PLGRM Magazine is evolving…

narthex header

It was almost a year ago when I sent my friend Rocky Supinger a text message that read: “I want to start a magazine with you.”

Because of your generosity through subscribing, writing for us, and spreading the word, that desire has become a reality. PLGRM Magazine has published two of it’s first four planned issues by featuring some incredible book excepts, interviews, essays and art helping us to explore the ideas behind what Diana Butler Bass calls the “New Spiritual Awakening.” It’s an exciting project. Indeed, as one subscriber has said, “There’s just nothing like it.”

One of the key ideas fueling the New Spiritual Awakening is that relationships are assuming a place of primacy. Our friends are become the center of our spiritual life. People are, once again, becoming the most important thing about the Christian Faith, as they should be.

PLGRM Magazine has already proven itself to be a capable and exciting forum for exploring the ideas of the New Spiritual Awakening. Now, we’d like to begin exploring the people behind it.

When I first meet other church folk I am certainly interested in hearing what they think about our faith, but I’m just as interested when I meet a pastor from Pittsburgh who geeks out on home brewing and wants to tell me all about it. I’m as inclined to listen to someone wax on about Process Theology as I am to listen to them share about their love of science-fiction. As deeply as they can go into the nooks and crannies of our shared life together, I know that there is a multitude of awesome in there that I know nothing about, but that informs everything they say, do, and believe.

I so badly want to discover those pieces of awesome.

PLGRM Magazine is evolving, and it will no longer simply be a place to think and write about the church. We want it to be a place where we focus on people who love the church and everything that appeals to them. Sort of a lifestyle mag for church geeks. You know, geeks like us?

Beginning February 15 we are going to begin publishing a regular digital edition, called The Narthex. The Narthex will publish four articles, twice a month, straight to your email inbox.

      Writing for The Narthex

The Christian blogosphere has a lot of great writing, and The Narthex does not seek to replace it. Rather, we want to supplement it as another creative outlet. Our writers will retain full rights to their work, and are free to publish their pieces to their own blogs and networks a month after they appear in this collection.

If you think this is the kind of place for you to stretch your wings as a writer, please send us a piece. We’re looking for 1000-1500 word long articles on whatever is of interest to you. No lie. If it matters to you, then it matters to us.

And we’re paying. Not much at first, but we’re paying.

      How’s It Gonna Work?

We’re beginning with a simple email newsletter, but we might evolve the format into something else. We’re not sure. We want to see if this thing flies.

We’re not doing another Kickstarter. We’re not going to raise any more money. We’re going to build this piece from the ground up by asking for subscriptions of $2 per month. Trust me, with the pieces we’ve got coming in, it’ll be worth it.

Our only cost is paying writers, and I’m committing enough to make sure we can publish 6 issues, three months of writing goodness. If we haven’t been able to cover the costs by then, we’ll shut it down. No harm, no foul.

PLGRM will still publish the final two issues we’ve promised. In fact, we’d love to treat PLGRM, in part, as an archive of The Narthex’s best pieces, and we’d love to include you in figuring out which of those qualify. But “going digital” in this way will allow us to make PLGRM an even more substantial publication, committing our energies to interviews, finding brand new long-form writing, and beautiful and inspiring art.

      Please Join Us

If you think this is the kind of thing you would love, head over to our subscription page and sign up. We’d love to have you.

Rend your heart, not your clothing

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

“…rend your heart and not your clothing…”

At the beginning of Lent, the prophet calls us to repentance. But it is of a particular kind. Joel makes it clear to us three different times in today’s scripture lesson that the evidence of change the Lord seeks is different than the normal practices of penance.

Typically, when confronted with having lived a life that ran counter to God’s intentions, the people would go to the Temple, fast, and pray in torn clothing, It was a public display, but in that day (as in this one) it was easy to allow the display to be nothing more. The movements to this play were something that could be performed without much investment. The prayers are there to be said, so say them. The food is there to be abstained from, so abstain from it. The clothes are there to be torn, so tear them. Don’t make a big deal out of it; it is not a big deal.

But God wants it to be a big deal. Joel quotes the Lord as desiring that the people return with their “whole hearts.” In the ancient Hebrew imagination, the heart was considered the seat of the intellect. To “rend your hearts” is to change your mind. It is the same instruction that Peter gives to the crowd after his sermon in Acts. “Change you minds,” he says. “Metanoia. Rend your hearts.”

