Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Reduction of Seduction: Part 2: Gleaning from Family Systems Theory

Note: This is continued from Part One (found here), and (if you are reading this qualifying note) will be added to..so check back..
How then to "reduction of the seduction that so insidiously infiltrates the humblest Christian leader?
1. Gleaning from Systems Theory
2. (Dis)Arming Oneself with a "Loyal Opposition" Towel
3. Hacking the Empire of Signs

1. Gleaning From Family Systems Theory

"Fathers and mothers don't pastor large churches."
Ponder that quote for a moment before reading further.

When I first heard it, I immediately scribbled it into my notes; and wrote it tentatively (Isn't t too good to be true?) on my heart. It was a passing comment by a conference speaker, and as pastor/father of what most would categorize a "small" church, I obviously smelled much-needed good news.
I am aware that some would take the quote..against the grain of the speaker's intent.. as pure "bad news": a well-meaning father or mother-hearted pastor will never reach the "appropriate and ultimate" goal: a large church; one must therefore quit trying to be a parent and become more of an aggressive leader, etc. This has been called moving from shepherd to rancher, and has some validity to be sure. But to some of us experimenting with doing church more organically; never aiming to pastor a megachurch, it can also be a distraction from our primary focus. It could well be that a local pastor was never intended to be a rancher; that sounds more like the job description of an apostle or regional bishop. If you can't know the names of all your sheep, they're not yours anyway.
Not long ago, a woman...obviously from a previous (and much larger) church I pastored... came up to me in a store, "Hey, Pastor Dave! Long time, no see! Your sermons absolutely changed my life!" I was thrilled and honored; but I didn't have the heart to tell her the whole truth: Not only did I have no idea of who she was; she had no inkling that I would not know. We both knew we had never had a face-to-face conversation; that was not the issue. But in a larger church (too large for the senior pastor to know everyone's name), there is the "Johnny Carson" syndrome at work. Carson was swamped by people whenever he went out in public who called him by first name; after all he was in their bedroom every night (via "The Tonight Show"). The false intimacy that dogs media stars can be even more damaging in the church context. I could tell the woman would be crushed if I admitted I had no idea who she was...most likely a quiet there-every-Sunday "22nd pew" saint; but I had no memory of ever seeing her. The default church culture automatically attributes omniscience to the senior pastor (He or she will not
only know my name, but know wne I am in the hospital, etc.) . Of course this is impossible with thousands, even hundredes of attenders; but as skewed and doomed as this expectation is, it is originally based on a basic biblical truth: shepherds are supposed to know their sheep; even call them by name. Jesus flatly calls any other kind a thief.
Which is kind of like the seducer.
Though I can celebrate large churches, and I am sure the conference speaker overstateed to make a prophetic pioint, I often pray to detox myself from the idolatry of numbers and the adultery of the edifice complex. Bigger is not in and of itself better.
And might even lead to runway sheep when they find out the unforgiveable: my shepherd ("But Pastor Dave/Johhny, you're in my church/bedroom every night, of course you know me.") doesn't have a clue about my name, and wouldn't
miss me if I'm gone.
I am a number at best; nobody at worst.
I guess I'm special...like everybody else.

Perhaps it is patently impossible and proudly counterproductive for a pastor who desires to be a relationally-connected father or mother, to let his or her flock enumerate past the "tipping point" . And I don't mean "breaking the 200 barrier" or the 2000 barrier; I mean capping off a congregation at what is almost universally seen as the maximum size of a group that allows authentic inter-relationship: 120-150! Our congregation is intentional about planting another congregation if/when we reach that size.

A Narene (thus very intentionally Wesleyan ) scholar has penned a challenge to Wesleyan-heritage churches to not be co-opted by the (perhaps inevitable in the Wesleyan tradition, if our first chapter is considered) push towards big numbers/buildings; and brings a needed balance to our argument (that due to his background and personality, Wesley may have inadvertenyly and indirectly advocated/covertly dictated bigger as inherently bigger...sexual connotation is intended and signifcant) by suggesting that small groups...maybe even small churches..were Wesley's (and God's) design all along.

That an article like "There's No Pulpit Like Home," spotlighted the house church/small church movement, was featured in TIME Magazine, is a sign of the time, an inevitable unearthing by secular media of the sublimated desire for intimacy in the church.
It concludes:

Jeffrey Mahan doesn't think the denominations need be anxious. "They don't have a franchise on religion. The challenge is for people to talk about what constitutes a full and adequate religious life, to be the church together...in the broadest sense." Or as Jesus put it, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I."
This is terrain explored well in Jim Rutz's explosive books. He often calls attention to the "home-based" biblical model, and wonders how far we have come. He has us imagine coming to some friend house for dinner, and the host/father of the household begins spelling out an "order of service" for the evening. Life happens; family life emerges out of relationship, not bullet points. What does a family-flow "worship service" look like?:

Everyone dives in. In fact, if a wallflower is sitting in silence, someone will
notice and encourage the sharing of what's on his heart. No one is restricted
... unless you count the occasional motormouth who simply has to be reined in.
But hey, God loves gasbags, too. ..

In a simple church (home-based and open) you'll have your own weddings, baptisms and funerals. That's because your people are proactive, changing from spiritual consumers to spiritual producers who will overcome the world – not by force, but by their faith.

God may "love gasbags" and permit well-meaning leaders to use "not faith, but force," but it defintely doesn't sound like Plan A..

Which always involves family language .

Much of what we have already said about Wesley's family of origin has touched on the insights of "family systems theory." But at this point we desire to underscore some practical applications of FST towards counteracting the "seduction" model, wherever it manifests in church culture.

I am thankful I atended a seminary (Wesleyan, by the way) that was not too "holy" or compartmentalized to incorporate insights from systems theory. And now comes along
Len Hjalmarson of NextReformation.com , the first thinker I have seen apply the lens of family sytems theory as a corrective to some extemes of what is usually called the New Apostolic Refornation. Part 5 of his five-part series on "The New Apostolic Reformation." asks questions other seem too fearful to pry open.
C. Peter Wagner, who coined the term "New Apostolic Reformation," has suggested that this movement's single most unique factor; "the most radical of the nine changes from traditional Christianity" is "the amount of spiritual authority delegated by the Holy Spirit to individuals." ("The New Apostolic Reformation," pp. 19-20). This is a helpful and appropriate concept in many areas, but can lead to horrible abuse.
In our church we intentionally balance this Wagner insight with Wolfgang Simson's more egalitarian
emphasis. Or as one pastor has articulated a way of combining the best of both models:
Each member may manifest the presence and activity of the Spirit. The list of
nine manifestations seems to be illustrative rather than comprehensive. They are
not permanent gifts given to individuals, but ways in which the Holy Spirit may
manifest himself through any one of the persons present. (Catherine Curran)
Obviously, when worked, that model changes everything One of the "value statements" at our congregation is "Trading Instruments" This motto is based on ana rticle I read about the rock group R.E.M., whose members are apparently so versatile and talented that on any given night, or CD, they could easily all swap instruments and still sound just as polished and professional. In our congregtaion, we leave room for "holy experimentation." Each person may well "have" a fundamental gift or strength, according to personality and/or spiritual gift. But their giftedness is not so static, and God so entreched that they can't once in awhile be mightily (or mildly) used plyaing a different instrument/hat/gift/role.
I am not unawre of the irony and potential sabotage of this "value statement" for the whole congregtation not emerging organically from the congregation (or a non-pastor), but was handed down from the holy mountain by me, the designated holy leader/visionary in residence. But I hope that at heart, I am a father...no, elder brother...how about "equal" ...okay:slave.
The heart of apostolic service is a willingness to embrace the cross. ...
Every father has gone through a stripping process in fathering where he has learned to give himself for his children, often at personal cost. Every mother who hasendured birthing and then wakes up twice during the night to nurse her baby pays the cost ofparenting in her body. Any time one must stand against the cultural tide with ateenage daughter or son, one discovers that parenting isn’t always glorious.

Paul characterizes apostolic ministry as parenting. “For if you have many
tutors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers” (1 Cor. 4:15). Paul not only considers himself a father in Christ, but continually demonstrates this characteristic in his appeals. He will “most gladly spend and be expended for [their] souls,” (2 Cor. 12:15) and he is “exhorting and imploring and encouraging each one of you, as a father would his children” (1 Thess. 2:11). -Len Hjalmarson

Not only is it abundantly clear from scripture that "mothers and fathers don't pastor large churches, " it is hard to imagine that by "Exhorting and imploring each one of you" , Paul meant en masse from a pulpit, but just as he said: "as a father would his children." That is, personally, in person. The Greek in this verse actually implies "exactly as father would." How could a father not know his children?
Don't answer that.

Friday, March 17, 2006

God's Gold Tooth: Imperfect Prophetic Films

God’s Gold Tooth: Imperfect Prophetic Films
by Dave Wainscott
Dave Wainscott is chief dreamer of an experimental church in Fresno, California: Third Day (“3D”) Fellowship

"I don't give a flying f#!@* what the critics think about this film."

Can you believe Billy Graham said that?

