Why you gotta be so mean?

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

Anywho…

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.

Remembering

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Coffe cup with spoon

My father-in-law would always drink coffee from a cup with a spoon in it. It would make his wife crazy because they never seemed to find their way back to the kitchen. All around the house, there were spoons.

Four years ago, today, he died. On these anniversaries, I like to drink with a spoon in my cup. I never cream or sugar my coffee, but the act of using a spoon helps me to remember him.

He was, at times, an infuriating man. He was highly opinionated, had the smarts to back it up, and would not let go when he thought something was correct. At his funeral, I compared him to the Apostle Paul in my sermon.

But he was also generous. He bought us diapers when Uno was a baby and we couldn’t afford it. He helped move us from Kansas to Kentucky for seminary. He would drive two hours on Lady’s birthday to take her to lunch, just to drive back home again.

I miss him – everything about him.

So, today I drink coffee from a cup with a spoon in it because I don’t want to forget.

Influence

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Bunk Bed

30 years ago, this bunk bed was purchased for me. Today, as Lady and I put it up for Tres and Quatro, it occurred to me that this bed has been the most enduring piece of design in my life.

Straight lines, simple construction, letting the elements be what they are… Whether through recreation or reaction, this bed and these ideas have influenced almost every design decision I have made for the last three decades.