Category Archives: Ramblings

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Your Voice Matters


Years ago, Jamie The Very Worst Missionary gave me (and the rest of Christendom) some fantastic advice: “Ask yourself, is what I’m about to say gonna make me sound like a total douche.” It’s an excellent post, and I recommend you read it, but for me the advice resonated outside that context. Personally, I love the way she communicates. At the same time, there are people reading, who when they saw the word “douche,” stopped. I’ve gotten in trouble for my word choice on a number of occasions. Often it’s online, because I tend to relax my filter a bit on social media, but it’s happened from the pulpit, too—usually from word choices that I hadn’t given a second thought to but other people found offensive. When it happens, I’m torn between judging people for being too uptight, and recognizing that there are consequences to the way I choose to say things. There are consequences to the actual things I choose to say, too, but that’s something entirely different.

We’re living at a time when it’s incredibly easy to get our words out to the world and incredibly difficult to take them back. It’s important that what we have to say doesn’t get lost in how we’re saying it. Some of you are with me right now. Some of you just think you are. I’ve lost listeners because I’ve used words like “douche,” and “pissed off.” I’ve been told that such coarse language reflects my heart, because “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

overflow

I don’t disagree with that at all. I just disagree with where it’s aimed. I don’t think that the words you use flow out of your heart as much as your environment. I’ve had to learn to change my words as my environment has changed, but that’s a different thing. You can say hateful things with pretty words, and grace filled things with ugly ones.

You can say hateful things with pretty words, and grace filled things with ugly ones.

Under the guise of free speech, Christians have filled social media (and media-media) with words that have belittled homosexuals. Some of it has been intentional, some has been thoughtless. Out of the overflow of their hearts, they spoke. Under the guise of free speech, Christians have said brutal, hateful things about Islam and people that follow it. In both cases, there have been consequences.

“We have freedom of speech,” they say. “We are free to say whatever we want.” And they’re right. They can, legally. The government isn’t going to step in to stop them. Unfortunately, they’ve confused freedom of speech with freedom from consequences. Our voice matters. It’s the reason that free speech laws have an exemption for what are called fighting words. The law recognizes that there are things that we express that are designed to get a reaction or to wound people. They’re words that hurt, and when people are hurt, they hurt back.

I would never defend the actions of militant extremists that react to words (or pictures) with guns, but the Christian who goes out of their way to defame and profane what another holds sacred is speaking from the overflow of a Christless heart. It’s hard to stand up for the truth when the Truth isn’t in you. I see a huge difference between the people who can say homosexuality is contrary to God’s purpose for humanity with a brokenness that loves and hurts for the people who deal with a homosexual orientation, and the people who bludgeon them with harsh words and threats of hellfire for their “immoral ways.” I see a huge difference between people who will say that they disagree with some of the teaching of the Quran while presenting a gentle Gospel, and the people who hear that Islam prohibits the depiction of the prophet Muhammad and so they stage an exhibit to prove they can. Then they say, “See how violent Islam is?” while ignoring the violence their exercise of free speech has done.

Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.

If it’s your belief, and you feel it’s important to do so, you can say that you believe that Islam is wrong. You can say that you believe that homosexuality is wrong. You can, if you want, say that you believe that swearing is wrong. When you do, though, remember the people that you’re saying it to. Remember the people that you’re saying it about. Ask yourself why you’re saying it. Are you saying it because you want to effect change, or are you saying it just because you want to be heard? Is what you’re about to say going to make you sound like a total douche? Let your words flow from a heart that knows grace. Let your words flow from a heart that knows love. Let your words flow from a heart that is full of God.

Your voice matters.

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5 Things You Learn Attending a Church You Used To Work At


Almost a year ago, it was announced at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church that my position, Pastor of Youth and Worship, was being terminated, and I was not being moved into the newly created position of Pastor of Servant Life and Community development. There was some fallout. Not as much as there likely would be if a senior pastor left, but there were a lot of opinions in the ring after the announcement. It wasn’t a surprise to me—it had been an ongoing discussion at the leadership level for quite a while, and I was given plenty of opportunity for input. I was left in an odd position, though. I still loved the church, I had nowhere else to go, and I felt called to write for a while instead of going straight into the brutality of the pastoral search process.

Businesswoman Clearing Her Office

After a bunch of praying and thinking and talking with my wife, we decided (with approval of the leadership) to continue attending Cornerstone. I’m not sure what I would have done if they had said no… it was a bit awkward all-round. I’m not sure anyone in leadership ever considered saying no. They’re awesome, supportive people. If it was me in their place, though, I would have been hesitant and worried about issues of transition and disturbance, and wondering if I could trust me in the background of the congregation. In the end, I’m glad we did. I think I may have grown more in the year of transition, out of “active” ministry, than I did in the three years before.

These are some things that I learned in the transition:

1. There are people more upset about it than you are.

 “I can’t believe how the church treated you…” … “It’s just not right…” … “This is ridiculous…” … “What are they thinking?”

As hard as it is to step away from the role you’ve poured yourself into for years, there’s a certain peace in it. Let’s face it, if you’re in a place spiritually and emotionally that you can continue to attend a church after they’ve fired you not renewed your contract, you’ve probably left on fairly decent terms. There will be people in the church, though—your advocates, your friends, and sometimes people completely unexpected—that will take greater offense than you. One of the biggest challenges you face immediately after the announcement is dealing with people who want to badmouth the church you love, or vent anger you don’t feel, or vote with their feet and leave.* It’s hard, when you are dealing with some measure of hurt, to be put in the awkward position of defending the church that’s terminating you. Even worse, the angriest people—the ones most likely to leave—are your closest friends, and you can be left feeling even more alone attending church without them.

*I want to make it clear that not everyone who left CWC at this point left because of feelings about me. For some it was directional over removing the youth specialty. For others it was the culmination of feelings that had been building for quite a while. I don’t want to misrepresent them as leaving in a fit of pique.