Of course, he did…


But for some, the above actual quote from a more recent evangelical hero, is the functional equivalent of Rev. Billy cussing a blue streak.

Agreed, TIME magazine has never had to say of Billy Graham what it recently observed about this newer celebrity: "He wears a cross containing relics of martyred saints, but he can swear like a Quentin Tarantino character."

TIME also...correctly!...calls this filmmaker an "ultraconservative Catholic."

Ah, we can obviously we can be talking about no one else but (St.) Mel Gibson.

Who else would follow up a $30 million epic on Christ with a $50 million epic about... the ancient Maya...and call it "Apocalypto." All while chomping cigars, giving gobs of money to charity, and not giving the requisite flying...uh, flying "darn," I guess...how or if we reconcile all that.

As if we should.

God will continue to use all kinds of moviemakers....especially the smoking, swearing ones… to confound expectations, push norms and forms, and actively embed Himself (in thin but unreligious disguise) in "secular" and prophetic movies. These God-haunted filmmakers may or may not be Christian. They may or may not even believe in God. They may even smoke Stogies. Even flirt with transvestitism and ditch their wife for a dominatrix like the co-director of one of the most God-drenched and God-used movies of all time. And they will inevitably say things that make religious folk flinch. Things like: "I'm just looking for the gold tooth in God's crooked smile."

Try putting that line on an evangelistic tract!

Where it belongs.

Some will only cry our "Heresy! God doesn't have a 'crooked smile!'" Boycott this movie!"….blah blah yada yada…....and miss the point.

The point? God is shamelessly ignoring taboos and mightily anointing flawed filmmakers, who aren't always "members of the club,” to salt our culture, and draw it gently; sometimes prod it violently; towards Christ. The point? Leonard Sweet is pointed about the point: "It could be that for the first time in history," he offers, "God is more active in the world than the church."

The point? Partly in response to the church being too religious and reductionistic, gnostic and caustic these last several decades, God is passionately committed to meeting people where they are (theatres). He seems to be specializing in bypassing not only where they are not (churches); but also the class that's most gotten in His way (uh, that would be us pastor types). All so he can shamelessly "shame the wise," "become all things to all people to save some"...along with a good measure of "Told you I could speak through an ass if I wanted to!' Hey, don't shut me down yet for those last three quotes; I have chapter and verse for all three. But you probably wouldn't want to follow a God who would tell one of his prophets to marry a prostitute, either.

Besides, that would be rated R.

Like much of the Bible.

In which there is not only a lot of sex and violence; but evidence that God speaks and prophesies through the aforementioned donkey, pagan kings like Cyrus , and acknowledged pagan poets (Acts 17. 22-23; Titus 1.12).

Heck, even rocks cry out.

Maybe this is all Plan 'B." But God often resorts to, and then prioritizes such. He lamented in Ezekiel 30:22: "I looked and looked for someone...and here's who I found: nobody!" That's precisely who He seems to be using again: "nobodies.”

The point? All prophecy, as 1 Corinthians 13 would have it; even at its best and purest is "in part" and "through a glass darkly." In these days the dark glass is literal: the projection lens in many a theatre. In the words of U2's "Lemon," "A man makes a picture; a moving picture. Through light projected, he can see himself up close." Why is it that in our day it is the "secular" "picture-making" men and women who let that light shine more brilliantly than the "obvious" first-choice candidates (filmmakers who are classic Christians)?

Excellent question. It was excellently answered, if a bit more proactively phrased, by Tom Parham in an article, "Why do heathens make the best Christian films":

Secular filmmakers tend to observe life more objectively than Christians. They
see the world the way it really is, warts and all...A Christian filmmaker
wouldn't dare create a Christian protagonist who questions God, who falls or
fails... Christian filmmakers seem to dislike mystery... In our post-modern,
relativistic world, non-Christians often deny the existence of good and evil and
the notion of sin. Yet, non-Christians are often more successful than Christians
at representing sin in film.

By the way, if while reading that excerpt, the thought crossed your mind "Is this writer a Christian?," I can respect that question; but muster all due respect to say: You are still not getting the point if the answer to that question was so all-fire important as to arise so soon. By the way, the answer is "yes."

So thank God that God used the writer anyway(:

In a delightful twist, Parham actually finds that another category of filmmaking folks God seems to effectively and extraordinarily use are not pagans, but the one category that in the minds of some evangelical-fundamentalists is even "worse"(!): Catholics! How can this be?

Three tenets of Catholicism informed their craft and equipped them to excel.
First, an intuitive understanding of iconography gave them a strong
foundation for crafting visual images. Next, they seemed to grasp the
incarnational function of art, which allowed them to give tangible form to
intangible concepts. Finally, their understanding of the sacramental nature of
life helped them relate divine patterns through everyday minutiae. For these
reasons, even lapsed Catholic filmmakers, such as Brian De Palma or Federico
Fellini, tend to be better equipped to focus on religious themes than practicing
evangelicals. This isn't to say that non-Catholic Christian filmmakers are at a
complete disadvantage when creating cinema. But the Protestant evangelical
emphasis on the primacy of "word" has not allowed us to fully realize our
ability to translate the image of God (imago Dei) into moving pictures.

These observations are astute, hugely helpful. And reminds us that the very hungers of our postmodern world match up divinely (should be no surprise) with the very keys the Kingdom and church (at least the Catholics!) hold: visual, incarnational, and sacramental reality.

I am only asking the Church to be consider being the church.

Quick! Name one "officially" Christian film that you can remember (at all), or remember leaving thinking, "Wow, that was a quality, consistently honest portrayal of reality….and non-cheesy, to boot!"

Since that list is short, or blank, I insist that it is allowable to say (pray?) aloud, "I wish there were less cheesy Christian films," If that sounds like a judgement..well, it is! Paul commands us (1 Corinthians 6) to judge fellow Christians, and explicitly forbids us from judging unbelievers. Sigh…why have we gotten it backwards.... again? As long as we are willing to start the judgement with the log in our own eye and life, we are actually supposed to prayerfully and carefully "judge" the life, ministry...and thus art, 0f fellow Christians. This is a judgement on the method, content and cheese-factor of films; not judgement on any believing filmmaker's intent or anointing. I am positive many of these folks are far better Christians than I am. Which is precisely why I beg them to consider that not every movie end so tidily in the "sinner’s prayer" , or tie up all ends so nicely. Romans 8:28 is in the Book, but so is Ecclesiastes. In the Good Book, the prodigal's elder brother and the rich young ruler thew away the keys. To suggest otherwise would be rewriting Scripture and reality. Maybe that's the operative word. Just a dose of reality. But when will the church drop that dose, and realize that there is a whole breed of Christians who are artists, who:

"see their job as preparing unreceptive and probably overgrown ground to be more
open to the sowers who are going to come after them..so I am not going to talk
about (them)...as if their primary task ought to be pleasing people who are
already Christians. And I'm also not going to spend a lot of time on questions
like 'What exactly does each of them believe?" or "Have they always lived up
what they say say they believe?' I think apart from simply being kind of tacky
and voyeuristic, questions like that betray a misunderstanding of how art works
in the first place. "

These extraordinarily relevant and revealing comments could and should qualm the fears of well-meaning religious folks who tend to major in missing the point. But I fear many will miss not only the pungent point, but the untold blessing in letting art work, for Christ's sake.
Yes, there is indeed a place to ask if confessing Christians artists betray Jesus with their lifestyle; but believe it or not, "betraying how art works in the first place" can lead to nothing less than betrayal of the daring Jesus who is longing to reveal himself through startling fresh, blatantly real, and admittedly imperfect vessels (Last time I checked, that's the only kind of vessels available to him).

That the context of these comments is a specific presentation on the music and motivation of U2 (by Rev. Beth Maynard) does not at all negate the applicability of the comments to filmmakers. Art is art. Maynard continues, referencing U2's work in the 1990s which was laced with irony, and was

"marked by depicting and lamenting humanity's shadow side...including their own
shadow side....(This was) misunderstood by observers, I'm afraid particularly by
Christian observers, who bring to that art the naive thought that any artist who
writes about sin must be in favor of it."

The anecdotally spun story about President Calvin Coolidge, a man of few words, comes to mind. It seems he attending church one Sunday without his wife. When his wife later asked "What was the sermon about?," he responded simply, "Sin." "What about it?" was of course the wife's follow-up. Coolidge succinctly summarized:
"I think he was against it."

Is that the full gospel?

Ask any non-Christian what American Christians believe. The answer is statistically likely to be (Phillip Yancey has actually conducted such and informal survey of seatmates on airplanes for years) something in the ballpark of "They are against sin." But why should we also be against honest parables about sin? Why do we do fear movies like Robert Duvall's gutsy (Hey, what does Duvall believe, anyway?) "The Apostle"? Or a film which promises:

"a thought-provoking road trip through the American South...a world of churches,
prisons, coalmines, truckstops, juke joints, swamps and mountains. Along the way
we encounter various musicians…in Mountain Gospel Churches, and novelist
Harry Crews telling grisly stories down at the dirt track. The film is a collage
of stories and testimonies, almost invariably of sudden death, sin or
redemption, heaven or hell, and no middle ground. And all along the way, a
strange southern Jesus looms in the background. 'Alt country' singer Jim White
reflects on exactly what it is about this baffling place that inspires musicians
and writers, whilst at the same time his muse, or as he puts it, 'I'm just
looking for the gold tooth in God's crooked smile.'

