On Broken Pastors and Golden Calves

1.

I've always been a question pusher, an inquisitor of sorts.

I was blazing a trail through the frozen Ozarks on an average weekday—the Boston Mountains rising like guardians over landscape as frozen as a faithless heart—when my phone range. It was a friend from my ministry days, a mid-western pastor who’d once confessed he was wrestling with the most un-nuanced question of faith—is God real? He’d spilled it across the bench seat of the beat up Chevy lumbering down the dirt roads near Indian territory, said he’d have an easier time counting summer stars in the panhandle of Oklahoma than imagining a real and present God. This confession came in his earlier days of ministry, before he’d acceded to the office of “Associate Pastor” and dug deep into a mid-western suburban life, before he’d started a family on a churchman’s salary.

I considered his confession—that truth spoken nearly six years prior—and cut to the quick of the matter. "How's your faith these days?" I asked.

"It's good, bro; how's yours?" he quipped, flipped the question on the inquisitor with an evangelical sleight of hand.

“Do you remember the night we were rolling in the old pickup on the back roads? You told me you were groping about for God, that you were considering jumping...” Continue reading at A Deeper Story.

*Photo by Sigfrid Lundberg, Creative Commons via Twitter.

Sovereignly Adopted

I've slowly been unpacking some issues with respect to adoptions ethics, and the trends I'm observing within the evangelical orphan care movement. Today, I'm unpacking the an argument I've heard a great deal as of late, namely, that we need not worry about the ethics of completed adoptions because they fall under the banner of God's sovereignty. You can read an excerpt below, but the full piece is at A Deeper Church.

***

A shy hand raised in the corner of the room. “I’ve adopted internationally,” she said, “and I’ve wrestled with whether it was all above board. The paperwork for my children has gone missing, the orphanage has shut down, and my adoption agency has been closed.” She broke, then paused, then regrouped. I prepared myself to console her, to offer a gentle word, and that’s when she dropped the theological nuclear bomb.

“But here’s what I’d like to know from you: who are we to question the ethics of my childrens’ adoption? Who are we to question the sovereignty of God?”

***

The sovereignty of God–ah, that grand Ace of Spades. In full disclosure, I’ve spent the majority of my Christian life in reformed circles, and if I’m painfully honest, I often still interpret scripture through this lens. Yes, I believe that we are God’s handiwork, that we’ve been created in Christ to do works prepared for us long ago. Yes, I believe that God, in his sovereignty, works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. Here’s something I’ve always thought and never said, though–invoking God’s sovereignty to avoid tough questions is a misapplication of the doctrine.

Continue reading at A Deeper Church.

Jesus in the Church (A Community Story)

"There is no doubt, the structure of the western organized church can be cumbersome, even embarrassing at times. There is no doubt, it can mis-prioritize, place the emphasis on the wrong thing, roll out the fog machine at the most inopportune of times. There is no doubt, pastors and elders can let us down, find a second sort of conversion in the post-salvation love of money (can’t we all). There is no doubt–the church is sick and broken.

This sickness and brokenness can operate as a sort of sleight-of-hand, a hide-the-Jesus-in-the-top-hat kind of obfuscation, though. But if we look past all of that, if we focus in just the right places,we can find Jesus in the Church if he is what we’re looking for."

 

Yesterday I wrote about Ann Curtis, how she was Jesus in the church to me. Today, I'm inviting you to drop in at A Deeper Church and share your story of "Jesus in the Church."  

This is a community story-telling project. Join in the conversation.

I Reckon

Today, I"m writing at A Deeper Church. I've re-posted the piece in its entirety here (which I don't normally do), but if you'd like to comment, jump into the DEEPER END and post it there. And even if you'd rather not comment, you'll still want to visit A Deeper Church to check out the companion links to this post. Thanks for reading. It's rather humbling.

*****

When I was chokered by neck-ties and theology for a living, a man–a good man–informed me that ”doctrine is the foundation of the church, and doctrines, by nature, divide.” He was speaking most specifically to the reasons why conversations with the charismatics at the Waffle House were non-productive, and to why his friends were predominately of a certain evangelical stripe.

When I was chokered by neck-ties and theology for a living, a man–a good man–informed me that “Kennedy and King might have been well-meaning, but if you keep writing essays about the passions of liberals, you’re going to cause division here.” He was speaking most particularly to a piece I had written about the beauty of men who traded small lives for larger causes. I suppose that patriotism and civil liberties are divisive, too.

But I reckon I read the Good Book, and in it, there was a man–a genuinely Good man–and he blazed a trail here to be my big brother. He was sent from my father, so the Good Book says, and I reckon that he came to teach us a few things about living together as siblings. For his first experiment, he brought together a zealot and a tax collector. I’ve read the story about the zealot and the tax collector, and best I can tell, neither ever cut the other, which was a miracle as grand as the whole water-to-wine thing, I suppose.

He left us–the siblings–words about meekness and humility. He asked us to be poor within ourselves. He asked us to be praying folks; he even asked us to pray for our enemies. If we’re supposed to take prayer that far, I reckon he’d ask us Baptists to pray for the charismatics, too. Perhaps he’d asks the progressives to tolerate the conservatives. He’d ask the feminists to pray for the complementarians.

And so on. And so forth.

Once, the Big Brother prayed for unity. I don’t recall him praying for Baptists or Methodists, for those who waited for true love or those who didn’t, for the reformed or those blessed with free will. I think his prayer was more along the lines of “Father let them share bacon and prayer at the Waffle House; let them bring my message of peace and redemption to the waitress so that the Good News will go forward.” Of course, all the theological chokering of my youth may have cut off the circulation to the better parts of my thinking. I might’ve missed the more divisive prayer. It might be somewhere in there.

I reckon.

Shadow of a Doubt

In the soft light, the evangelist coaxes. “Are you sure, absolutely sure beyond any shadow of a doubt, that if you were to die tonight, you would see Jesus? You’re running out of time here, students. Your life is limited.” He weaves in stories of sudden death. Teenagers with exploding hearts. Earthquakes and natural disasters in foreign countries. “A breath away,” he says.

His counselors surround him like apostles, like bible bodyguards. “Beyond a shadow of any doubt,” he repeats, then asks for a head-bowed show of hands and begins thanking people for the courage to choose to be numbered. My head is not bowed, mostly because I believe that even evangelists need accountability. I do not note a single hand corresponding with his many thank yous, but nonetheless, he thanks another phantom. And another. He catches my open eyes. He winks and smiles. Thanks another.

*Today I'm discussing doubt over at A Deeper Church. I think there's freedom in confessing these things. Join me at A Deeper Church for more.

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