2. There are people less upset about it than you are.

Sure, you expect that there are some people happy to see you go. There are always going to be people that you’ve butted heads with; personally, ministerially, or theologically. Some of them might have even been working behind the scenes to get rid of you. It can be hard to see those people week in and week out, wondering if under their smile and handshake lies smug satisfaction at a job well done. I’m not talking about those people, though. I’m talking about the surprising majority of people who really just don’t care that much. These are the people that you shook hands with and exchanged pleasantries after the service. They gave vague compliments on sermons or services and carried on with their lives. They were fans, but not followers. They were the ones who, as Lenny said in season three, episode 24 of The Simpsons, were “well-wishers in that they don’t wish you any specific harm.” The fact is that in any given congregation, most people are more bonded to each other and the church as a whole than they are to you. And that’s healthy for them and hard on your ego. It may also be the part that hurts the most.

3. You’re less important than you think you are.

When you’re going strong (or weak) in church ministry, it’s easy to take the weight of the world on your shoulders. You fret over every message or song or service or event. You comb through numbers and struggle with what you can do differently to improve them. When things are going well, you rejoice and take credit. When they go pear-shaped, you take the blame on yourself. It’s hard not to, because that’s what everyone around you seems to be saying. You pour yourself to the people you minister to, and you pour yourself into the programs you have responsibility for, because what happens with them is on you. And then it’s not. And life goes on. You watch programs go on with out you, and people keep meeting, and growing, and learning about God without you. And the service doesn’t fall apart without your guidance. You start to wonder why you were even there at all.

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4. Letting go is harder than you expect.

When leadership changes hands, whether between two paid pastors, or to a volunteer, things change. It’s inevitable. People have different visions and different skill sets. One of the worst things about staying at a church you used to work at is watching things be done differently. It’s one thing to think about not being in charge anymore, it’s another to have to see the reality of it. Programs you set up are dismantled. People make mistakes that you wouldn’t have. New leaders make decisions that you disagree with, and you can’t stop them. You have to learn all over again how to be a follower—a servant. Continuing to serve as a volunteer in a ministry you used to run means swallowing a lot of pride. It’s hard on the digestive system, but good for the soul.

5. Your legacy is not what you think it is.

When you know a transition is coming, you work hard to make sure you’re leaving things healthy and running as smoothly as possible. You may work on polishing tech and leaving a great setup that will serve the church well. You may work to develop the volunteers you had to carry on after you. You may set up program structures and guidelines designed to keep going well after you’re gone. You may do all those things, and find that they’re turned around in weeks. The things that you thought would endure, don’t. At the same time, though, some of the things that you thought wouldn’t, do. Turns of phrase you used, or little bits of lessons you taught will stay in people’s hearts and on their lips. Moments you spent together turn into foundational building blocks of a growing faith. More than that, though, you see that how you deal with leaving becomes your legacy. People remember your actions more than your words. How you leave may have more of a lasting impact that anything you did before.

It’s easy to give lip-service to the idea that it’s God’s church (or program, or ministry), but seeing the truth of it brings a new perspective. It really isn’t about us. Life really does go on. The biggest thing you learn through it though, the secret #6, is that it’s an opportunity to grow in grace. If you can do it, if you can reign in your pride and learn to serve again—if you can stand to be seen by your people as less than you were before, you can be more. I know that I’ve matured more through this process than I ever thought possible, and the church God gives us to next will be blessed through it. They’ll find a pastor that’s less attached to himself and more attached to them. They’ll find a pastor who knows that being humbled isn’t the worst thing in the world. They’ll find a pastor who knows himself better, and knows better the God whose shoulders everything really rests on. He’ll become more because I’ve become less.

A Book!


It’s been a long time coming, but The Art of Being Broken will be available for purchase June 15, 2015.

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Four years ago when I started writing it, this was a different book. I was a different person. In a way, I’m grateful for the 3 year hiatus my writing took while I was at Cornerstone Wesleyan. During that time, I published a book of devotionals for worship teams, which led praise teams together through the Gospel of John, prompting them to take a deeper look at their ministry together. That process gave me confidence in my writing, and helped me learn a lot about putting a book together for publishing. The experience was invaluable as I prepared The Art of Being Broken for print.

More than that, though, I grew as a person and a pastor. When I started writing this book four years ago, it had a very different focus. Really, it boiled down almost entirely to “Don’t be fake. If you’re messed up, be authentically messed up so that people can know the real you.” There is definitely still an element of that, but it evolved so much. Part of that was becoming convinced that God wants more for us than authentic brokenness. He wants to take our brokenness and turn it into holiness. He wants to take our wounds and mess and broken pieces and turn it into art that shows his grace and love to the world in a real, authentic way.

I’m not great at self-promotion. Most of the time, I have trouble seeing what I do as really good or valuable. This book though, I believe is excellent. That feels really weird to say, but I think that if you sit down to read it, you’ll find that it speaks to your heart. Maybe you’ll find God speaking to your heart through it.

What if everything isn’t fine?
What if there is life outside of our shells?
What if there is beauty under our masks?
What if there is healing beyond brokenness?
What if we could see the image of God in ourselves?
What if God’s art is made from our broken pieces?

In The Art of Being Broken, Aaron Mark Reimer opens up an authentic, sometimes awkward, occasionally hilarious, one-way conversation about our brokenness, the things we use to cover it, and the healing that can come through exposing it.

A three chapter excerpt of The Art of Being Broken is now available free at Noisetrade.com

We’ll Create a Cure; We Made the Disease


I haven’t posted in a long time. I’m between jobs, but actively working on The Art of Being Broken (finally). I thought I’d post a chunk of the chapter I’m currently working on :).

***

I read an interesting article a while ago about the daughter of a surgeon in the early 1900s. She was a high school student and a budding entrepreneur. When I was in high school, I tried to have several businesses with my friends. They failed spectacularly, because we were in high school and didn’t understand about having things like business plans and marketing and things people would actually want to buy. This girl didn’t really either, but it didn’t stop her from trying.

The reason that it’s relevant that she was the daughter of a surgeon is that the thing she was trying to sell was a special chemical that her father used to keep his hands from sweating during surgery. The chemical had to be suspended in a red acid, so it could irritate sensitive skin, and could stain or even eat through clothes, but it would stop sweat for three days. I suppose if someone is cutting into someone else with a knife, then not having sweaty hands would be a fair trade off.