I imagine the Lord explaining to baffled readers of the above promo blurb for a recent film, "I specifically remember you asking for movies about heaven or hell; no middle ground... Here you go, sorry about the R rating…maybe don’t bring the kids, but you didn't think to put any qualifiers in the prayer regarding rating…or church credentials of the filmmaker."

And if you tripped on the phrase "God's crooked smile," as near-blasphemy, look around at his smile as corporately incarnated through the humans crafted in his image. Beautiful and crooked, right? ...Or maybe it's the bold assumption that God smiles at all that terrifies us into terrorism. Or the name of the film that the above promo statement was about: "Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus." Or the musician/filmaker's particular bias:

By viewing the world through the church, intensely, passionately, with spirit
and mind, I see the world through a pair of what I call Jesus glasses. If I take
the Jesus glasses off, I'm blind. The difference between me and the other people
in the South is real simple: with every step that I take and every word that I
utter there's a little subtitle which says, "Don't take it too seriously because
I'm wearing Jesus glasses". I can't take them off. I can't not see the world
through that context, but I can remind myself that it's a tainted context of the
Keep those Jesus-glasses on, and stretch your imagine for a minute with Mercer Shurchart:

Imagine yourself on a Sunday afternoon. You’ve just walked into a very tall
building, been greeted with a smile by the same person who greeted you last
week, and ushered into a dark room with seats all facing forward. There is music
playing. You feel reverent. And then the previews start. You are about to
worship at the new altar of technological culture, the movie theatre.
one hundred years of tinkering, film has arrived as an alternate form of
transcendence, replacing in interesting and strange ways the once venerated
position held by the institutional church. Or, to put it another way, the medium
of motion film has finally received its birthright: born right around the time
Nietzsche declared that God was dead, film has now matured to the point that
America is now accepting cinema as the culture’s chief myth maker.... ...From
the long view, it’s an interesting trajectory—five hundred years after the
printing press splintered the universal church into a thousand sectarian
fragments, the new technology of film is bringing us all back into the same room
again. Cinema is now the only real place to air new ideas in parable form, a
safe forum where participants come in with their guard not only down, but also
with their minds open and hungry for meaning. Like it or not, the cinema is
delivering what the Reformers only hoped for, and what that means for the future
of the church is a question that admits of a wide solution.

Delivering what the Reformers only hoped for? That is not an understatement! The gift of God through the media today to meet people at Mars Hill, and return honesty to the ones who are supposed to own the copyright on it, is unprecedented. It's above and beyond a token "Hey, we need to be relevant and show movie clips in church." Of course, we need to do that; though I am not sure I'd be as fearless as one church, whose member wrote to the pastor:

One Sunday you used a movie clip in your sermon. It was a scene from When Harry
met Sally. It must be the most hilarious scene in any movie. Meg Ryan was
proving to Billy Crystal that he couldn't tell when a woman faked an orgasm. I
couldn't imagine seeing that scene in church. Along with everyone around me I
laughed and laughed. The more I laughed though, the more uncomfortable I became.
By the end of the service I was furious. How dare you show something like that
in church? Later I was telling a friend about it who isn't a Christian. She had
never seen the movie and asked me if there was any profanity or nudity in the
scene. I told her no, so she said, "Then why are you upset?"
I couldn't
logically explain it.

It's even above and beyond "We need to find church in the movie theatre.” We need to do that as well. Especially if in the quirky economy of God it is temporarily the "only real place to air new ideas in parable form." Good grief, what more accurate picture of the church at its best could you hope for?

I often start my talks at retreats and conferences with: "Fill in the blank: 'You can sure tell ___ is at work in our secular world nowadays; all you have to do is look around." I am aware the instant and "theologically correct" answer is "The Devil." And even though that case could and should be made...

Buzz! Thanks for playing, anyway!

Wrong answer...at least wrong as the first and only answer.

God, the Holy Spirit is "out there," stealth-stacking the deck in our favor. But as John Piper articulately reminds, "The salt of the earth does not to mock rotting meat." It's God who is aggressively active in the field of the world. If your gut answer was "the devil," at least consider that you have missed the point at best; and betrayed Jesus at worst. Thus, our world is sovereignly blessed and laced with God-haunted and God-rejecting films (sometimes in the same production!). Both are signs of the times; and both in part signs from/to God ("The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt," Bono spoke to Rolling Stone,"....And later you came to analyze it and figure it out."); made carefully and carelessly by folks who may or may not be "Christian," but paint and parable an honest Holy Spirited grasping and gasping for reality; and often a "better" and more biblically nuanced picture of Jesus than almost any "officially stamped" Christian film one could name. As one controversial but grounded preacher suggested:

"God decided exactly when and where everyone should live; right down to the
neighborhood. He did this on purpose, precisely so they would seek him from
where they are. They will grope and grasp imperfectly for him, and find him..
They can find him even though he is not far from any of us. 'In him we live and
move and exist.' And as some of your own pagan poets have also prophesied, 'We
are his children.' (Paul in Acts 17:27-19)

Is there a theatre in your city? Maybe you are called to take it as an invitation from God to make pilgrimage. Join the gropers. Thankfully, the controversy over the gay New-Ager who starred in what was supposed to be an "official Christian film" (“The End of the Spear”) of sorts, may have reshuffled the deck and dialogue parameters. And hey, how many Christians were in the "Narnia" movie that churches supported so well? I can probably count them on (at most) one finger. And unfortunately that's the number of fingers churchians will undoubtedly extend to both Mel Gibson ("one of us"? m) and his next film: because "Apocalypto" is:

a) not about Jesus (or is it?)

b) accompanied by Mel's colorful rebuke to the self-righteous.

How about realizing that God has embedded himself in "secular" places and people in these amazing days, and we need not expect people or place to be perfect...or Christian?The Lord has placed some wonderful Kingdom resources online to keep us in touch with spirituality in culture, and in films in particular. Start with Jeffrey Overstreet's “Looking Closer,” Dick Staub’s “Culture Watch,” or Steve Beard’s "Thunderstruck," and see where that takes you. ..and then be the daring one out of ten who return to the crooked-smiling Jesus to give thanks.

Without giving a flying Gibsonian #@*& what anyone else thinks.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Reduction of Seduction Part 1


"My theme is seduction, resistance, and the cultural consequences of both."

No, this is not a quote from God on the Oprah show, offering a soundbite summary of Scripture (though it works well for the Book of Numbers, among others)!

And I know "seduction, resistance, and the cultural consequences of both" sounds like the story of your life (I have not been reading your journal).

It is actually one author's upfront and provocative confession about his tellingly titled book, "The Evangelist of Desire."

Henty Aberlove's book is well worth wrestling with; one that suggests that a certain prominent evangelist's "success rested on his establishing a (metaphorically) erotic relationship with his followers." In fact this biography offers persuasive (seductive?) evidence that then evangelist, in one reviewer's summary, "used his status as a gentleman to create deference, and in his ability to exact love—almost unbounded love—from his followers (many of whom were women)." This popular evangelist "won and monopolized love. He eclipsed his colleagues and even God Almighty in the hearts of his followers."

Many of you are interrupting (I see you) with a yawned protest: "Tell me something I haven't heard before. This could describe any number of contemporary and seductive televangelists. I just change the channel."

But we are not talking contemporary.

At least, not yet.

And I can guarantee this preacher never appeared on television; indeed never owned a television.

He was born in '03.


His name: John Wesley.

His usual claim to fame: spiritually deep; authentically apostolic founder of the worldwide Methodist movement.

Words usually included in his c.v.: " reformer", " revivalist," genius".... Maybe "maverick." Even "heavyhanded."

But "seducer"?

Since Aberlove is no slouch, but a seasoned and reasoned scholar respected in the Wesleyan tradition and beyond ; and since my own roots are Methodist, I was obviously intrigued enough to weigh the thesis. Let me summarize that I find it weighs well and rings mostly true.

I am not saying God didn't use Wesley mightily; I am not saying he had sexual problems that should've kept him out of the ministry.

Unlike more modern "evangelists of desire," I think he kept his pants up, and his..uh, nose..clean.

I am simply buying both clauses of _______'s conclusion upon finishing the book:
"No other contemporary revivalists managed a pastoral stance so strangely monopolistic and seductive; no other achieved a comparable result."

And wanting to ask deep questions about ends and means; overt and covert manipulation in the emerging and apostolic church of today; whether these wineskins are Wesleyan or otherwise.

Wesley's curious and furious keynote was that God can grant purity of motive; even freedom from original sin, through the (usually instantaneous) crisis of "entire sanctification" (a loaded
and leaded phrase, unfortunately framejacked by Wesley from 1 Thess. 5:16) or "Christian perfection." Yet it is possible that the extreme application of this doctrine; and Wesley's at times extreme "monopolistic and seductive" modus (though partly a God-gift appropriate to his era and culture), was in part an inevitable sequitur of his imperfectly-sublimated/sanctified
personality mix and sexual self .

