Saturday, September 24, 2011

Finding Proper and Appropriate Labels

I'm a resident of Wilmore, Kentucky. What does that make me?


Liked that joke, but had to cut it from something else I was writing. So I put it here. Hope you don't mind.

Why I Don't Work at a Church, Part Two

Take a moment and catch up on the backstory here.

When we left Cincinnati and moved to Lexington/Wilmore, I didn't have a job. It terrified me. I'd put my resume in with all of the local temp agencies, hoping to find some technical writing work (falling back on the Las Vegas skillset). Two days after we got here, I got a call saying there was a local business needing a short-term receptionist who could also do some technical writing. No chance of long-term placement, no benefits, lousy pay, just an interview on Friday if I wanted it.

Receptionist? Really? This is what you have for me, God?

So I went to the interview and got it. I worked hard there for a month. And at the end of the month, when the real receptionist (office manager, actually) came back, I was offered a permanent role with the company. The people were good, I liked the work, and I had no other offers. Not a hard choice: I took the job.

But taking the job meant I was doing something I figured I'd never do again: working outside the local church. That was harder than I expected, for a couple of reasons. The first is what I explained in Part One: two men I respect had judged me unfit to work in paid, vocational, full-time ministry with their particular local body. That was a kick in the teeth.

The second, though, was something I'd never really admitted to myself, or even fully realized. I drew a tremendous amount of value from my work as a pastor. Not the paid gig I'd enjoyed for five years, necessarily, but the actual pastoral role I've had for the past decade and a half. "I'm a valuable person because I do useful things for God!"

If you'd asked me flat-out, I'd have denied it and believed I was telling the truth. I know my value comes from my identity as God's child, not from what I can produce! I'm not a utilitarian! I read Search for Significance when I was sixteen!

I might get it intellectually, but in my gut it's so easy to believe that my worth as a person comes from my accomplishments, my relationships, my successes. It's a lie from the pit of Hell, and I do not exaggerate.

Let's sidebar from my therapy session for a moment, and let me get preachy.


You have intrinsic value, and it has nothing to do with your accomplishments. Or, for that matter, your failures.

Your virtues do not make you more valuable. Your vices do not make you less so.

Getting a better job, making more money, finding "the one," losing your job, going broke, losing "the one"... these things are irrelevant to your worth.

You are valuable because you are God's child. Doing well at life may make your Father proud, but it will not make him love you more or value you more. And the value he places on you is the only one that matters. Whose appraisal do you trust more than his?


Somehow, in my time "working for God," I'd forgotten how to live this way. And I'm convinced that this lesson is the primary one God has in mind for me to learn before he invites me back in the game. I'm not working at a church just because I blew two interviews, but also for my own protection. Until I get my worth from the right place, doing good will be bad for my soul.

So it's something I'm working hard to learn. Not that I've already attained this, but it's a start. We'll be here two more years at a minimum, and only in the past few weeks have I really started accepting that this might be the plan for the whole time. However long it takes to learn the lesson, I guess.

Only way to find out is to walk it out.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Public Service Announcement: Forty What?

Wow. Fascinating what a simple link from Rachel will do to your Analytics numbers.

'Monkey wide eyes new version brown' photo (c) 2009, Jemima Gibbons - license:

For those that asked, here's the reason for the blog title:

You can also get there by clicking "Shakespeare It Ain't" in the blog title.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ignoring the Troll

It pains me to watch so many respectable Christians rushing to refute Pat Robertson's latest idiocy.

For those unaware, Pat rebuked a guy who's been dating while his wife is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's, saying that the guy should divorce her instead.


'Trolls' photo (c) 2011, Cali4beach - license:

So Christian leaders and thinkers, in a rush to show that Pat doesn't speak for Christians, have been writing serious rebuttals of Pat's comments. It's enough to make a (young) grown man weep.

Robertson's been saying ridiculous things for decades. It's all he does. There's a word we use on the internet for people who say ridiculously hurtful things just to get a rise out of other people... we call that person a troll.

The thing about a troll is this: it doesn't matter how good your rebuttal is, the troll won't hear it. They're just excited your talking to/about them. And the fact that you're even having a dialogue with them elevates their status in the eyes of an outside observer. A thorough and well-thought out response doesn't diminish their credibility, it implies that their ramblings are worthy of a thorough and well-thought out response.

