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?”

Free ebook: A Good Word – sermons, prayers, and liturgies in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary

agoodwordpdfcover

Download a free PDF here.

From the Introduction:

“Preachers, dig deep…”

Before I went to bed on the night of December 14, 2012, I took to Facebook and offered what I hoped was a word of encouragement to my colleagues:

Preachers: Dig deep and rely on your training. Your people need you to offer hope this Sunday. Don’t lose hope. Trust the truth of the Resurrection that we have been called to proclaim. I will pray for you fervently.

In the aftermath of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, preachers all over the United States were wondering how, exactly, they were supposed to preach joy in two days. How, exactly, were they supposed to do anything but weep?

Later, in a blog post, I wrote,

You are reeling, and you are wondering what you will say in the face of this massive tragedy because you just want to sit and cry and pray.

And that is good and natural, but, for you, that is not your calling.

You have been called to preach Hope. You have been called to preach Life. You have been called to preach Love.

The sermons, prayers, and liturgies you will find in this volume stand as a testament to the many women and men who dug deep, trusted their God, and offered the most hopeful word they could muster.

In some cases, these words are pointed and direct – even Job-like in quality. In others, there is a tenderness that places a healing balm on one’s heart. In all cases, however, these preachers responded to their communities and offered the word they knew the people they are called to serve needed to hear.

Let this collection – this archive of Christian practice – serve as an Ebenezer, that on December 16, 2012, when we were grieving and nearing despair, God was good to us, and gave us a good word to hear.

Landon Whitsitt, Archiver

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.

To preachers, preaching tomorrow

You are tired.

Some of you have children, and you are angry and horrified and anxious and frustrated and scared.

All you want to do is hold the ones you love and make sure they know how much they mean to you.

You are reeling, and you are wondering what you will say in the face of this massive tragedy because you just want to sit and cry and pray.

And that is good and natural, but, for you, that is not your calling.

You have been called to preach Hope. You have been called to preach Life. You have been called to preach Love.

Please remember: It does not matter if you feel it. Feelings are real and they are valid, but they are fleeting. They do not own us. You want to be honest and authentic, and that is to be applauded. But preaching in the midst of tragedy does not require that you completely “feel it.”

You have been called to preach a word that is not your own. You have been called and trained to preach a word that is God’s.

You and I are fragile creatures. We bend and break more than any of us would like to admit, but this Sunday is a day to rely on the Holy Spirit to bring to mind all you have been told.

In life and in death we belong to God. That was the Truth I proclaimed at the funeral of my father-in-law who took his own life. It is the Truth that sustains us. It is the Truth for a reason: It is true.

You have not been called because you are above this. You have not been called because this tragedy does not affect you. You have been called because you know the Truth that has set us free. The Truth that God holds us, even in the midst of tragedy. In the midst of Life and in the midst of Death.

People will not believe you. They may call you a charlatan and a liar. They may be angry. They may revile you. But one day they will see that the word you have offered is the Truth of God. That Hope wins. That Love wins. That Faith wins.

You are tired, but God will sustain you.

I will pray for you fervently.

A Brand in Crisis, continued

A Texas pastor asked people why they don’t come to church. The #1 reason?

We’re stuck up, judgmental, anti-homosexual, non-thinking hypocrites.

It’s not that people outside the church have low expectations of Christians. It’s the opposite. They expect us to actually live out the things we proclaim on Sunday. They expect us to love our neighbor, care for the least of these and love our enemies.

They have high expectations for us, and we have disappointed them. Instead they have been insulted, hurt and broken by us.

Read the rest.

Pastors: “Go the F^(% Home”

Something I have been fond of saying to church professional types for a while is

If you’re working more than 40 hours a week, you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s the truth: Jesus came to set us free and show us the way to Abundant Life. If we were to judge by the life of most pastors (who are ostensibly in the know about this sort of thing) then – I gotta be honest – the Christian life is not a life I want. Pastors are stressed out all the time. You’re telling me that sacrificing myself is going to lead to an Abundance of Stress? No thank you.

I wrote about this a bit in Open Source Church, but this video by Pam the Webivore says it better than I ever could:

I may have a different set of reasoning than Pam, but you can’t deny that she’s right.

I’m back, and I have a new idea. (Yes. Another one.)

No worries, campers. Theocademy is not dead, but it is morphing into something else. More on that in another post.

For now, I’d like your help thinking through another idea that I have. Buckle up, this might be a bumpy ride.

I have recently been reading through Diana Butler Bass’ new book Christianity After Religion: The End of The Church And The Birth of A New Spiritual Awakening. I had intended to wait to break it open this summer after the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (when my term as Vice Moderator ends and my life returns to a relatively normal pace), but this series of posts by my friend Rocky changed my mind.

I’ve gotta tell you: I love this book. Not only because it’s great writing, but because I resonate with it so completely. For instance: Just a month ago I preached that we should be about “belonging, behaving, andthen believing as Christians.” Then I pop open DBB’s book and…she’s saying the same thing.

Awesome.

So Rocky and I are chatting this text up, having a blast and I mention that I am returning to a love affair with long-form writing, high-quality journalism, and print as of late. I have discovered media outlets that are staffed and visioned by persons of my generation who consider topics I’m concerned about and write about them in a way that I can hang with.

So I suggest to Rocky that we start a magazine exploring the “next Great Awakening” that DBB writes about in her book. He doesn’t run for the hills, so we proceed. 2-3 weeks later, and after many many chat conversations we’ve birthed an idea, and I’d like you to help me figure out if its just an idea better left to the wayside or one worth pursuing.

The upshot is, I’d like you to take a survey about the magazine concept for me. It’s truly not long and it’ll take maybe 5 minutes of your time.

We’re calling the idea “The New Ecclesiast”, and here’s the “Editorial Philosophy” we’re working from:

The New Ecclesiast is a quarterly thematic journal that investigates the people and ideas associated with the “new spiritual awakening” as suggested by Diana Butler Bass in her book Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. The main focus will be the lives and interests of those no longer satisfied with Modern Christendom, especially younger Gen Xers and Millennials as they search for a more authentic spiritual expression. The message will be bold and principled, unafraid to take firm stances on dicey issues, and will find its content largely in the consideration of inter-religious/inter-spiritual ideas and practices, the work and convictions surrounding creation care, and in the pursuit of peace and equality (with particular focus on combating violence, poverty, and oppression). This message will be communicated through a variety of voices – some humorous, some painful, some cutting, some joyful – but will each share an earnestness that this journey towards a new spiritual awakening is vital and must be taken seriously. Ultimately, this platform has been created in order to inspire these new ecclesiasts to begin crafting new structures of their religious and spiritual existence, and to realize that they need not do it alone for they are not alone.

If that sounds like a magazine you’d consider subscribing to, I would love for you to take our survey. I’ll leave it up until next Saturday so you have some time.

Thanks.

Click here to take survey