I am aware this may sound overly Freudian or flippant. But am I wondering if John Wesley had, for example, a "father wound"? Yes. One that nuanced and tainted his message and ministry, and might become unknowingly embedded in our contemporary approach to life and leadership, whether or not we place ourselves in the Wesleyan theological lineage? Absolutely.

Even a cursory study of Wesley's upbringing, and his family of origin's written and unwritten rules will back such an argument. His unemotional; perhaps "absent without leaving" father understatedly categorized John's rescue as a child from their burning parsonage (Ah, he was aPK; that explains it(:....) as "almost a miracle." His more engaged parent; his mother, is known and remembered for her 'domestic management." (sounds like an emotionally present mother?)
And we haven't yet touched on the political disagreement between his parents which kept them from sleeping in the same bed; or the fact that John was one of nineteen (!) children. No wonder his busy mother had to resort to putting a bag over her head to sneak some "private prayer time."

Certainly in one sense we are all "functionally dysfunctional." And we all have come from dysfunctional families. Join the club you already belong to! But no matter how deeply you have "accepted Christ", or how many times we have been "entirely sanctified, ", the core problem with each of us is "everywhere we go, there we are." Surely of any family system was a set-up for "issues." And when a leader is dramatically and publicly rasied up to the degree John Wesley was, these issues issue in an inescapbale "doing one's laundry in public."

Wolfgang Simson's insights shed light here:

Whoever is launched into existence without been given a fathers heart may very
well end up a spiritual orphan. A study under the title ”Orphans rule the world”
has proven that most people who made their radical mark on history were in fact
orphans. The trauma of growing up fatherless has bottled-up enormous energy
which they used to prove themselves to the world, because they have never heard
a loving father say ”well done, son!”, and rejoiced, relished and relaxed in
that knowledge and security. Many churches, denominations or organizations have
unwillingly given birth to a wave of children who are spiritual orphans,
fatherless leaders who had to break away in order to obey their life calling.
Many in Europe exclaim: Two World Wars have killed our fathers, whole
generations have been bombed away. When the wars started, ”all the daredevils
went to the front and died. Who was clever enough to stay behind? The
accountants. And today we inherited their genes and drown in a flood of
bureaucracy!”, says my friend Bob Smart of Reading, UK, with that dark and
spot-on English humor. He meant it as a joke, but maybe there is more truth to
it than meets the eye. Spiritual fathering is also one of the greatest needs of
today's ”Generation X”, many of them unable to believe in the consistent and
unfailing love of the father in heaven because of their fathers on earth. They
are over-entertained and underfathered, and, in fact, spiritual orphans.
No one would debate Wesley's "radical mark in history" ; he was the catalyst behind nothing less than a Great Awakening; and is commonly credited in secular history books as one whose influence likely aborting a bloody revolution in England, similar to the French Revolution of his day. So according to the above thesis, he was likely an orphan. Though in this case, not literally, which can indeed be more damning and damaging. revolurtion Lelaism Liberalism
funstional dysfuntion effective . manifedstations of.

The opening salvo of Watchman Nee's classic, "The Release of the Spirit": "One doesn't go far in the Christian life without realizing one's biggest enemy is not the devil or the world..but yourself."

So it does not detract froom the obvious sovereignty of God in the Wesleyan Revival, and the clearly anointed and exceptionally gifted vessel that Wesley himeslf was to porffer that the laden leagalism inhererent in some branches of the movement taht bear his anme; and the lazy liberalism of the majopr denominations that claim him as father, is in some senses directly tied to what did or didn't happen in the parsonage. Life is formed around dining tables...or not.

Robert Chiles, in a landmark (and landmine) study, Theological Transition in American Methodism, masterfully traces the line and decline of the post-Wesley Methodist movement through three dovetailed shifts in theology: "from revelation to reason, from sinful man to moral man, and from free grace to free will." He explores possible time bombs inherent in the nature of the original (good) doctrines themselves that seemed destined to morph into the eventual theological weakness and potential philosphical perversions now embedded in the DNA of the Methodist movement.

Chiles discusses well various theological and sociological factors that contributed to the transition, but does not include (or include enough) factors revolving around the early home life of John Wesley. Chiles can be read as lamenting that originally sound and relevant doctrines within a relatively short time (Chiles helpully limits the framework to America and the focus to the years 1790-1935) tainted into what by now is nearly "the exact opposite of what Wesley believed."

Actually, the current morass might be more accuratey articulated as exactly what Wesley believed...but in his heart ("unofficially"), if not on paper and in pulpit (officially).
David Seamands has suggested that our "kneelogy" (how we feel about God as we pray) is just as crucial as our theology.

In other, more crass, words: some of the fruit was becoming rotten even befotre it left the British continent.

To the point: Wesley's father-wound may have been almost as formational as anything else in his theological construct...and "kneeological" concepts.

Mark DeRaud, founder of Art and Soul Institute how pervasive this cultural vaccum created by absent (literally or emotionally) fathers has reached critical mass all these centuries later in our secular and church cultures, necessitating a new Renaissance/Reformation in the arts and church. (audio file accessible from 6:10-8:03 at www.3dff.com/pages/sounds/krdv_interview.wma). Ironically, and iconclastically, we are positioned for a new Wesleyan Revival , partly due to the weak strengths and strong weaknesses inextricably interwoven in the DNA of the first one!

It is probable that Wesley's "eighty percent of the iceberg" and blindspots were larger than he realized..or perhaps wasnted to realize. As the reminder in your car's rear view mirror inadvertently prophesies about what is behind you: "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.:

No one has been braver and more adept than Lawrence O. Wood; himself a son of, and scholar in, the Wesleyan tradition; at tracing the wires from early childhood development to later adult theological misfiringss in professional theologians. In his watershed book, "Truly Ourselves, Truly the Spirit's: Reflections on life in the Spirit," he traces and trips these wires not only in the more "obviously" damaged theologies of Tillich (God is not personal) and Bultmann (demythologizing of miracles), more classically evangelical hero at hand: John Wesley . All this from an astonishing intellectual integrity, and all the while refusing to cowtow to reductionism, or failing to confess that sometimes a cigar is just what it is.

One review of Wood's book speaks to this concern:

Wood traces modern process theology, as exemplified by Tillich as well as
Whitehead, to ancient Stoicism, which is an attempt to find peace by an
absorption into a world-spirit which is void of personality. Stoicism, says
Wood, "had no personal God and no history of salvation. Consequently it lacked
the one intellectually compelling and emotionally satisfying component in Life,
the personal dimension"(p. 160). After showing the emptiness of modern theology
in its gropings for peace Wood moves deftly to the Scriptures and points out
that the "sabbath rest for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9, RSV) is the rest of
heart holiness made possible by the gift of a personal Holy Spirit (p. 169).
A recurrent theme advanced again and again in different contexts, is Wood's
conviction that satisfactory parent-child relationships are indispensable to the
development of normal personhood, including the child's likelihood of being able
to sustain happy relationships with others in adult life, including God. At this
point the problem is twofold: the problem of arrested spiritual development
which inhibits the desire to know God as Father; and the converse problem of
prevenient grace in overcoming this psychological roadblock

How does this all manifest in church structure and culture?

Jurgen Moltmann is hugely helpful:

In the sad old days of the Soviet Union, everyone was able to marvel over the
socialist police-state already at its very frontier: Having finally, after
prolonged effort, acquired a visa and, after presenting a multiplicity of
documents, one had to show one’s passport to not just one official but, as a
rule, four. The first official checked whether the visa was correct and the
passport still valid and properly stamped; the second official checked that
the first one had checked correctly; the third checked the second; and the
fourth, finally, had to check the third, second, and first officials. The
precept of Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924) ruled supreme: Trust is good but
control is better.”

What is frightening and enlightening is that one would have to merely make a few subsitutions ("Wesley" for "Lenin"; "papers" for "visa," etc.) to Moltmann's depiction, and it remains a astoundingly accurate painting of Wesley's "band meeting" admission policy...right down to the stamps. These meetings..which were ironically about"laypeple" becoming accountable and empowered to live the Christian life, and lead others into it...were at the core of Wesley's genius.
But thay had a dark side, and slighty gnostic undershadow. Suffice to say that hardly anyone would've noticed (or complained if they did) if Lenin's motto "Trust is good, but control is better" were on the literal banner over the gatekeeper/visachecker's/stampmeister's desk set up as an entrance to each meeting place.

A recent historical event suggests parabolic parallels. Despite a legal batttle, the 1065 crosses that had been erected at "Chekpoint Charlie" (the fanous and infamous crossing point from East ...and thus communist...to West Berlin) to memorialize that number of persons who died attempting to escape East Germany. To read the story and watch the actual dismantling of crosses (even as protestors cahined thesmelves to them) calls to mind what may well have happened with well-intentioned "band meetings" of those "pre-approved by Pope Wesley": checkpoints and standards may be necessary, but not at the expense of a Christ and cross-centered theology and praxis.