The act of dialogue is, at its heart, an affirmation. Trolls don't need to be affirmed, they need to be starved of attention until they learn to behave like a grown-up.

I was raised in a pretty conservative Christian environment, and I've never met anyone who thought Pat was even close to representative of Christianity. So why are we so concerned to point out that "Pat Robertson Doesn't Speak For Me?" Why can he still push our buttons? The guy will meet his Maker soon enough, and he probably won't get straightened out until he does. What do you think your blog post, Facebook status, letter to the editor, or twitter comment is going to accomplish, other than keeping his name in circulation?

If you're a Christian and someone asks you about Pat, just shake your head and say "I'm sorry you had to hear that." And then have a conversation about something that matters or go do something worthwhile. Naming He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named just gives him power. Ignore him and he'll go away.

Or he'll just be ignored, which is just as good.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Importance of Being "Evangelical"

Tolerably early in life I discovered that one of the unpardonable sins, in the eyes of most people, is for a man to go about unlabeled. The world regards such a person as the police do an unmuzzled dog.
-- Thomas Henry Huxley

I grew up a part of the cleverly-named East 91st Street Christian Church. It was, as you might have guessed, located on East 91st Street in Indianapolis, Indiana. And it was called "Christian Church" because that was the only label that those in its spiritual tradition would accept.

I remember many occasions where I was asked "What kind of Christian are you?" My stock answer was "I try to be a good one." "But are you Baptist? Methodist? Presbyterian? Catholic?"

Nope. Simply "Christian."

It was fascinating to realize at a young age how much labels mattered to the people around me. I didn't learn until I got to college that I was an "Armenian." It wasn't long after that before I learned I was an "Egalitarian." (Side note: in the spirit of calling things what they are, can't we change "complementarian to "patriarchal" and "egalitarian" to "complementarian?" There's a benefit of naming your side first.)

As time went on, I learned more labels for myself, mostly from people who disagreed with me. But it wasn't until grad school, while taking a church history class, that I discovered I was an Evangelical. I kid you not, I went through three years of Bryan College and came out without realizing that "Evangelical" could be a spiritual heritage in addition to a voting record. People would say "We Evangelicals believe" and I'd zone out since it didn't pertain to me.

So Rachel, one of my favorite current writers, wrote a fantastic piece today called "Journeys of a Religious Misfit." If you're not reading Rachel, start now.

I've been reading her blog since Day 1, and one of her ongoing frustrations has been one I see many of my friends wrestling with: the label "Evangelical." Does it help us or hurt us? Should we further split the "Evangelical" label into smaller, more accurate ones? The whole discussion makes me nauseous. I wrote about it several months ago but failed to save my work.

The one label I'll allow myself these days, if somebody's really trying hard to pin me down, is this: "Well, I currently attend a Vineyard church, but I'm really a crypto-Campbellite." A what the what? "Campbellite," after Thomas Campbell, who wrote one of the most important religious documents in American history: The Declaration and Address.

He strongly encouraged his readers to abstain from all other names besides "Christian," because, as he said:

division among the Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself. It is antiscriptural, as being strictly prohibited by his sovereign authority; a direct violation of his express command. It is antinatural, as it excites Christians to contemn, to hate, and oppose one another, who are bound by the highest and most endearing obligations to love each other as brethren, even as Christ has loved them. In a word, it is productive of confusion and of every evil work.

Here's the thing. I'm a Christian. So's John Piper (with whom I don't always agree). So's Rob Bell (see above). So's the Pope (again). So's Tim LaHaye, or the CBMW, or the Sojourners, or anybody else with whom I frequently disagree. It doesn't matter. These people are still Christians just like me. Or, perhaps more accurately, each one is "a wretch like me."

Today Rachel wrote:
At lunch I confessed to one of the monks, Brother Brenden, “I know it doesn’t work this way, but I wish I could take the pieces I love from each tradition—Catholic, Orthodox, Mennonite, Methodist, Evangelical, Anglican—and cobble them together into a home church.” He smiled sympathetically, but in a way that said, “Yeah,it doesn’t work that way.”

Why not? What's stopping us? I respect Brother Brendan's position and find it almost everywhere, but I beg to differ. There's a word for someone who's a Catholic Orthodox Mennonnite Methodist Evangelical Anglican: