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.

“10 under 10” : Theologians to Watch in 2013

I am proud to present to you this list of 10 American theologians under age 10, who’s work is as diverse as it is inspiring. Each theologian submitted a piece of work for this compilation and answered a brief questionnaire about their process and influences.*

1) Eric, Age 7

Author of My Favorite Things

What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Eric Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? I was pretty young at the time, sitting on my mom’s lap, and I was just struck by the simplicity of the form, and how it called me to trust my voice to say what it was that I was seeing. It’s the diagnostic function that theologians too often forget to do. It’s important, you know?
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
In school, we were encouraged to reflect on the blessings in our lives. It’s crazy how much a person can overlook.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
I read a lot of 11 and 12 year olds and they’re all “Look at our big words and liberal use of adjectives” and I’m just turned off. I mean, I know it’s age appropriate and that they’re flexing their cognitive muscles and all, but the waters just get muddied if you over do it. “Good theology” needs to be simple. Not simplistic. No, that won’t do. Just simple. This is following Jesus we’re talking about. It’s not that hard.
What is your current project?
I’m working on a monograph right now inspired by a glass of spilt milk. It’s a theodicy. I’m pretty excited by it.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
I’ve been digging on Rachel Held Evans as of late. Her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood is a great example of cutting through all the doo-doo to find what’s important.

2) Sophie, Age 9

Author of The Princess
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
I’d have to say Make Way For Ducklings. I’m usually a “rhetoric girl,” but it was the theme that really got me on this one. It was the first time that I really remember thinking that the gender construction in our world is messed up. I mean, where the heck did Mr. Mallard go, and for that long?
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
It was my first attempt at a theological anthropology. I wanted to dissect the common aspirations of girls my age. I think I got pretty close.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
Vulnerability. I’m tired of these writers who write as if what we’re supposed to take away is that they’re awesome. I want to see where you’ve been broken and how God picked you up.
What is your current project?
The working title is Sugar and Spice: Towards a Pre-Teen Feminist Theology.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Carol Howard Merritt. Hands down. Her story is just so powerful.

3) Derrick, Age 10

Author of Why I want to be an Archeologist
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
The Missing Piece. I’m not sure you can say anything definitive about salvation and self-understanding if you’ve not read that book. This idea we have that we are somehow deficient, and need to spend our lives searching for that one piece that will make us whole is so destructive. Shel Silverstein did the world a great service.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
“Searching” is a theme in my life. Clarifying what our gifts and skills are is the first step to understanding who God has called and created us to be.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
I need it to do something new. Listen, we’ve all read Barth and Moltmann. Those guys are old hat. I want you to push a few boundaries. Make me see something I hadn’t before.
What is your current project?
I’m working on a lost treasure story. I’m thinking of calling it Seek and Ye Shall Find. Do you think that’s too on the nose?
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
I gotta go with Tony Jones. A Better Atonement is the best thing I read last year.

4) Tanya, Age 4

Author of My Birthday Party
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Big Fat Hen. She had lots of friends. I have lots of friends.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
It is about my birthday party. My birthday is December 6. Molly was there and Jessica was there and Carrie was there and Stella was there and Hermoine was there and Ginny was there, but Robert was not there. Mommy said I could not have any boys there. Not til I’m 6. That’s this many [holds up fingers].
What makes good theology “good theology”?
I like to talk to my friends. They have good ideas.
What is your current project?
I’m making a play about Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Steve Knight. When he talks about friends it makes me happy.

5) Emilie, Age 8

Author of Stars in the Sky
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Have you read Snowy Day? There is a sense of wonder and play present in that work that I rarely find in other books of the same era. It really got me excited.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
Our art teacher asked us to make up the reason an artist made one of their pieces. I chose “Starry Night” by Van Gogh. There is such depth to it, and I wondered what it would be like to be a girl living in one of the houses and have that for my night sky. I suppose it was a meditation on our humanity in the vastness of creation.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
There is a boldness to good theology. It is not afraid to “go there,” you know? It’s willing to seek out answers, and be content to not find them.
What is your current project?
I’m writing a choose your own adventure story. It’s early yet, and I’m having trouble keeping the story lines straight. But it’ll get there.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Tripp Hudgins. I like his willingness to ask hard questions and engage with others on them. That takes some guts. I’d know. You should have heard what Danika said to me after reading my story. It was brutal, but I’m better for it.

6) Simon, Age 9

Author of I’m Awesome
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
The Velveteen Rabbit. At first I thought it was stupid and a waste of my time, but then, as it got going, I started to recognize what was going on. I couldn’t wait for the end to see if I was right. And I was! That was when I decided to stop wallowing. I was a depressed kid until I was about 7, but TVR showed me that once I’m loved none of that stuff matters. It was…well, it was awesome.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
When we started the school year, we had to write a short piece on “Something I want everyone to know about me.” I think the title speaks for itself.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
I hate reading stuff that dances around, afraid to step on people toes. Have you read any of the Old Testament prophets? Those guys did not care who they pissed off (Don’t tell my mom I said that, please.).
What’s your current project?
It’s a lenten devotional called God Loves You, So Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Nadia Bolz-Weber. I’m not sure she’d write about it like I do, but that is a person who understands what it means to be loved. Like seriously. Her confidence is epic because she is not afraid to just be the person God saved.