This girl, for whatever reason, decided to try sticking some on her arm pits and found that it worked just as well there. She found that she could reduce the irritation by shaving her arm-pits, and it stopped her from smelling in a way that she didn’t want to smell, because she was a little princess and odor was so peasanty or something. All the other girls had to do things like bathe and wear perfume, and now she was better. She figured she could make money making other girls want to be like her. The problem was that no one cared.

Other deodorants and antiperspirants had been around for a little while, but they were greasy and uncomfortable, and no one thought they needed them. Everyone smelled like that. That was the way bodies worked. They thought that blocking perspiration was probably wildly unhealthy too, and no one wanted to take the risk of stopping a natural bodily function. For men, it was even a particular badge of honour, announcing that they were manly men who did manly man work and had sweat-trophies to prove it. A few women bought her product, but not enough to make it worthwhile to sell. Poor girl. It looked like her teenage money making dreams were crushed.

Along came an advertising agency with a bible-salesman turned copywriter assigned to the case. He was brilliant. He started with the idea that people probably didn’t want to stink but were afraid to stop sweating for health reasons. His solution was to brand the product as something created by a doctor to stop the embarrassing medical problem of “excessive perspiration,” which was true in the way that a drunk driver might honestly announce that he’s only had two beers, without mentioning that it was after downing a bottle of whiskey. If a doctor said that sweating too much was a problem, and he’d gone to all the trouble of inventing a cure, then maybe it really was something that women needed!

With the new problem well developed, it was being sold internationally within a year. Of course, because there’s no such thing as enough money, he did a survey to find out why everyone wasn’t using it. It turned out that everyone knew about it, but only about a third of the women surveyed used it. The reason the rest didn’t? Sure, it wasn’t unhealthy any more, but they still didn’t think they needed it. They didn’t perspire excessively. It wasn’t just a matter of telling people there was a remedy for their underarm odor, he had the monumental task of convincing two-thirds of the people on the planet that what their bodies did naturally was a serious embarrassment.

He did it. He ran one of the greatest ad campaigns in the history of the world. It was so good that Satan called him up for lessons. He put out an ad telling women that they probably stunk and no one would tell them and that was the reason they couldn’t get or keep a man and even if they did have a man, their man probably didn’t like it and might leave them for a woman that didn’t stink. Playing on the insecurities of women and shaming them about their bodies was such an effective strategy that sales doubled and tripled and within a few years they were making millions. Women were shaving their armpits and rubbing them with acid and were grateful for it.

A hundred years and a bunch of marketing later, we are all thoroughly convinced that the hair in women’s armpits is disgusting, and that body odor is foul and offensive and needs to be hidden beneath layers of chemicals so that we can be around other people without making them sick.

It was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist, and now it’s so ingrained in our popular imagination that it’s difficult to even begin to conceive of our world without it. The thing that scares me is that it’s not all that uncommon. I remember loving the song Misery by Soul Asylum when I was a teenager. It was the 90’s and it was very cool to be jaded. I was, as you might recall, very interested in being cool, so I listened to alt-rock by people in ripped jeans and lumberjack shirts and rocked out to their jaded lyrics.

In Misery, David Pirner sang the lines, “we could build a factory and make misery/we’ll create a cure; we made the disease,” and a generation of kids went, “yeah,” and grew up to be conspiracy theorists who believe that Big Pharma invents viruses so that they can make money selling the cures (I’m not convinced they’re wrong). At a slightly less sinister level, people in the know look at marketing as not so much about finding people with a need for a product and getting it to them as amplifying or creating a feeling of need for a product that didn’t exist before the product needed to be sold.

We buy security. We buy comfort. We buy convenience. We buy the trappings of lives we aspire to because we’re told we should. We do this because it’s become human nature.

The first sin was a solution to a problem that didn’t exist before the snake sold it. The first mask, the first shell, the first hiding of who we are and what we’ve done, was a solution to a problem that they made up. God had made them. God had loved them into being in his own image. They had walked with God just as naked as they were after eating the fruit, but now they needed to cover up the bodies that God had given them. Now they had shame. Who they were was embarrassing. God couldn’t see them like this. But God knew them. They weren’t really hiding anything. “Who told you that you were naked?” was God’s question. “What made you think that who you are needed to be hidden from me?” He was hurt, but he didn’t love them any less.

That wasn’t how he had left them, but he didn’t walk out of the garden saying “You screwed up. Now I see who you REALLY are. I’m done with you.” He started picking things up again.

The Church’s Back Door


As a pastor, I sometimes have trouble in “the ministry” because I don’t look like a pastor. There’s something in my demeanour that doesn’t scream “pastoral”. Despite being 32, people often place me at 24 and treat me younger. I blame my complete inability to grow decent facial hair. Also, my hair is kind of green right now, but that doesn’t count because it was dyed for a youth retreat last weekend. I lack a certain gravitas and probably always will. Such is my lot in life. I get some cred as a youth pastor though, and have been told that I’d fit in well leading one of those young churches… maybe a university church. I might be able to play it off in a specialized role at a mega-church. Young people would like me.

As a youth pastor, I’ve been concerned with young people. I work with them, I love them, and to some extent, I love their culture. I spend time focusing on how to relate to them, how to relate God to them, and how to get them to relate to God. As someone who’s still pretty young myself, I also have my own young person preferences and desires for worship. Sometimes that means I look at the way things are being done on Sunday morning and say “that’s not cool,” with the assumption that we need to make things cool, so that young people will come. Maybe that’s the music. Maybe it’s the volume. Maybe it’s the appearance of the stage (sorry, “platform,” I was recently crapped on by a church member for calling it a “stage.” [Also, I just said “crapped on,” which isn’t very pastoral]). Maybe it’s how the message is communicated. It’s been drilled into me, and into most of the evangelical church world, that “young people are the future of the church,” and if we don’t get them, the church is going to die. So now, many churches are doing their best to make our sanctuaries look like this:

I like that. It’s cool. It inspires me. I want to be on that stage. I want to be in that crowd. I can also pretty much guarantee that there is more green hair in that crowd than grey. This is what church looks like to this generation, and you’d better get on board, because this generation has to be reached for the Lord. We look at most of the “big” churches that show up in church media circles, and we see this as a functional model, because they’re growing. Younger people are flooding through the front doors and experiencing God in new and fresh ways.