In a denomination that claims to be the direct descendent of Wesley's Methodism (United Methodism), and preaches (on paper) the the ministry of all God's people, and the priesthood of all believers, why is it that it "feels" ("feelology") that the only "stamp of approval" priests are those who have passed the bar (seminary education and extensive ordination testing...to this day, only ordained deacons can serve communion in a parish)and checkpoint of the tall steeple, large membership Methodist churches that dot the skyline and dominate the psyche of the American South.

Perhaps the unavoidable tangent and twin of the Edipus complex is the "Edifice complex" !!

That complex complex may have been birthed in the crucible of an exceptionally large family.

And fed by the "between the lines" life motto: "You're never good enough."

The influence that Abelove thinks came from Wesley’s gentlemanly
bearing, stemmed from Wesley’s gospel message and from his willingness to do
more, risk more, and to strive to be more for Jesus Christ than almost anyone else
around him.

This striving may have stemmed in part from a desire for parental (and Heavenly Parental)approval; and a concurrent and connected need/desire to secure and seduce followers.

Is there such thing as an overemphasis on obedience/holiness?

"Obedience by itself is the most insidious of all temptations. It is the
ontological source and motive behind obedience that gives it its character. Thus
obedience is not the central motive in the life of Jesus as sheer ethical
demand. Rather, it is the inner life of sonship that comes to expression through
his obedience that characterizes Jesus. And it is in this sonship that we find
the motif of self-emptying carried out through his identity with both the sinner
as the object of divine love as well as with the Father as the source of love.
Indeed, it may be said that in this sonship there is displayed not only the love
of the Father for the world but the love of the Son for the Father who loves the
world" (Ray Anderson, The Shape of Practical Theology. 115).

If sonship were the motif and motif that Wesley preached AND practices, (Unitl taht date, I had the faith of a servant, but not yet the faith of a son")perhaps the fears and fallout would've been lessened.

John Kent’s recent Wesley and the Wesleyans presents the reader with an
equally manipulative depiction of Wesley. It differs from that of Abelove
only in-so-far as Kent’s Wesley is considerably less seductive and much less lovable:
‘Naturally authoritarian Wesley found in religion a means of imposing his will
on some of his contemporaries, though rarely on his social equals.’ .... Hence,
Wesley’s own views and most frequent self descriptions seem convoluted and
obscurantist, and the real truth about his motives and character is to be
gleaned from a melancholy and frustrated letter he wrote to his brother
Charles—in which John claimed: ‘I do not love God. I never did.... "
(Churchman )

"Imposing ones will" is functional rape....all based in a feeling of failure to attain ones own perceived standards/commandments from God. A focus on externals, under the guise of an internal relationship, sublimates and serves self-doubt. Wesley even journals at one point; simultaneously with almost singlehandedly (perhaps the heart of the problem) leading and shepherding one of the most profound revivals in all history, "I am not a Christian."

Wesley not a Christian! I guess I am not either!

I am aware of some overstating the case to make the point. overpainting. And don't read as much into me as can be read by Roy Hattersley below: Wesley didn't belong in jail a(though familys a family systems support group might have helped...and this is not to acquiesce to what Phillip Rieff has coined "The Triumph of the Therapeutic.")


Roy Hattersley: Wesley was a man who was much easier to admire than to love I
think. His own brother said “women are the serpents in John’s Garden of Eden”.
He couldn’t keep his hands to himself. In a modern society he would be certainly
prosecuted – and probably imprisoned – for sexual harassment, possibly assault.

Interviewer reponds: Wesley was a natural celibate, that his sometimes troubled relationships
with women – and, sadly, his troubled marriage – were a result of his failure to
determine that he would forsake all thoughts of marriage and dedicate himself
entirely to the work of God. He found women attractive, he enjoyed their
company, he developed close relationships with many of them – but in the erotic
aspects of life, he seemed inept and ill-suited. A bumbling suitor? Yes. A
hopeless husband? Probably. But a womaniser, or a dirty old clergyman? Certainly

So let's not overpaint too much; but enough to bring back to light the previously invisible (intentionally painted over) "

Here then, for the rest of this article, are four pracical categories for this "reduction of seduction":

1. Gleaning from Systems Theory
2. (Dis)Arming Oneself with a "Loyal Opposition" Towel
3. Hacking the Empire of Signs

1. Gleaning From Family Systems Theory

"Fathers and mothers don't pastor large churches."


Tuesday, March 14, 2006

from goth to beer: recent "Wines and Skins" articles

a wealth and well of great resources and sources is online at the "Wine and Skins" page of the "Shift Happens" forum. This may be a shameless plug, as I am admistrator of the site, but all these articles/blog posts linked below are written by someone other than me!

Anything to do with navigating the shift in church and culture is fair game.

Click one of these recent titles, or post your own:


Cinema—The New Cathedral of Hollyworld

Prophet Bloggers


"GEEZ! " A Christian Adbusters
The Hunch Engine at Church

Trinitarian-Shaped Ministry

The Collapse of the Church Culture

IBM Church: Adding Blitz to Krieg

The provocative book "IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation" by Edwin Black ..can of course be a word to the church, showing that any "system" when fullblown, systematized and unchecked will become infested with systemic evil; turning against Christ, church, and people (especially Jews?).

The only starting point out of the quicksand of this worldview is to dare to ask: "How is the church...no, how am I acting in that same system/spirit/machine mindset?"

Do we even care that we have been coopted?

Isn't this the same hydra-system that proved to Pastor Eugene Peterson....through paperwork and lies, of course...that it could care less.

Amazon.com summary of the book:

Was IBM, "The Solutions Company," partly responsible for the Final
Solution? That's the question raised by Edwin Black's IBM and the Holocaust, the
most controversial book on the subject since Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's
Willing Executioners. Black, a son of Holocaust survivors, is less tendentiously
simplistic than Goldhagen, but his thesis is no less provocative: he argues that
IBM founder Thomas Watson deserved the Merit Cross (Germany's second-highest
honor) awarded him by Hitler, his second-biggest customer on earth. "IBM,
primarily through its German subsidiary, made Hitler's program of Jewish
destruction a technologic mission the company pursued with chilling success,"
writes Black. "IBM had almost single-handedly brought modern warfare into the
information age [and] virtually put the 'blitz' in the krieg."

I dare not add blitz to krieg, even though I am a card-carrying member of "The Solutions Company".

Or am I?

my favorite heresy: catholic nuts for communion

A favorite article of mine..
My Favourite Heresy:
a short essay by Andrew Alder

Some years ago now, I attended a Mass at St. Marys Roman Catholic Cathedral, Sydney, in the company of two friends, one a protestant and the other a catholic. I still remember the address - it was on the subject of "Why every Catholic must read their bible, on a daily basis" (!) and, if you had replaced the word "Catholic" with "Christian", it would have made a very good sermon for our own (protestant) pulpit.

We celebrated Mass afterwards - at least, the priest did, and my protestant friend and I sat while our Catholic friend went and received the elements.

Years before I had a very painful experience when, as the then secretary of Macquarie Students Christian Association (Chrissoc), I attended the weekly Mass which the Catholic chaplain, Father Alex, conducted at our invitation. In my ignorance I presented myself, and received the elements for what is likely to remain the only time. We were given a wafer dipped into the chalice. Later Alex, not a lot older then me and a cherished friend, had the rotten job of asking me quietly not to do it again. He was almost as upset as I was.

After the Mass at St Marys, we were invited into the Chapter house for afternoon tea. One of the Holy Sisters - don't ask me what order - served me with a delicious cup of tea and a biscuit. The biscuits were assorted plain, already on the saucers, one each, and by luck of the draw I got a gingernut.

You can't bite a gingernut. You must dunk it. So I did, and suddenly my eyes were growing moist. Memories of the earlier Mass with Alex flooded back, but with them a word of knowledge which was both healing and brutal, and bitterly funny. And which I invite you to share.

Even the way my protestant church celebrates communion has always worried me a bit. At my confirmation I struggled with the incredible seriousness of what seemed a rather silly ceremony. Some months later, at an EU houseparty, we had communion using a slice of plain bread and a glass of water, conducted by the EU president rather than a minister. It was very meaningful.

I read a little Greek - not enough to argue with scholars about their translations or to do my own, but enough to sometimes understand where the difficulties of translation lie. With some points of course there are no difficulties. Jesus says, "remember me when you do this" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26, Luke 22:19), and it seems to mean quite clearly "whenever you do this". Now, that could mean one of two things. It could mean once a year, at Passover. Or, it could mean, whenever you eat together. The disciples seem to have taken it to be the second meaning.

In recognition of this, whenever Christians meet for dinner at my home, we all say grace together beforehand, remembering the Lord's death. This to me is the proper obedience to Jesus' and Paul's instructions. This is my favourite heresy. I still take and am moved by communion - even more than before I developed this unorthodox belief. But the shared meals are more important to me.

But that's not the healing part, or the bitterly funny part that I promised you. At least, not until you look at the logical consequences of my heresy, assuming for a moment that it may be correct. If it is, if God sees every meal shared by Christians as being the proper place to commemorate the Lord's death until He comes again, in obedience to His plain instructions, then things get very interesting. And, I think that's exactly what God thinks. Come with me in investigating what the consequences are, and I think you'll understand that while I didn't like calling God "brutal" before, I'm struggling to find any more adequate word. His sense of humour is awesome. His justice is surrealistically beautiful. It has a tragic, inhumanly perfect, existential punch to it - sorry about the big words, and they're inadequate too.

You see, it would mean that the Holy Sister who served me and my friends was presiding over the holiest ceremony in all creation, the most precious and touching thing in God's view. Something really important to God. I think she was. And it would mean that the ceremony we had just had next door, while not a complete sham, was second best in every possible way.

It means that the men who preside over the Mass, and who have reserved this privilege for themselves, have grasped at second best, while the real thing is given to those whom they have forced to humble themselves and serve. In Mark 9:35 Jesus says "...if anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all".

It hangs together rather well, and it puts both the ordination of women and intercommunion in a whole new light.

If ordination means encouraging people to hog the highest privileges, we shouldn't ordain anyone, male or female. It's just not Christlike. As for the Pope's recently pointing out that the Apostles were all men, well, they were all Jews too, so what have the Italians, the French and now a Pole been doing on the throne of Peter? It just doesn't hang together, neither by logic nor by Jesus' clear instructions.

Yes, Jesus himself was a man, but being his follower doesn't involve a sex change any more than it involves learning carpentry or donkey riding. What it involves is obedience, humility, repentance, forgiveness, and above all love - for men as well as for women.

If communion means commemorating in our hearts the Lord's death whenever we eat together, we're all ordained for that already, and many of us do it frequently, naturally, and across all denominations. Whenever means whenever, and Jesus said whenever, and I think he meant whenever. Even if he meant every passover, any male Jew could preside over that. But I'm convinced that women, even nuns (!), can and do preside at the Lord's table, because as I described above I've seen them do it.

And one day, my dear friend Alex and every other priest who ever lived will each know exactly how God views their actions. How they served Him and how they blew it. Please, pray with me that they will all ask and receive God's forgiveness. Because, those who don't ask for it, won't get it. I'm not too worried about Alex, I've seen his tears, but some of them will find it very, very hard. Please, please, please, try to find the love to pray for them all. God is not wishing any to perish. It is difficult I know, even though I am a not a woman I do know, because I have known exclusion too.

I have shared this heresy with a great many people, both men and women, young and old, new converts and old bigots, so if it's badly off beam I'm in real trouble with God. But I don't think it is. So many people have been blessed by it, either changing their abusive ways or their bitter resentment, and adopting anew the Christlike servanthood which it's impossible to hide. I am becoming more and more convinced that while I may have details wrong, the main ideas have the enormous power of God's truth behind them.

In which case, it's neither mine nor a heresy! But it's still a favourite.

Which is good news for me and appalling news for lots of people... Except that it's not too late! It's really good news for anyone who will listen. That sounds familiar too.

God's dreams, God's imagination, God's... creativity?... consistently outperform mine, and I rather enjoy it. Lord, you're brilliant.
-Andrew Alder

kicking butts, hair in a bun, tattoos

I don't know if I would answer these questions the same way I did maybe seven years ago when I first answered them; I have been through several wringers and wineskins since then ..But these three examples of questions I got on my "Dear Abby"...I mean, "Ask Dave Anything"... webcolumn, do speak to church and culture issues. And I love the fact that all three askers felt safe to ask "unsafe questions."

BTW, my favorite emailed question was "Boxers or Briefs?" My answer was easy: "Yes."(:

(Lots more archives here)

Question: This weekend I happened to stumble on a Bible verse that I had never heard anybody speak on: 1 Corinthians 5:9-13. Paul has just been telling the church of Corinth to have nothing to do with one of their church members who was married to his own mother (how sick is that!). Anyway, then he goes on to say that he doesn't want us judging those that don't know Christ, and he doesn't want us pulling away from them. He seems to sternly "rebuke" that thought. We are to have contact, and be friends with nonchristians. It's the Christians that are blatantly not walking with God that we should disassociate ourselves from. On the one hand, I'm happy about this. Yes, I get to hang out with non-Christians, sinners, whatever, and know that it is a biblical thing. But what about a friend who has been walking with Christ and is in major sin? Do I plain reject them, just when they need me most to kick their butt? I don't know. Thoughts are welcome!

Answer: Let me begin by answering the crucial question you pose at the end of your letter, and then I'll angle back into your question again by dealing with some of the great insights you raised earlier, and some of the very overlooked, even shockingly ignored Scriptures that relate and inform. No, you do NOT "just plain reject a friend who has been walking with Christ, but is in major sin, just when they need (you) most to kick their butt." I don't think one can make a scriptural case for "just plain rejecting" a Christian friend, even if we do, in love, "just plain reject" their sin and their rebelliousness. You wouldn't really love your friend if 1)you didn't continue to be friends 2)you didn't call him/her to deal with their sin.

When Paul asks that the Corinthians not "associate" with sexually immoral people, greedy, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards or swindlers, two grammatical question must be wrestled with. First of all, it would seem rare or (technically) impossible from Paul's perspective that a true Christian could actually BE, by nature, a sexually immoral person, an idolater, etc. I know we as true believers do fall into sins of sexual immorality, greed, and the others mentioned. sometimes severely so. But we do not consistently live there; we are not by nature a "pure" greedy person, for example...we are not consistently,100 percent, without any remorse, greedy 24 hours a day. If that were the case we would not be Christians by the Bible's own definition. A key passage for grasping this is found just a few verses ahead of the scripture you raised. I Corinthians 6:9-11: "Don't you know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves, nor greedy, nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God." Now he does NOT say that a Christian who has fallen into one or more of these sins, even in a major way, will not make it to heaven. He does not say that an act of adultery, for example, will keep a believer out of the Kingdom. And when one remember Jesus equating lust with adultery, none of us could make it into the Kingdom on such a basis! Anyway, after listing these sinful lifestyles, Paul goes on: "And that is what some of you WERE!." Note: they are NOT those persons or lifestyles anymore. Fundamental to Paul's theology, is that believers are no longer sinners, adulterers, homosexuals, etc BY NATURE, even if we fall into some of these sins. We are not fundamentally... by nature... sinners anymore: on the contrary we are, according to v. 11, "washed, sanctified and justified." We are now to be considered "saints." Now hang on a minute, I hear that objection coming. The problem is that we have greatly misunderstood what the Bible means by "saint." One does not have to be dead or Catholic, or perfect to be a saint. One only has to be a biblically-defined Christian. And that means that we have a new nature, given us by Christ! If you really wonder if you are a saint, consider that Paul even calls those far less than perfect Christians in First and Second Californians..um, excuse me. Corinthians ( 1 Cor 1:2; 2:1), saints!

And don't read me as soft on sin. I sincerely believe we saints sin in thought, word and deed. I am simply making the case that the Word treats us as " saints who sometimes sin,", not "sinners who are sometimes saints.". It's just that God nowhere calls us sinners by nature anymore; "sinner" is a word used exclusively for those intentionally outside Christ and the church. That doesn't make us perfect, but it does make us perfectly forgiven. That doesn't make "them" terrible; on the contrary, they are terribly in need of Christ. This is not simply semantics, and is no small matter. It is in fact, THE interpretive key to understanding who and Whose we are. The entire message of Paul, and in essence the entire New Testament, can be microcosmically summarized as "Become what you already are." That is, actualize, act on, and act out all that Christ and the new identity and power He has already imparted and implanted in you have given you. Check out two amazing and life-changing Scriptures: Philippians 3:14, " Let us live up to what we have already attained" and 2 Peter 1:3, "We have already been given everything we need for life and godliness." If we only had these two verses and no others, and we grappled and grasped all that they implied, we would be far less impotent spiritually as individuals and churches. On this topic, and as good practical and prophetic help on how to prayerfully apply these tremendous truths, I recommend many of the available books by Neil Anderson.
Back to the original Scripture and context. We must also ask what does "associate" mean (1 Cor, 5:, 9 and 11)? Does it imply no contact whatsoever? No. The Greek word used literally denotes something like "mix together." It may indeed mean temporary "banning" from the gathered church, but then only if the sin is serious, and seriously not dealt with by the "saint" so accused, and even then only as a last resort as a means of "handing him over to Satan" (study carefully the two Scriptures were this fascinating phrase is used and prescribed: 1 Cor 5:5 and 1 Tim 1:20) with the intent that tough love might be the "butt-kicking" that eventually kicks them back to Christ and the fullness of Christ's fellowship. Note that in 2 Thess. 3:14, "disassociating" from gossips, which I read in the context of Scripture and early church history as disassociating them from the gathered church, not from individual relationships, is only after a second chance and as a last resort, and with the intent of restoration.

However, I do not want to sound as if I am condoning intentional sin. As St. Paul would protest, "May it never be!" . But I deeply believe Jesus and Paul modeled for us a lifestyle of seeking restoration, and return of the prodigal. However, those who continue defiantly in what you call " major sin" leave us, (and God, by the way, to a limited extent) with no option but to move into a tough love position of even withdrawing from them, so as we are not corrupted or deceived (obviously, this is not possible for God), and so that they are pushed toward restoration through tasting the futility of being "handed over to Satan." And the tenor of Corinthians is clear: some who call themselves believers in all honesty not only flirt with, but live with flagrant sin. The challenge here, to adapt the cliché we usually use to a slightly different form in light of our earlier discussion, "love the SAINT, and not the sin."