As pastors, we are guilty of “rending our clothing” all the time. When asked how we plan to take care of ourselves in the stress of the job, we rattle off pithy little truisms like “take a walk,” or “read.” We present these as Just The Right Thing, and people leave us alone. But as we continue to live a life in which we are stretched and stressed, overworked and under-cared for, taking a walk is not good enough. It is just one of several coping mechanisms, not a solution to the real issue: we have a wrong understanding of the work we have been called to do.

Edwin Friedman is right when he says that the best thing a person can bring to any situation is her own changed self. Now is no longer the time for you to rend your clothing. Now is the time for you to do the hard work of confronting the game you have been playing and begin changing your mind about the work of ministry. You can no longer do it all and expect a quick little walk in the woods to sustain you. The game has to change. You have to change.

How do you give into the game?

You Need To Know About This, 02/03/13

Bust a Move

I’ve professed my theo-man-crush of Tripp Hudgins before. His recent episode of Busted Stuff just made it worse.

I hang out with people who are twice my age all the time. I hang out with 90 year olds who know so much about Jesus. They make the rest of us emergenty, not religious, spiritual but not religious, “none” types look like we don’t know what the fuck we’re talking about.

Busted Stuff with Tripp Hudgins

A Portmanteau in the Storm

Carmen Faye Mathes suggests that the English language is just not adequate for the purposes of completing her dissertation. Here’s some words she’d like to have available:

Contrapunctual – adjective – 1. intentional belatedness with respect to poetic form; 2. my dissertation schedule with respect to my dissertation.

Hegemonkey – noun – 1. apish answer to ideology; 2. tree-dwelling mammal in a suit.

Insistenance – noun – 1. food in the fridge that calls me away from my computer multiple times per day; 2. large portions of cold, leftover pasta.


Gut Bomb

Jad Abumrad of RadioLab reminds us that going without a map is key to creative success.

Jad Abumrad: Why “Gut Churn” Is an Essential Part of the Creative Process

Quitters Always Win

You may think that your success has everything to do with your talent. You would be wrong.

In interviews we did with high achievers for a book, we expected to hear that talent, persistence, dedication and luck played crucial roles in their success. Surprisingly, however, self-awareness played an equally strong role.

The successful people we spoke with — in business, entertainment, sports and the arts — all had similar responses when faced with obstacles: they subjected themselves to fairly merciless self-examination that prompted reinvention of their goals and the methods by which they endeavored to achieve them.

Secret Ingredient for Success

Why you gotta be so mean?

I’ve got that ear-worm of a Talyor Swift song stuck in my head…


I’ve started researching what I hope becomes my next full length book. It’s based on the idea that the role of “pastor” can and should be thought of primarily as a “court jester.” I’m working with the title Jester/Pastor. We’ll see if it flies.

Part of what intrigues me about the Jester is the granting of the license. Jesters, also called “fools,” typically fell into one of two categories: the “natural fool” and the “licensed fool.”

Natural fools were those who’s very person amused others. From what I can glean in my limited research, these were people who had some sort of cognitive, communicative, or physical difference that set them apart from the typical population. A lack of awareness granted society permission to get a laugh at their expense.

On the other hand, there were Licensed Fools. These were performers who were trained, called, and granted permission to not only amused the court and the populace, but were also welcomed into a ruler’s inner circle. They often became an advisor of sorts. Licensed Fools were granted permission to say things that others might be thinking. Because of this freedom, Fools developed an ability to couch hard truths in humor, to soften the blow a bit, to allow those being critiqued to save a bit of face. Because of the trust engendered between a ruler and their fool, this was a delicate dance and the Fool needed to know the temperament of the ruler in order to be successful. Say too little and you’re not fulfilling your duty. Say too much and you’ve forgotten your place. And there were dire consequences for forgetting your place…

This reality is called the “Limit to the License,” and every Fool did well to remember it.

I want to suggest that pastors are like Licensed Fools. We have the privilege of being welcomed into people’s lives and we get to say things to them that others are not allowed to. But there is a limit to this license because we are not the ruler.

The limit to our license is found in the recognition that when people are on the spiritual path there are certain things they can hear and certain things they cannot. That is not their problem; a fish does not know it is in water. We must be very careful when we speak publicly. We might go too far. Like the Fool at court, we may amuse those watching, but if the Ruler cannot hear our critique then it is useless and could, potentially, be life/career threatening.

Recently, a prominent pastor has been offering what many believe to be a good and accurate critique of the Spiritual But Not Religious. In truth, I think I’m prone to agree with the theology and ecclesiology behind the argument, but I fear that this pastor has bumped up against the “Limit to the License.” In trying to offer a clarifying word, I believe that meanness has been the result. There are claims at humor, but it feels too much like when someone cuts you down and then cries, “KIDDING!” I’m not buying it. The damage has been done.