Unfortunately, it seems that older people are quietly finding the back door.

There are times when I love watching YouTube videos of Hillsong live recordings, or Elevation Worship, or a giant event that Chris Tomlin is leading. But once I get past how awesome it looks to have so many hands raised to the sky, and so many people moved to tears by God’s grace and glory, it starts to bother me that the camera tends to linger on the same few middle aged people. Maybe it keeps returning to the one grandparent in the crowd. It pans over a thousand 20-somethings and rests on the exception to give the impression that this is for everyone – or at least everyone who can “get with what God is doing now.”

I’ve heard people (to be honest, I’ve been people) who have almost rejoiced at older people leaving the church, because it gave more freedom to do something new. We’ve embraced the immortal words of Barney Stinson: “New is ALWAYS better.” We feel the need to leave behind the old so that we can reach out to the new. It’s more important for us to reach the new than minister to the old because… because. Because new is always better. Maybe because the old are “already saved” and getting people “saved” is the end all and be all of our purpose, so once they’re “saved” we can forget about them and go save someone else. Why aren’t we worried about “saving” anyone over 50? And is anyone other than me concerned that in 20 years, we’ll be the ones shown the back door?

Yeah, I’m a young looking 32, but I’m ageing. The things that I like and the things that I liked when growing up aren’t the things that capture the imagination of the newest breed. My pop-culture references are taking work to stay relevant. Quoting Friends is met with blank stares. Some of the kids I work with have never even heard of Friends! So observe, and tremble. We have our vision of what church should look like, and in the future we cool ones are going to be fighting just as hard for our archaic modes of worship as those we mock today. Culture is changing so fast that we can’t even conceive of what that’s going to look like.

In the mean-time, we’re losing the idea that church is for everyone. We’re losing the idea that the family of God and the Body of Christ includes people that don’t like what we like. Maybe we’ve already lost it… hey, I’ve been on the other side of the equation (and reacted against it) at a church that refused to make any accommodation at all for the preferences of a new generation. It’s like churches are being forced to make a decision about which generation they are going to minister to (or to be so bland and middle-of-the-road that people will just head off to one of their preference-specific congregations anyway), and so one church loses the vigour, passion, and energy of the young, and another misses out on the wisdom and experience of the old.

I’ve become more and more convinced that the root of this evil is the idea that Sunday morning is for saving people, and that the attraction of the church should be the attraction of worshipping God. We’ve come to expect Sunday morning to be the primary point of contact between people and God. We want a place that people will be drawn to with excitement. We want a place where people will want to be because what is offered there is what they want to see. We want it to say “see, God is for you.”

And God is for you. But God’s also for him. And her. And the crying infant in the back. And the toddler rolling out into the aisle to chase their Hot Wheels car. And the embarrassed mother reigning them in, who should’t be embarrassed because God loves the fact that her kid is growing up in church surrounded by people that he is for. Like the 40-something woman in the other row that’s having trouble worshipping because she secretly envies the embarrassed mother because she can have children. Or the guy in his 50s that is completely tone-deaf and can’t keep rhythm to save his life. And his mother and father who taught him to love God with his whole mind and not his voice. And the elder with the walker that can’t decide whether to turn up his hearing aid to hear the music or turn it off so he can’t.

Sunday morning is about coming together as the family of God and the body of Christ, and joining together to worship and grow. And that’s hard. It’s so much harder than breaking off into little (or large) homogeneous groups worshipping in our own superior ways. And we panic, because coming together as the whole messy old and young body probably isn’t overly attractive to the world.

Man, I’ve gone on for a while here… I’m going to wrap it up soon, I promise. I don’t want to end it on this complaint, though, I want to talk about the solution. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wanting to hear it. By now you’ve forgotten that I’ve got weird hair, and my baby-face doesn’t matter on the other side of a wall of text. TL;DR has no meaning for you. Well done.

So here’s my solution: Forget about saving people. Churches should not be in the business of saving people. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be saved at church. I’m not saying that the Gospel shouldn’t be preached. I’m saying that that’s not the primary purpose of Sunday morning. The primary purpose of Sunday morning should be to equip us to be like Jesus. You know why people flocked to Jesus? Because he was like Jesus. You know who else can be like Jesus? Us. The Bible says so. Do you think a church with a congregation full of people like Jesus would do anything but grow? Who cares what the stage looks like. Who cares what the music is or what volume it’s played at. People would come.

People would come because we would be living lives of love that reached out to the people around us rather than insulating ourselves from them. People would come because we’re living holy lives – a holiness not focused merely on preserving ourselves from corruption but instead focused on setting ourselves apart for God – living as the people God made us to be, for the purpose he made us to have. People would come because they’d want what we have. People would come because they want to be like Jesus too.

We wouldn’t have to worry about front doors or back doors on our churches, because doors wouldn’t hold us.

I know… easier said than done. I know I’m not nearly as good at doing it as I am writing it.

What do you think?

The Reason


I work at a church.  This means that I know a lot of Christians.  In fact, despite my best intentions, it seems that most of the people I’m facebook friends with profess the Christian faith.  Some of them are youth that I’ve worked with.  Some of them are people I’ve gone to church with.  Some of them are friends/acquaintances from school.  You get the idea.  The upshot is this: I get more trite, Christiany pictures and statuses popping up in my feed before 9 am than most people get in a week.  Honestly, some of them I appreciate.  Some are inspiring.  Some are insipid.  Some are just wrong, and make us all look really, really dumb.  If that offends my Christian friends, I’ll borrow a page from a mom that I know and say this, just as she does when talking to all her kids at the same time:  I’m telling this to all of you.  If you feel that it applies to you, then take it to heart.  If you feel that it doesn’t, then assume that I’m not talking to you.

reason for the season

Just so we’re perfectly clear, this is not on the good side of Christiany posts.