As a kind of aside to you personally (the one who asked this fine question), because of the person you and I are both aware of, we both know the terrible and inappropriate "judgment" that has fallen on him. This is a tragic example of how NOT to judge fellow believers. The word "prejudice" literally means to pre-judge; that is judge before you have all the information. We are of course, in Corinthians and in Jesus (By the way, Why do we usually only hear the first half of Jesus' quote: "Do not judge..", when He finished the thought with.."...except in the same measure you are willing to be judged yourself.{Matt. 7:1}) called to "judge" fellow Christians, but only from a prayerful, careful and mercy-based motivation. "Mercy," James offers in 2:13 of the book by his name, "triumphs over judgment." This perfect and delicate balance of confronting believers in sin is caught by Jesus who says both "Neither do I condemn you" as well as "Go and sin no more."

So in conclusion, Paul would assume that your theoretical (?) "Christian who is blatantly not walking with God" would be a rarity, and in its purest form , impossible. But because many who have made sincere commitments to Jesus seem to somehow fall into not only the more "ordinary" and "expected" ditches of sin, but into willful and bold sin, we must, like Jesus, love them enough to pursue them, "kick their butt" and maybe even trust God, ourselves and them enough to let them go, ideally only for a season (because God says that's the duration of sin's pleasures anyway) of heartbreaking (for us, God and them) heart-searching which will call them back into the fullness of all Jesus has to offer.

I agree with you, though obviously much of the organized church seems to have a hard time believing and practicing it, that we are to naturally and intentionally "hang out" with "sinners." Who would argue that Jesus did not? And we are to refrain from judging them. That doesn't necessitate that we do all the things they do, or we don't express our concerns for the wholeness in this life, and security in the next. But we are to unconditionally love, just as the Unconditional Lover first loved us. How else will they come to know this Love who loves us enough to call and make us saints, and (to risk what some might term a sacrilegious phrase attributed to Jesus. sorry) love us enough to "kick our butts" as needed?

Question: Here is a tough question I have struggled with. Maybe no one else does. Some groups have their women wear their hair covered or in a bun. Why don't most denominations do that, since it is mentioned in the Bible?

Answer: Don't worry! Plenty of other thinking Christians have wrestled with this question, though obviously very few seem to believe that the apparently clear word of 1 Corinthians 11: 5 ("Any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head') is to be applied to our contemporary situation. It raises the deeper question of how do we know which instructions to the churches (prohibitions against homosexuality, against women speaking in church, tongues must be interpreted, greet each other with a holy kiss, etc) are directly applicable today, and how do we navigate that discernment in a way that is not picking and choosing according to our preferences and idolatries? Clearly even most fundamentalists, who hold that the Bible is God's perfect Word and decidedly applicable today, do not live out some of the above teachings, or at least apply them literally in our modern culture. What to do?

I am a strong evangelical, believing that The Bible is God's infallible and inspired Word, and is meant to be obeyed in this day and age. But since I am a pastor in a tradition that does not require head coverings for women, I have obviously found another way to interpret the Scripture in question than the direct literal application to our church today. Yet it is precisely because I uphold the absolute authority, accuracy, and God-breathed nature of the Scripture that I must insist that if there are dramatic differences in our culture vs. Paul's, we must ask ourselves what is the modern equivalent of a certain prohibition. This is not at all to imply a softening of our view of Scriptural authority. On the contrary, it is to honor the authority and timelessness of God's Word. So in cases like this, we dig deeper than face value to the PRINCIPLE that was foundational to the teaching. I am aware this practice, when misdirected, is dangerous, and has been used to defend homosexual practice, for example. This case cannot be made, though, as biblical sexuality norms are based in CREATION (and are thus permanent and binding), not culture. The Scripture under discussion is a perfect example.

In that context, here is what I believe is the answer to your immediate question. And I answer it with the very helpful insights of my friend Brian Dodd, whose book The Problem of Paul is an outstanding guide to sorting out these issues:

"Why don't we apply this teaching in our culture? Paul's teaching relates to an issue of etiquette and propriety in Corinthian sensitivity about women's hair that we do not face in our culture. Praying with uncovered heads in Paul's day would have offended sensibilities, similar to a woman serving communion in a mini-skirt would today. When we travel across the bridge of culture, we realize that Paul lived in a world where a women's uncovered head was sexually suggestive, the closest parallel for us being skimpy clothing."

So back to our discussion about discerning the PRINCIPLE. "The claim I am making," Dodd continues, "is not 'Paul was wrong--women do not need to cover their hair,' but rather 'Paul was right on the principle of mutual consideration and sexual propriety. and he applied this correctly in his cultural setting.' " I believe that is exactly why we shouldn't let women (or men, for that matter) pray or prophesy in a public setting in an outfit clearly seen as radically provocative sexually.

I can honor and appreciate the traditions that apply this prohibition literally, because such practice usually comes out of a desire to be faithful to God. But I would call to mind that St.Paul, though he has been accused of being sexist, had a woman-honoring view of the place of females in prayer and prophesy. His agenda was not to be sexist; just the opposite. This is a case where Paul's argument and principle ( the unchanging and unalterable decrees of Scripture), are to be applied in a way appropriate to the day and church in which the Bible was written, and in the day and church of today. Because we desire to be that obedient, we must prayer-wrestle with these and other Scriptures, and ask how we are called to live them out; to make their words flesh. Two other books that are exceptionally helpful here are "Slavery, Sabbath, War and Women" by Willard Swartly, and "The First Epistle to the Corinthians" by Gordon Fee. Not to imply that one must own the three modern books I have mentioned to have the tools to discern how to interpret the Bible's specific and confusing principles. I believe the Holy Spirit, as He responds to our prayers that He would lead us into all truth; and the collective God-seeking of the Christian community (such as this webpage is designed to be), will enable and empower us to obey God's Word as He intended it to be obeyed, without compromise and without confusion. I am honored to be part of that task!.

Question: I was doing my devotions yesterday, and came across one that really caught me off guard because I had always been taught different. I wanted to get your take on it. The verse it used is Leviticus 19:28, "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves." Well, I had firstly heard it translated as "do not tattoo graven images on your body", but even then, the verses surrounding this one are things like "Do not cut your beard...do not touch a pig skin...eat fruit off a tree for its first 3 years." So what I am wondering is why this one verse is taken as still holding true today, and then the rest of the verses aren't. Also, the devotional writer said that tattoos and body piercing were a form of personal mutilation. I personally disagree because I have a tattoo and a body piercing, and I would not say that I did either as a form of mutilation. What do you think? Have we just forgotten these verses cause we want to secularize God, or have these old testament laws changed, minus the 10 commandments of course. I'd like to know your take on:
1.Why do you think people get tattoos/body piercing?
2.Do you think that it's a form of mutilation?
3.Do you think that God looks down on this...why?
4.If yes to #3, what should people do who have already done this?
5. Do you think it's a generational thing...especially body piercing.

Answer: Probably the best translation of Leviticus 19:28 is the NIV as you have quoted. Most of the purpose of all these OT laws were to call Israel to a life of holiness that was not conformed to the pagan practices around them and pure. note the emphasis on not mixing clothes, etc,. as a symbol of that unity of purpose). One of these practices was cutting or disfiguring (a rough equivalent of tattooing) your body as a way of atoning for the dead (a clearly pagan and I might note modern Mormon principle) getting the attention of whatever god you were praying to. A classic example of this is the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18:28. If a modern person has cut or tattooed themselves as a means of manipulating a deity *(including the Christian God) then that would indeed be sin. Since you are clearly not doing that, I would place a body piercing (clearly to me not the same as self-mutilation) and/or a tattoo under the area of freedom gives to each New Covenant believer to choose if they desire to participate or not. For some it might be sin, but the sin would be in the motive (to invoke a deity or to intentionally offend or blaspheme), not necessarily in the piercing or tattoo itself. Clearly, St Paul asks us, also, to be sensitive to not offending a brother or sister who does not sense the same liberty you do. So in some cases and places, discretion, or at least a lack of flaunting, would be appropriate. A note on tattoos: another reason they were forbidden in OT law is because it would be assumed in may case if a picture of a deity were involved, it would not be the God of Israel. So by extension, a modern tattoo picturing or naming a counterfeit god would likewise be dangerous and open demonic inroads.

And of course as you have noted so well, when is the last time you have heard anyone. even the most conservative Christian. claim that some of the mandates from this same chapter are directly applicable today: the beard (cutting your beard a certain way was also a pagan ritual of the day) and fruit regulations, for example. You have picked up on the two streams of OT law, which scholars often call "ceremonial law" and "moral law." As you have suggested, the 10 Commandments fall clearly under basic an intrinsic moral law, while the more ceremonially, or culturally-conditioned items (such as piercing, tattoo, fruit, beard) are not law that were ever meant to be lived out by people of another day and culture. or better yet, of a new Covenant. Didn't Jesus summarize even the 10 Commandments into the 2 Commands to love God and neighbor?

