautiful interchange
you may have seen dr. martin accad’s wonderfully raw and pleading essay on christianity today’s website last week, called Another Point of View: Evangelical Blindness on Lebanon. it’s absolute must-read stuff for any christian, and anyone interested in the world beyond their own front door or steeple.
but here’s the kicker: accad built much of his essay around comments made by a dr. david gushee. and, in a truly beautiful open letter, gushee responded this week to accad. an excerpt:
I hear the desperation and misery in your voice. I sense your fear for the well-being of your loved ones and your grief over those already torn to pieces by Israeli bombs. I hear your rage at the nation that is inflicting this suffering on your people, and at Hezbollah for starting this latest round of fighting, and at the feckless international community, and at global evangelicals, especially in the United States, and at the U.S. government itself.
I, personally, am struggling deeply right now to have any hope about many of the same things that you are struggling with. I think the United States government has been pursuing a disastrous foreign policy since September 11 and that now we are reaping some of the consequences of that mixture of unilateralism, militarism, Wilsonian idealism, and negligent incompetence. My sympathy for Israel—which is indeed deep, a mix of all kinds of factors, some rational, some emotional—does not extend to support for what has clearly become a massive and disproportionate military offensive. And when I read about Hezbollah, and Hamas, and Syria, and Iran, and the growing sophistication of the weapons being fired at Israel, and the emergent pro-Iran Iraq, and the tangled web of ties and dark plans that connect Israel’s enemies, I sense a coming conflagration.
then, accad responded in an open letter back to gushee. an excerpt:
David Gushee’s gracious response also, in his “Open Letter to Dr. Martin Accad” that Christianity Today published, gives me the desire to be picked up from the roadside despite my wounds. At the end of this weekend I have more hope, because I have discovered life in a part of the church’s heart that I had thought dead. Thanks, David, and thank you to the new friends I have made.
If so many in the church in the U.S. actually care enough to listen and respond to a Middle Eastern Arab Christian cry, then perhaps there is enough hope, will and faith in this church to lean over the wounded “enemy” in the Middle East so that the universal church can address injustice and somehow bring to a halt this deliberate targeting of faith communities.
these three open letters have become larger than their content. don’t get me wrong: they’re all worth reading purely for their content, to more clearly understand the current violence between israel and hezbollah and its impact on the lives of real people. but beyond that, accad and gushee provide us a model for dialogue in a public space. there’s almost none of this in the christian world, from people with widely disperate viewpoints. put jerry falwell and jim wallace on nightline together, and they’ll rip each other and both make ridiculous overstatements and repeat the same lines (created by some soundbite specialist) over and over and over until i want to take a sledgehammer to my tv and the whole notion of christian debate. hrmph.
but these two guys i’d never heard of — gah! that’s the kind of interchange i want with the people i disagree with (especially my brothers and sisters in the church with whom i disagree). makes me hopeful and frustrated at the same time.
(ht to dave palmer for pointing out the last two open letters)
Tuesday July 25th 2006, 3:11 pm
Filed under: faith
“i am cherry alive,” the little girl sang,
“each morning i am something new:
i am apple, i am plum, i am just as excited
as the boys who made the hallowe’en bang:
i am tree, i am cat, i am blossom too:
when i like, if i like, i can be someone new,
someone very old, a witch in a zoo:
i can be someone else whenever i think who,
and i want to be everything sometimes too:
but i don’t tell the grown-ups; because it is sad,
and i want them to laugh just like i do
because they grew up and forgot what they knew
and they are sure i will forget it some day too.
they are wrong. they are wrong. when i sang my song, i knew, i knew!
i am red, i am gold, i am green, i am blue,
i will always be me, i will always be new!”
–delmore schwartz (quoted in , by kay redfield jamison)
on our exec team retreat this past week, we filled out and shared a variety of really helpful handouts. there was certainly value in my writing responses to the questions. but the greater value was in hearing the other team members share their responses. after talking about our own personal commitments (to ourselves) and what we’ve been learning and how we’ve been growing, we moved into a time of writing, then expressing, individualized commitments to one another. this was a pretty emotion-choked and vulnerable time for all of us, as you can imagine, as we spoke into what we know about each other, and what had been expressed in the first 24 hours of the retreat.
following all that, we went into a time of talking about and learning about giving and receiving feedback (especially difficult feedback). it was fantastic. but to get things going, we filled out another worksheet (my soundtrack while filling out this one: arctic monkeys).
again, in a spirit of vulnerability and accountability, here’s what i wrote:
[the header on the worksheet said: the feedback from the people around us is the best learning material we can ever have. sometimes, however, we fear the change we will experience if we remain open enough to really hear what others have to say.
what feeback do you want to hear?
i used to need to hear (or desire to hear) feedback about my stengths and skills. but our team has done such a great job of that in the past couple years i’m sensing that need subsiding. now, i want to hear how my insights or ideas have impacted people; and i want to receive feedback on changes people are observing in me.
i want to hear when people think i’m doing the things i don’t want to do — like manipulate or control or come off as arrogant.
what do you block out or not want to hear?
character accusations, and anything i would interpret as questioning my loyalty or honesty or motives.
who do you not like getting feedback from?
[i named a few people here that i struggle with getting feedback from, and why, but can’t expose that here. i also wrote…]
i don’t like feedback from people from whom i perceive there’s a hidden motive or agenda in the giving.
why have you chosen to ignore this feedback?
i tend to devalue this kind of input or feedback because i think it’s “tainted” in nature, and that, at least partially, invalidates it.
what would happen if you opened yourself up to receive it?
i would likely obsess on the mixture of partial truth and mixed motives, and vascilate between dismissiveness, passive-aggressive counter-attack, and feeling wounded (played out in self-pity). i might also get to the point where i learn something from it.