I’m going to come at this from a couple of angles:  First, why you really shouldn’t ever say this or post it.  Second, how it came to be, and why it’s less stupid than I make it out to be in the first part.  Confused yet?  Read on.

Jesus is not the reason for the season.  He’s not.  Take a deep breath.  The athiests are right.  The festive season around this time of year was around long before Jesus.  It spans cultures, not in terms of people trying to steal the Christ from your Christmas, but in terms of completely unrelated religious beliefs.  Why would all these other religions–the pagans, the mystics, the tribal spiritists, whatever–want to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, you ask?  Because it’s not.  And most of you know that.  It’s one of the worst kept secrets in Christendom, and one of the dumbest myths that we perpetuate to our children.  Best guess, Jesus was born in September.  Beyond that, even if he was born on December 25th, why would people have been celebrating that before the nativity came to pass?

I know people that have had a “house of cards” faith (refer to the earlier “mom phrase”).  They’re not Christians any more.  What I mean by “house of cards,” is that as they came up in the church, people fed them certainties.  They were taught things, perpetuated in the church, that sounded good but had little theological or historical basis.  Like Jesus’ birthday.  They then went out into the “real world,” and cards started getting flicked.  Things like the Christmas story were called into question as people said to them, “did you know that Christmas is actually the pagan festival of Saturnalia?” and they responded “NO!  JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!”

They had two choices: bury their head in the sand or find out the truth – that people celebrated this time of year because in agrarian cultures, this was downtime.  We approach the winter solstice.  The shortest day of the year.  December 21st.  Lacking a good and accurate calendar, the way people knew it had come and gone was that the day started to get longer.  YAY!!  THE RETURN OF THE SUN!  We’ve turned the corner!  Spring is coming!  And how easy it is to ascribe religious significance to it when you believe the seasons and all aspects of nature are governed by gods.  The god of warmth and sun has triumphed again over the god of cold and night!

And what happens to those rational Christians when that card gets removed from the house?  What else might be wrong?  … How can I give the benefit of the doubt to the unproven, when the things I was taught were certain are OBVIOUSLY wrong?  … How can a rational faith teach this?? …  We would have been celebrating this season if Jesus had never been born.

And they walk away.

And I have a hard time blaming them.

I blame the sand-head-repeaters, because there is a good reason for it. Just because a teaching has gotten twisted, doesn’t mean that it didn’t start as rational.

You see, the early Christians didn’t have any illusions about this season being their idea.  If they were Jewish, they grew up with Hanukkah (what Jesus would have celebrated, by the way); if they were Hellenistic gentiles, they would most likely have been lighting up bonfires against the dark, bringing in evergreen boughs against the winter, giving each other gifts (yeah. Long before St. Nick.  Once again, get over it), upsetting social norms, having all sorts of sex, and watching for the victory of the Sun.

Then they decided not to celebrate those things.  They thought, hey, what a perfect metaphor for the the coming of the messiah!  They figured that the coming of the small new light when everything seemed the darkest was a brilliant parallel for the Light of the World coming as a baby into a spiritually dark world.  They said that the rest of the world could celebrate what they wanted to, but they were going to take that time and remember that when all seems the darkest and the quietest, and it seems like the winter will never end, God is moving and is coming to save.

The season was the reason that they celebrated Jesus.

I feel that I need to be clear again: I believe that the nativity is a historical event, just not as it tends to be portrayed by Christians today.  We ignore the Bible for a more picturesque, easy to tell story.  Sometimes I’m kind of okay with that… there are Wise Men in our nativity creche at the same time as the shepherds*.  But let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about why the story of Jesus’ birth and the events of the years surrounding it are celebrated at the Christ Mass just past winter solstice–the way the story comes together is too powerful to ignore.  Let’s talk about what an awesome point of dialogue this metaphor is for relating our faith to the world!  Let’s not dumb stuff down for our kids in such a way that, when they become old enough to process the metaphor, it sounds like a lie.  Let’s not attack the people around us, directly or with passive-aggressive Facebook posts, for celebrating a season that we’ve co-opted for our own.  They can take the Christ out of Christmas… we put it in.  Without Christ, it’s just a “mass” – a feast, and they were doing that long before us.

Above all, let’s not let the trite overcome the profound.   Let’s not build straw men that make our faith look ridiculous.  As the world looks toward the hope of the new year, let’s be able to offer the reason for the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

 

 

*They weren’t.  GASP! *house of cards falling*

Are You Aware?


Every so often there is a thing or a thought or something hilarious that makes me wonder if I might be a terrible person.  I mean, the things I find funny are probably proof enough that I’m less than entirely sanctified.  In case you haven’t noticed the sea of pink we’re floating in right now (or you’re reading this in the archives… HI FUTURE PERSON!!), October is breast cancer awareness month.  Here’s where the terrible person part comes in: Is there really anyone left that isn’t aware of breast cancer?  I know that I’m too cynical sometimes, but it seems like by now there’s not anyone left that would be like, “Breast cancer?  What’s that?  Is that a kind of candy?  It sounds delicious!”

We know breast cancer is terrible.  For the vast majority of people, we either know someone that has had breast cancer or know someone that has been affected by it.  I think the awareness ship has sailed.   Call it Support Month, or Fundraising Month, or More Important Than Other Kinds of Cancer Month, but let’s not fuzz this – we do not need an Awareness Month for breast cancer.   To be perfectly honest I’ve got a little bit of bitterness when I see the pink ribbon everywhere.  The reason is that October is “awareness month” for a host of other things that no one talks about – things that awareness really does need to be raised for. The pink ribbon has wound through my life, but nearer to my heart is the pink and blue.  When I’m talking about the questionable nature of pink awareness ribbons, I mean that if you see a pink ribbon, you know what it’s for.  That means it’s done its job.  Time to move on.  Are you aware of the pink and blue?  You don’t see them around much.  A number of issues fall under their purview, but for October they symbolise pregnancy and infant loss.  Are you aware of that?  Do you actually know the number of people in your life who have had their hearts hammered by a miscarriage?  Do you know the extent of the damage it does to relationships?  Do you know how it can cause a woman to mistrust or hate her own body?  Are you aware that it’s a BIG FREAKING DEAL?