I am particularly sensitive to this because it is a tendency of mine as well. Ask anyone with whom I’ve ever argued and they will tell you that I can be a real asshole. I mean, seriously: a Class-A, #1 Asshole. I was trained as a writer and actor, was a state champion debater, raised in a religious world that prized apologetics, a personality that makes me think I’m the most original person on the planet, and have a lot of psychological baggage to work out. If you go toe to toe with me, you may win, but you’ll get beat up pretty badly. I can make you question your very sense of self worth. It’s ugly. But it’s not okay, and I’ve spent my adult life trying to reckon with it. The need especially became clear when I became a “Licensed Fool.”

So, fellow Fools, we have been called to embody something more honorable. We fail – Lord, we fail! – but we have to learn to admit it, make restitution if need be, and resolve to do it differently next time. We should live our lives in such a way that we are never asked, “Why you gotta be so mean?”

Lillian Daniel is making my job harder, and I wish she would stop.

I’m sure it will not be a stretch for you to believe me when I tell you that I was picked on a lot as a kid.

I grew up in a small town in Kansas and was a theatre geek. I wasn’t athletic. I was smart. I was musical. I loved Jesus. I wore ties to school. I was gawky and sensitive; overly prone to tears (that hasn’t gone away). I yearned to fit in and have friends, so I took a lot of risks to get people to like me. As such, I was very defensive when anyone would criticize my earnest attempts to figure out who I was.

In short: I was an easy target. It was easy for kids to make fun of me, and, for a while, it became a thing. Want to score points with your friends? Make fun of Landon. Need a bit of an ego boost? Make fun of Landon. Do you need to prove yourself as one of the cool kids? Make fun of Landon. I was the whipping boy, and I carried a lot of people to popularity on my back. Really, I should receive a medal.

I’m not trying to ask for your sympathy, but to offer my own experience as a way of saying: I’ve been the brunt of the public ridicule, and it’s awful. I never want to experience it again.

Which is why I can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that pastor and author Lillian Daniel seems to have made a decision to base her current writing and speaking career denigrating those who are variously called the “Spiritual but Not Religious” or the “Nones.”

Her most recent book, When “Spiritual but Not Religious” Is Not Enough: Seeing God in Surprising Places, Even the Church, has an appropriately engaging and descriptive title. But in all the press I see leading up to its publication, Rev. Daniel appears to have taken a page from the playbook of my hometown antagonists.

She tells the SBNRs to “Please stop boring me” and says that “any idiot can find God in a sunset.

I take her point, and I actually agree with her understanding of the Church, but a) she’s basically wrong about who these folks are, and b) well, she’s just being mean.

I believe Rev. Daniel makes some insightful and incisive points about the nature of being religious. She is an educated person who has contributed, in the course of her ministry, what many consider something of great value to our common life. She is accomplished, and well-respected, as far as I can tell. So why would she do this?

Does she truly believe that an SBNR/None is going to read her book? I would be surprised if she did. I doubt that those who are (in her words) “shunning faith” are going to be bothered to obtain a copy. And even if the marketing machine gets the book some press in the media, what does she expect the net result to be? That they will see the error of their ways and come running home to Mother Church? I think not.

I contend that she wrote this book for Church Folk. And, in so doing, she is giving a wink and a nod to those who Tripp Hudgins eloquently calls “religionists.” While ostensibly calling the bluff of the SBNRs/Nones, she is actually shaming the very people she is purporting to want to help.

And this is where my beef with Rev. Daniel truly lies: She is shaming the very people that would benefit from what the Church has to offer. It is one thing to preach this to your own people, whom you know and trust and who know and trust you. It is entirely another thing to go on a media spree of mean.

I admit that I am Religious but would really rather be Spiritual. And behavior such as what I am witnessing from Lillian Daniel is why. I have given my life to the Church, but understand why there are those who have not. How, now, am I supposed to reach them?

She says that she is sick of the New Atheists treating the craziest pieces of religion as if it were the whole. They should know better, she says. Can she not see that the same logic should apply to her? Can she not see that she is broad brushing the intentions and hopes of the SBNRs/Nones, and in a very poor “straw man-esque” manner?

I don’t know what her goal is with this book and speaking. I don’t know what she understands her job to be, in this regard. But I do. I know who it is I’m supposed to reach, and my job just got a lot harder because of this book.

Lillian Daniel is making my job harder, and I wish she would stop.