7) Claudia, Age 6

Author of Being Wet Is No Fun
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Toy Story. I like this film a lot. In a world of pretending, here are toys (people?) that do their level best to not pretend. I mean, yes, they’re pretending for Andy’s sake, but it’s actually an act of honesty on their part. They are being what Andy needs. When the time comes, they allow Andy to be fulfilled by their very presences. It’s a powerful metaphor for the Incarnation, if you think about it.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
I wanted to play with the idea of honesty, of really practicing naming something what it is. No games. No messing around. No big words. Just – plain and simple – what is going on.
The reviews have been very gratifying.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
Honesty. Truth telling.
What’s your current project?
I’m almost done with a study of the modern ethical impact of the prophetic utterances in the Old Testament. It’s tentatively titled My Brother Did It.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Andrew Root. His work on the Incarnation and relationality has altered my perception of myself.

8) Won, Age 7

Author of I Can See the World From Here
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Oh, The Places You’ll Go, by Suess. I know that’s everyone’s answer, but it was just so defining for those of us who care about how context affects theology. Where we’ve been sets us up to go amazing places.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
My family had just visited the top of Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO. Have you been there? It is unbelievable to peer out of those little windows and take stock of the layout of the city and the river. It really gives you a sense of being grounded in a certain locale. I wanted to capture that.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
You’ve gotta know where you stand in history. You need to know the relevant questions that people are asking. For instance, if I’m not aware that the hot topic on the playground is that cliques are forming and some kids are being left out, how can I even think I can speak into that?
What’s your current project?
A collection of essays exploring the imaginary friends of the great saints of the church.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Diana Butler Bass. While not a “theologian,” per se, you would be hard pressed to find someone who understands our current context better than she does.

9) Gillian, Age 3

Author of My Dolly: A picture book
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
Big Red Barn. The attention to the ordinary was refreshing. Then, when I found Good Night, Moon, it was like I was raptured.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
It’s a study of the things right in front of us that can show us God.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
It begins in the particular, then moves to the universal. I think some theologians forget that we are existential creatures, and their work suffers for it.
What’s you current project?
I’m actually taking some time off from writing to do some speaking. I’m doing a big retreat this Spring in my sister’s room, and have lined up the keynote slot during some play dates at a few friends’ houses. This summer I’m booked for an event at the city pool. I’m really excited about that one.
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Jan Edmiston. It’s almost like I’m reading a theological Jerry Seinfeld, in that she finds the truth in the most mundane of events. It’s powerful.

10) Jerrod, Age 10

Author of 10 Things I Like About Grass
What was the first piece that had an impact on your theology?
It was an oral family story called The Tale of Sassafras. The story itself is not actually that important to me. What gets me is the fact that this story had been passed down in my family for years. When I realized where it had come from and the ways it probably had been changed to reflect the time. I was hooked.
Tell us a bit about the piece included for this list.
It was one of my early essays. I think I wrote it when I was, like, 5.
What makes good theology “good theology”?
I think good theology is the daily act of trying to make sense of things.
What’s your current project?
It’s a paper I’m presenting for the annual conference of the American Elementary School of Religion, called “What will the faithful Christian response be when the Zombie Apocalypse occurs?”
Name one of your favorite theologians over 10.
Bruce Reyes-Chow. Talk about trying to make theological sense of things on a daily basis, huh?
*h/t to The American Reader for the inspiration.

What do you tell yourself everyday?

Adam Dachis at Lifehacker asks us, “What do you tell yourself everyday?”:

Someone posed an interesting question on Quora recently: what do you tell yourself everyday? That repeated phrase could be good, bad, or just plain weird, but it likely has a profound effect on your behavior.

Let’s take a look at some examples. Valeria Cooper said:

This won’t last forever.

Oliver Emberton said:

What’s the most important thing I can do now

Finally, Shreyas Panduranga says what I should probably say to myself more often:

This doesn’t really matter, move on.

I agree that this is a profound line of thinking.

When I was a kid, I was told that the Bible says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Turns out, that’s not anywhere in the Bible, but it’s true nonetheless. Garbage in; garbage out.

For the past few weeks, Lady has been telling the Advent story (a la Godly Play) on Sunday nights as we light each of our Advent candles. The first week, we told the story of the prophets (“people who were close to God, and God was close to them, that they knew what was most important”), then the Holy Family (“I bet they were the last people on the road to Bethlehem that night”), and last week the Shepherds (“and the angels told them, ‘Don’t be Afraid.'”) This week, we’ll introduce the Magi, the people who “followed a Wild Star” (yes, liturgical sticklers… we know).

We have been telling our kids this story because we think that it is important for how they interpret the Birth of Christ. We tell them, week after week, and day after day, that the Mystery of Christmas is important, and we need to take time to get ready for the “King that already came, and who is still coming.” We want it bored into their hearts and minds that Christmas was about God loving us, not Santa brining us entitlements or fearing the tattle-taling Elf on the Shelf.