Today, October 15th, as I’m writing this, is the specific day held out for remembering those children whose lives were far too short, many of them never seeing the light of day or having the opportunity to breathe air before passing on.  I’m aware that in the eyes of many people, they weren’t really people, or not even considered “life” to lose their lives.  Most often, I just have to ragequit conversations with them, because nothing I say is going to make them understand that a miscarriage is more than just a loss of hope, or a shift in plans, but losing a child who was part of our life for way, way too short a time.  Six times we’ve had early miscarriages, my wife and I.  One of those times I got to hold my… I don’t even know how to date it… 7 weeks from conception daughter in my hands and look into her eyes and touch her tiny, tiny fingers.  When I see people posting or saying or picketing to say that she didn’t matter, it makes me want to throw things at them.  Or throw them at things.  But this was never intended to be a pro-life-centric post, so I’m going to take a deep breath and move on.

I don’t want to belittle the pain of those who have lost children to SIDS or post-birth complications, but I’m not going to be talking about them.  There are two reasons for this: the first is that I’ve never experienced that, and as much as it pisses me off when people spout off about things they don’t understand, I don’t want to be hypocritical.  The second is that it seems from the outside that people in general have a better understanding of the grief of that loss.  It’s real to them.  They don’t really understand the fullness of the impact of it, but neither do I, and there’s a lot of posts today from people that do and I’ll leave it to them to explain it.  It’s loud.

Miscarriage is quiet.

There is often shame associated with it.  Self doubt and recrimination follow along.  It strikes at the core of a person’s self-esteem.  The inability to form and/or carry a child to term strikes at the core of gender identity and personhood.  That’s one of the many reasons that people don’t talk about it.  We don’t talk about the things that shame us.  We shove them into dark corners to fester, then pull them out late at night and pick at them, alone.  In the midst of this, we feel like maybe we shouldn’t feel that way.  We don’t talk to people about it for fear that they’ll judge our feelings as much as the circumstances.  Like it shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is.

With miscarriage, we’re afraid they won’t understand.  They’ll offer pointless platitudes like “you’re still young,” or “at least you weren’t that far along,” as if that’s a great big wondrous silver lining and we’ll go “yeah, I never considered that.  I shouldn’t be sad about what I went through because it could have been worse.  At least I don’t have breast cancer.”

The fact is that people don’t understand.  It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been there.  It’s hard to see that the silence of the many, many women – couples – that have miscarried, isn’t because it’s too small to mention, but because it’s far too big.  We don’t talk about it.  We suffer alone, and our suffering is made worse by the feeling that we are alone in it.  I look across my facebook feed today, though, and I’m not alone.  I see that the things my wife has shared from her experience are giving voice to many women that feel the same but don’t have the words to express.  I’m so proud of her.  I’m proud of her strength, while I watch her still carrying the pain, sometimes walking along the edge of breaking from the loss of JJ, Anastasios, Sayuri, Aliento, Tacey, and Nima.  It’s a big deal.  We don’t just grieve the loss of a future, we grieve the loss of people – children that were part of both of us.

Be aware of that.

Jesus Vs. Religion


Hi!

It’s been a long time.  Lots of stuff going on.  Seems like the kind of stuff people would blog about.  I’m not a good blogger, though… I don’t have deep roots in liveJournal.  This isn’t a chronicle of my life, but a place to ponder the questions and formulate answers.  Oh, one thing that should be mentioned (while I’m talking about me, and before I get to the point), is that a few months ago I started a new job as the Assistant Pastor (focusing on Worship and Youth Ministry) at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church.  Therefore, it should be said that nothing I write here, have written in the past, or will write in the future necessarily represents the views of that or any other church.  So don’t get mad at them.

But here it is… there’s this thing that’s been floating the net.  It’s VIRAL (that’s a good thing, now).  This guy named Jefferson Bethke posted a poetry slam about why Jesus and Religion are opposed… why he likes one and hates the other.  Some people love it.  Some people hate it.  Some people are facepalming because they don’t see him ACTUALLY drawing a dichotomy between Jesus and Religion.  The vast majority of people are completely indifferent, but no one on either pole believes that.

If you haven’t seen it yet, this is it:

Because of the people I have relationships with, I can’t get away from it.  Or the responses to it.  My various feeds are inundated with links to that video, or blogs supporting the video, or blogs disputing the video, or blogs and videos deriding the video.  Lots of opinions; many of them insightful, many of them insipid.  Some of them get hot at Bethke for bashing the church.  Some of them get hot at Bethke for pushing Jesus.  A couple of responses caught my eye and got passed along on my profile.  One was from the Gospel Coalition [a gang of Biblical superheroes that seek to save the world in the name of orthodoxy as they know it… as you might guess, I find myself on opposite sides of many lines from them, but they had this one pretty together], and a video that a friend of mine found and posted showing a Roman Catholic (not catholic; that means everybody, but that’s not a rant for right now).

This is that video:

Sooooooo…. if you’re still with me, that probably means you haven’t watched the stuff here or read the link.  That takes too long.  Anyway, the surprise is that everything above was just preamble anyway; getting you up to speed for this post.

I’ve got a friend that messaged me shortly after I posted the “Catholic Response,” asking me: “Aaron – you agree with the Catholic video? “without the catholic church”? You are wiser than me (seriously) so what’s with the catholic bragging? YOur thoughts?”

That’s humbling.  Thanks, man.  You’re a more humble, gifted, motivated, and determined person than I am.