Of course many would suggest that this leaves an open door to ignore OT laws against homosexuality, for example. One cannot biblically make this case, as sexuality is fundamentally moral, or better yet, based on creation, as opposed to culture or tradition,. And besides, this behavior is clearly spoken against in the NT (1 Cor 6:9). Tattoos, piercing, fruit and beards are not.

1.I can't make a blanket statement about why people get tattoos or piercing. Some may do it just because they like the way they look; some to attract attention, some to fly in the face of tradition, some because they desire to witness to Christ. Maybe a large percentage of younger kids who do it, do it as an attempt to rebel or react against their parents generation, but I could never make a blanket judgment.

2.I don't see piercing as necessarily a form of mutilation generally speaking, though for some it may indeed be an intentional or unintentional way of doing the equivalent. Some may do it as a manifestation of low self-esteem or a self-hatred, but certainly not all.

3.I think God has a lot more important things to worry about or look down upon.

4.If an individual has a tattoo that is directly satanic or their conscience will not leave them alone after becoming enlightened or becoming a Christian, they have and should take steps to remove them. However, as this is not always possible , I can't believe God is not all that hung up on it. In a previous church, no one less than my associate pastor had tattoos he was sorry he had received. He was embarrassed by them,. and knew they might offend some Christians, but as they were not satanic, he did not feel pressure to have them removed at all costs. And let me state again, I have no intrinsic problem with tattoos in and of themselves, especially on persons such as yourself, whom I know and trust to follow the Spirit's guidelines for you as an individual. I wouldn't see the need to remove them unless you were so clearly convicted,. In itself, I'm guessing the tattoo is neutral, the way I read the Bible.

5.For some it may well be a generational thing; even the contemporary equivalent of something someone who grew up in the forties did that is now completely inoffensive in our current century and culture. But as this trend crosses generations, it is also bigger than that.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Dali Jesus

I will never forget when my seminary professor Steve Seamands showed this painting of Jesus.

It came up again halfway through this conversation on our forum started by the multitasking St. Arbuck's artist-apostle, Phil Brewer, on the also-intriguing topic:
"Does every film have one point?"

Whaz the point(s) of the painting for you?

a Violet Burning classic

For anyone looking for some good music, here's my amazon.com review of a classic I both hope you've heard of (If there's any justice, you should have!), and haven't (there's nothing more fun than introducing someone to life-changing music!). If you read this review, and think "I could take it or leave it," don't fear so soon! The Violet Burning have eight CDS out, and they all amazingly capture a variety of styles. Every CD is a surprise...and a good one. Like the new one, test-drivable here

Photos of the Violets at are church in 2004. I told Skibster that day I must've been dreaming; I'd likely pass out at the end. In fact, here's a photo of me my dad took at about that moment. Why don't you see Skibster in the pic? He must have been on the floor.


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful: Sometimes Even Plastic is Elastic, December 27, 2003

Violet Burning's "Demonstrates Plastic and Elastic," a sneak-up-on-you and amazing classic may not work for everbody, but I believe that anybody who gives it a chance and time will eventually see it work its way into your life few like few other musical offerings can even begin to. The Violet Burning's fourth full length release, builds on and transcending all that went before: "Chosen"'s groundbreaking passion; "Strength," the first and finest modern worship album (only eight years ahead of its time), and the self-titled CD's grungy, gut-wrenching (and guitar-wrenching), brutally honest psalms and heartbreak.

The pressing and practical problem for record-store folks is where to file this CD..which is preciseky the genius and point of this offering. Is it rock or is it worship? Yes. Is it punk or ballad? Believe it or not; both/and! No contradiction; just paradox. Or maybe a contradiction..but who cares? But the real genre breakdown, and interpretive key to this layered and intriguing work is spelled out as early as the title ("Is this CD plastic or elastic?" "Yes, both, precisely)" Michael Pritzl, who basically "is" the Violets, was inspired to have his band cut this CD after returning from Berlin and seeing a sign reading "Plaste und Elaste"..that is, "Plastic and elastic." This sign triggered his thoughts that life, relationships, romance and faith are
sometimes divided into "plastic" experiences and songs (fun, maybe superficial and throwaway party stuff), and "elastic" items (flexible, fluid, stretching, deep, profound, emotional to the max). So about half the songs are at heart "plastic": fun, rollicking rockers like "Moon Radio," "Berlin Kitty", "I'm No Superman".."new-wavish" songs and "single jingles" that stick like crazy in your head, and are fantastic in concert; but songs I confess skipping often on this CD in favor of the "other half" : very "elastic" and ultimately astonishing. elongated, ethereal beautiful and at times almost-impossible to deal with emotive "feeling" songs; both in lyric and guitar. Like "She Says Electric" (a song about ..among other things, that is..Remember that plastic "stretches" thematically) what a friend told Pritzl it feels like to be lost in worship.."I am electric..face to the sun."; "Oceana," (about ..on some listenings and levels anyway..how another friend leads him closer to God, and "Gorgeous" (most days my favorite song of basically, well..nothing less than all time..tied with "Goldmine" from the previous VB CD and "Song of the Harlot" from "Strength" ....a song I believe invokes how God feels about us.."I feel so much the distance in your eye..You won't catch me that way.. You're gorgeous".

But it's the last two songs, "We Close Our Eyes",the memorial to band member's former producer and mentor Chris Wimber (son of founding Vineyard pastor, John), taken from life at an all-too-early age. How could one truly listen and engage the promise of the hushed lyric and not believe it: "We're not alone..We're going to live forever" ,and I dare you note to take Pritzl literally when he recommends that "we close our eyes" while soaking up this song. And "Seamonster" (about God casting our sins in the deepest sea, and remembering them no more" ("eating" our sins like a seamonster..what?) that transport me even higher and deeper into Kingdom reality,and can move me to tears and hear-rending intercession and on-my-face worship....Indeed, I am electric and can't be interrupted when these two unfurl, shimmer, build, swirl their way into me in an unhurried and other-worldly vibe, and in the words of bassist Herb Grimaud, Jr, "take you on a journey every time."

And what to do with one of the most discussed songs on the bands website:,"Ilaria." Frankly, I think every song in the VB catalog has an element of God talking to us in the lyrics.(even if it "seems" at first to be about a human relationship or event, or even a throway "plastic" moment) .but here the "I kind of like it when you s way", I think is directed to God. Pritzl has admitted being fascinated with a literal translation of the Hebrew of Genesis 1, were the Spirit is "swaying," "hovering" or "moving" over us. Much of this CD evokkes for me what it may be like to say an move with God, a place we don't often let our hearts take us. And the infectious "robotic dancing" of "Robot Fluide Robot" isa creative synthesis of plastic intsrumentation and elastic lyric... And Sugarlight USA, perhaps another plastic./elastic combo is about addiction, David Bowie's "Major Thom" persona, a critique of American culture , alienation, television and (inevitably) God... all at once.

Fans of the earlier three CDs, and the three later CDs, will find this CD an indispensable crucible, landmark, and launching pad. A band captured on the rebound from an intense, heartbreaking season, full of joy..full of..well, plastic momnets where there is no shame or guilt in reckless abandonment to a (not really)disposable dance number...and glorious, evocative "elastic" pilgrimamges and pilgrimmages . The lyrics..of the elastic pieces, anyway,,are not inmediately accessible (a different animal altogether from some of the more recent worship and pop numbers) and are right-brain impressionistic invitations to explore life, God, ones own bare heart and relationships,..and like good art, will mean different things to different listeners..which of course is an "elastic" quality.

Opening with, and briefly closing with a worshipful pouring out of ones naked longing and vulnerability before God "Lay Your hands now on me..Let Your love cover me".... first accomapanied with ear-splitting punk riffs, and finally with barely audible organ, purposefully frame this whole CD event as authentic, creative , and fresh worship, the like of which is found nowhere else I know.. For who else could weave plastic and elastic, let the twain creatively meet, and couch it in profound worship..even though some may note detect a note of worship until a third or fourth listen! I may be a sucker for ethereal guitars and extended vibe and drone (a genre the later Violets rarely visit) , but to me, when fused with the uncompromisingly honest and pasionate heart of Michael Pritzl and company , I admit with no shame that such has midwifed many a holy moment with God and others in my life. Whether you like droning guitars or not, if you prayerfully let this CD into your life, including those dark soul-recesses, you'll likely find , in the langauge of "Fluide" , "we're all the same"...desperate vagabonds sniffing for , in the lyric of "Elaste", "something strong to fill our hole."

Having said and accoladed all that, in a sense, this disc is almost incomprehensible without the context of its predesssor, the self-titled CD ( a true masterpiece, a word I would not quite apply to "P and E" ( though you noted I began this essay with an easy "classic" rating), because it is only most fully seen and tasted in the light of finding ones way back from near despair, and finding God blesses us with both plastic and elastic foretastes of unspeakable joy..which Michael Pritzl in an apostolic way can begin to articulate and speak for us.