What do you tell yourself everyday? What shapes the way you see the world?

Is it, “I don’t deserve this”? Is it, “No one could love someone like me”?

Is it, “I keep getting screwed” or “It’s hard.”?

I think there is a reason that the “A” of the theological alphabet is Grace. Grace is the first thing we should tell ourselves. We are God’s and there is nothing we can do about it. There is no “God’s way or the highway,” it’s just God’s easy way or God’s hard way. All ways are God’s ways. Which will we choose?

It’s is important to consider what we tell ourselves. It’s even more important remember what God’ tells us.

You are loved.

The time is now

In the midst of the past week’s tragedy I have pondered a simple question: “Why now?”

Why are we angry now? Why is now the time that we say “no more”? Why has our collective will, it seems, turned to rectifying the violence that our nation is suffering now?

Is it because they were children? Is it because we can’t bear the thought of explaining to our 6 year olds what happened?

Unspeakable violence and death have occurred before. Unspeakable violence and death occurs every day, everywhere.

Why now?

I am reminded of Jesus’ words in the fourth chapter of Luke, where he offers his “mission statement” of releasing captives, healing the sick, bringing Good News to the poor, of proclaiming the Year of the Lord’s Favor. And he ends saying, “Today, this has been fulfilled.”

Jubilee begins now.

The time is now.

If Jesus was about anything he was about showing us the true love of God, a love that is enacted by one person sacrificing for another. “No greater love…” God has gathered the Church to be the place where we willing sacrifice our own rights, desires, wants, and wishes so that others may live.

We have been called as the Body of Christ. Christ has no hands or feet in the world now, but ours. We have been called and created to continue the work God in Christ began in Palestine those many years ago.

Whatever the reason, the time is now.

I am insanely jealous of Rob Bell

Last week, I started reading the new pseudo-biography of Rob Bell, Rob Bell and the New American Christianity. Also, there is a multi-page profile on Rob in the New Yorker. Even almost a year after he left Mars Hill and published Love Wins, he’s still getting press just for being him.

I have long been an admirer and fan of Rob, and a student of his work. I have listened to countless sermons, digested every Nooma film and longer tour films, and have been to see him live. I borrowed the videos from his preaching conference, and have read his books. I have worked his exegetical insights into my own sermons and have led classes on his teachings.

And now, lo, these many years later, I feel comfortable admitting that I am insanely jealous of Rob Bell.

I’m not going to sugarcoat it: When I read or hear anything that Rob has to say, my first reactions are always “Why didn’t I think of that?” or “I’ve been saying that for years!” According to whatever personality profile you choose, I’m the kind of person who fears being “normal” (insert jokes here) and unoriginal. I want to offer the world a new way of seeing, a new way of thinking, which will result in new ways of being.

This jealousy has troubled me recently, so I’ve decided to employ Calvin’s “Three Uses of the Law” to see if I can get a handle on it.

Pedagogical:
The First Use of the Law is that the Law teaches us. My jealousy is tantamount to (if not outright) the Tenth commandment regarding coveting. So the First Use actually teaches me about coveting. If this Commandment was not in place, I would not know anything about it.

So, I get a little education about jealousy and coveting, and what it means, and how and why it is different than other strong emotions I have. This is different than a healthy competition. This is beyond debate. This borders on anger that someone else is having success in life. Simple enough.

Civil:
The Second Use is the one we normally think of: Don’t do it.

The Commandment is pretty clear that this is not behavior to be encouraged. All sorts of extrapolations can be teased out as to why: It’s bad for my health, my self-image, the resultant way that I will treat others, etc.

Regardless of the way I feel, this Use is about behavioral modification. Essentially, Divine Approved program to “Fake it until you make it.”

Didactic:
The Third Use is where the real genius lies in Calvin’s scheme. The Third Use is designed not to teach us the parameters and require adherence to the parameters, but to point us in the direction of the Christ-like response; the way in which we can allow ourselves to be more and more conformed to the image of Christ.

I’ve known what coveting and jealousy are for a long time. I get the psychology and emotional content surrounding them. I know not to do it and why. But when I get to the Third Use, I am always amazed at what it teaches me.

And what my insane jealousy of Rob Bell has taught me is that I admire the work he has done and want to do similar work, because I find that kind of creativity to be life giving for myself and others.

I know that I have had a good deal of success in my life. I know that I have no reason to complain or be petty in my jealousy. And so I am thankful for the Third Use because it has, once again, reminded me of the kind of work that I believe God is calling me to be a part of. My soul resonates with the work of Rob Bell because it is work that I see as valuable. I see my jealousy, interestingly, as a confirmation that seeking the answers to big, life giving questions is where I need to focus my time and energy. That’s a relief to me because I have been blessed to be in situations where I get to do that on a regular basis.

And this, friends, is the beauty of our God. We are not left to wallow, but (as the Psalmist says) to be lifted up out of the muck and mire to a better place to stand.