I’ve got my share of beefs with the Romans, but most of the really bang-your-head-against-the-wall stuff – the history that gets the church slammed – has been addressed in the last half century or so.  Most people that bash it are more fashionable than in the know.  I think that video response had a lot of good points, and the GC one posted above as well.  Within the Church, so much of what we argue about comes down to semantics.  Don’t get me wrong, semantics are important.  It’s about saying what we actually mean to say, and providing sharp clarity to our positions.  We need to be careful about the words we use, because words are heavy, and putting them in the wrong place can crush an argument.  In this case, the argument is framed as being Jesus vs. Religion.  The problem is that what Bethke calls religion isn’t the definition of religion.  Now people coming to the defence of religion as they understand it are actually talking about something different than he was.  A lot of people are just saying the same thing with different words.  That annoys me.

Here’s a couple of Bible nuggets for you:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

In the first, Jesus clearly tells the “religious people” [that Bethke said Jesus hated, he might be right about that] that they should be continuing their religious practices while ALSO acting out the prescriptions of their faith in their relationships.  Micah 6:8 says that what God required of his people was to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.  That humble walk is the spiritual discipline that some call “religion”.  I’m bad at it, but that’s not the point.  The point is that it’s really easy to elevate one over the other, the religion and the relationship, because different people connect to it in different ways – finding one easier than the other – but Jesus held them both in high esteem.  The problem he had was when people thought that putting on a façade of obedience to God, while ignoring so many of the ways that he commanded [read: made rules about] his people to relate to the rest of the world, was somehow okay.  In the second quote, an early leader in the church clarifies a definition of religion for Christians.  He points out that caring for people IS religion.

So in response to Bethke’s initial question, “I’d say you’re wrong.  He specifically said that he didn’t come to abolish the law.  Jesus didn’t come to abolish religion, but to perfect it.”

I think my friend’s question had more to do with the laundry list of accomplishments that the video guy [he’s not famous enough to go find his name] credits to the Roman Catholic church, though.  In a nutshell, some of it is right on.  Some of it he’s crediting to the Roman Catholic church, but really should be “Christianity in general.” Some of it is pure ass-smoke.  Without Catholics say goodbye to hospitals?  That’s just dumb.  Public education?  Hardly an invention of the Catholic church.  I think that what he’s trying to say, is that in the Western world, the Church has funded and supported these things to some extent throughout it’s history.

The flipside is that to some extent throughout it’s history, it hasn’t.

It’s really easy to get negative about the Church, about religion in general.  We get known for our failures more than our successes; that’s a well-established fact.  Another way of putting it was credited to an FBI official: “Our failures are public, but our successes are private.”

We feel bad about the crusades, about the inquisition, about the arguing, hypocrisy, financial and sexual abuse that the Church has rightly been charged with through it’s history.  It’s worth noting, though, that the corrections to these things tend to come from the passionate religious within the Church, not from without.  Still, ask an avowed athiest what he thinks of Christianity, this is what comes to mind.  Catholic Dude’s right, though.  The Church is the greatest force for Good in human history.  It’s done more to feed the hungry, shelter the poor, and embrace the wounded, than any organization that anyone can name.  Period.  Yeah, there’s been bad, but to say that the bad has outweighed the good is to be ignorant of history, as well as what the Church is doing around the world right now.

The Church was called the Bride of Christ.  How do you think Jesus feels when people talk smack about her?  They’re gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do, bro.

Here’s the thing, though: Bethke never insults the Church intentionally.  In fact, he says he believes in sin, loves the Church, and loves the Bible.  What are people getting upset about, then?  That’s religion.

Bent and Broken and Light


I’m not dead.  I just thought I should lead with that, because people who see that I haven’t posted in ages might have assumed that I was.  I’m not.  I’d love to say that I had a good and wonderful reason for not posting, but I don’t.  I just haven’t done it.  I’d like to say that it’s because I’ve been working on my book, but that’s not really true either, because the book is coming really slowly.  It’s coming though.  I thought that I’d share a little excerpt from the chapter I’m working on, tentatively called Bent and Broken and Light.

….

When I was little, my parents took me to the Ice Capades.  It was cool.  Don’t laugh.  The Ice Capades were very cool back then.  It wasn’t so much figure skating as cartoon characters coming to life and trying to avoid skating over their own costumes.  I honestly can’t remember what sort of Ice Capades they were… Disney or Hanna-Barbara or some sort of generic off-brand, but I remember that there was a big dog, and I enjoyed it.

It was interesting to see what figure skaters do when they don’t want to try to be in the Olympics anymore.  I had always wondered about it, and now I knew.  They dressed up like giant dogs and slid around the ice for the amusement of 5-year olds, wondering where their lives went, and wondering if it’s too late to learn math.  I now assume that was followed by heavy drinking, but I’ve never really looked further into it.

I think I have trouble remembering the details about it, because the whole experience was overshadowed by my father coming back from the concession stand with the BEST TOY EVER.  It was a tube.  A glorious tube.  This little tube was special, because out of one end sprung a myriad of tiny little things.  They were like tiny pieces of fishing line, only stiffer.  And when you turned it on, the tips of these filaments glowed with all the colours of the rainbow.  It was strange and beautiful.  The length of them seemed a semi-opaque white, but where they stopped was a prismatic explosion.  You could wave it around and the things would bend and waft and the colours would shift and change like magic.  My parents likely regretted the decision, since I spent far more of the rest of the evening waving around this $5 toy than watching the ice show they’d paid so much for.

As cool as it was to wave this toy around in the dimly lit recesses of the arena, it was equally disappointing when I pulled it out the next day in our living room.  The colours that had seemed so vibrant the night before were muted and dull.  There barely seemed to be a difference between on and off, between the line and the light.  In the middle of that brightly lit area, my glorious toy became mundane.  I trailed it around with me for most of the day, holding on to those moments of remembered amazement.  It was when I went down to the basement to watch some cartoons that it started to come to life again.  In that darker environment, it began to shine.  I had it figured out!  For the next couple of days, the downstairs bathroom became one of my favourite places, because it was one of the very few places in our home that, not having a window, could become pitch black.  In that absolute darkness, this little toy became one of the most beautiful things I could imagine.

As all toys do, it got used less and less as time went on, moving slowly down through the strata of my toy chest.  Newer, fresher toys came.  Birthdays and Christmases and visits from family gave me new pieces of shiny to focus my attention on.  When it came time to do a clean-out, and take stock of the old toys, the wand was near the bottom.  We pulled it out, and many of the filaments had broken off, or become bent, twisted, and kinked.  Amazingly enough, the batteries still worked.  When I switched it on, there in the depths of my shadowed closet, I was awed again.  Every break, every bend, every kink was a new point of rainbow light, sometimes two or three in one strand.  It was only at those places, where the line was cut or damaged, that the light that flowed through it became visible, even beautiful.

….

There’s two things that I’m getting at here.  The first is that light is only relevant in relation to darkness.  It’s the contrast that makes the light needful and magnificent.  A light turned on while there is sun streaming through the windows is irrelevant.  A light turned on in the middle of a dark night is blinding, and then a blessing.  So it is with us.

The second is that the light that’s inside us shows most beautifully in the areas our lives that are open to the air, that we allow what’s in us to escape freely.  The areas that we’re weak, or messed up, or hurting, those are the things that are most radiant.

Anyway, I’m done for now.  I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m not dead, just lazy.

Writing at Gunpoint


Sometimes I hate writing.  Well, it’s not so much that I hate writing as I hate feeling the obligation to write.  I enjoy writing.  I love the feeling of words and thoughts and proto-emotions in my mind flowing out onto whatever media I’m recording them on and having them sit in front of my eyes waiting for their turn in the spotlight.  I love the idea that the words I commit to electronic paper might be read by someone else… just the right person at just the right time, tweaking them just the right way that a  glimmer of understanding is shared.  So I’ve got this blog.  And I’m working on this book.  But today, and maybe just for today… but it was yesterday too… they’re bringing me more guilt than anything else.

A big part of why I’m writing this post now is because I haven’t written one in weeks.  It’s not that I have something particularly special, insightful, or even interesting to say, it’s just that I have a blog, and blogs need to be written in.  Seriously.  I feel lame because I write about two posts a month.  REAL bloggers write every week… or several times a week… or every day… I’m never going to develop a following if I don’t keep churning out material.  Why does that matter to me?  I don’t know, but it does.  So I write.

But even as I’m writing this post, I’m feeling like I should be working on my book.  I’ve got like a chapter done.   And some outlining and rough work, but as far as stuff being actually drafted, I’ve got a chapter done.  I’ve discovered that sitting down and writing for content, with a message and a purpose, is far more difficult than spewing my thoughts out on the interwebs.  I’m way off pace.  When I started, I was incredibly excited.  Now I just feel like I’m failing again.  It’s another one of those things that starts good and becomes labourious.  Another reason to doubt my abilities and subject myself to introspective scorn for my lack of focus.  Another point on the busy side of the ledger that counts my abilities against the areas in which I’m found wanting.  I mean, right now I’m looking at the handy-dandy word count down at the bottom of the wordpress editor and thinking about how much more work it’s going to be to get the post up to a respectable length and how little of value I have to say. I’m actually debating stringing together a bunch of random words, just so I can see the number increase.

The thing is, no one is forcing me to do this.  No one has been complaining that I’m not posting enough.  No one is getting on me about my lack of progress on my book.  No one is hovering over me telling me that I’m worthless if I’m not producing.  I can do that all by myself.  [Here’s where I broaden this out in an attempt to be relevant] We all do.  Well, most of us.  I think.  So it seems.  Somewhere along the line, our joy is stolen.  Our love becomes obligation.  Our hobby becomes pressure.  Like we need more pressure.  We judge ourselves by standards no one has set for us, and when failing against them, we project that failure into the way we think other people see us.  We feel like we’re expected to do something, so we do it.  We don’t want to let people down, whether they actually care or not.

That’s enough we.  Back to me.  I’m working on something right now and you’re just going to have bear with me.  It’s not just feeling this obligation to the judgment of others that lays on the pressure, I really do want to do this.  Why is it so bloody hard to do something I want to do?  Maybe it’s because staring at a blank screen makes me feel stupid.  Gawking at an unfinished sentence leaves me feeling useless.  Keeping a train of thought going can sometimes be like… whatever.

I’m unemployed.  Right now, at this time in my life, this is my best opportunity to write.  I’m simultaneously terrified that I’m going to get a job offer before I’m finished the book, never picking it up again, and that I’m never going to get a job, causing me to lose my house and starve with my family on the street and not have a laptop to finish my book on.

I feel like I have something worthwhile to say.  I’ve had people tell me they enjoy my writing.  Still, when I look at the sheer scale of the task, and the monumental arrogance it takes to write a book that says people are living their lives wrong, it’s more than daunting.  I start thinking less about what needs to be said and more about filling pages.  I don’t want to write filler.  No one wants to read filler.  No one wants to eat filler.  That doesn’t have anything to do with anything, I’m just saying… although I do fear that once I finish my book people will be more likely to eat it than read it, let alone buy it… whatever (again).

It’s the pressure that takes the joy out of it.  That takes the joy out of so many things.  In this, right now, I’ve got nearly 900 words that aren’t in my book.  That’s about 3 pages that I’m sitting here trying to decide if I’ve wasted.  I’ve taken time that I feel like I should have been working to blog.  I guess there’s still some sense of accomplishment in that.  At least I wasn’t spending the time not enjoying watching TV because I felt like I should be writing…

I’m going to find the joy in words again.  I’m going to sit down and write.  I’m going to say things that are profound and entertaining.  I’m going to believe I can do this, because if I don’t believe it, then I know I’m not going to do it.  I’m going to do the guilty TV thing.  Or the guilty computer game thing.  Or the guilty reading thing.  I want to be able to live my life without feeling like I should have been doing something different.  I’m going to pray that God gives me the message.  I’m going to pray that he unlocks my mind so that things can pour out onto the page that are worth reading…  that I can feel good about writing…  that will make people smile… that will make me feel useful.  I will not give up just because it doesn’t feel fun anymore, but I’ll seek to push through to the place that I started – the place where thoughts have meter and melody and putting them to paper is making music.  Because that’s mad cool.