Small Groups

I found myself in a collection of 14-20 year olds. We were in familiar grounds: The youth chapel at my local Assembly of God church. We spent much of our time in this building, playing games, building friendships, and playing music. I was probably 15 or 16, and along with my other teenage friends and peers, was right in the middle of The Age of Sexual Discovery™. Teenagers are coming into their own as sexual beings. This means a lot of hormones
and crushes
and feelings
and relationships
and fooling around.
Figuring out what attraction and sexuality mean to you.

And so, we as these humans, coming into our sexual reality, were divided into two groups. The boys went with the Youth Pastor, and the girls headed off with the female volunteers. I want to start by telling my story. But, I want to stress right here and now: This isn’t just about my story. Remember that. My story isn’t really about my story. Not really.

So, we went our separate ways. When all the boys were gathered and we calmed down our Youth Pastor explained what was going on. He said that tonight was a night that we were gonna “Get real” and “Be truly vulnerable” with each other. That we were gonna talk about some real issues that young men of god might have to deal with.

We were gonna talk about porn and sex.

A young youth leader (not the pastor of course) would start by opening up a confession. He would share with us that he too struggled with the demons of sexual impurity. Maybe this week it was a story about an ex-girlfriend who he went “too far” with. Or maybe it was the more typical opening monologue: one about how he looked at porn this week and how he needed forgiveness and accountability to be better. We would then go around the circle, each young man expressing guilt about their sexual experiences. Most involved a detailed breakdown of their various internet searches and masturbatory habits. Not too detailed to be crass, but enough to make us all know how bad they felt and in turn, how bad we should feel about our internet searches and habits. Once we made it around the room, we would talk about how this is only the first step. We would be told that repentance is not only admitting what you did was wrong, but that it was also the process of turning away from that thing (quick note, this is absolutely NOT repentance.) We would be encouraged to create accountability groups, with one or two friends. These small groups of two or three people were supposed to ask about our private sex lives every day. The hope of these groups (and it was made explicit when we formed them, by the pastor) was to foster guilt. Because you didn’t want to be the one guy who came back to the group and had to admit you slipped up. These were calculated efforts to create and sustain guilt and shame as a way of change.

This is not a story of one night. Throughout my time in church, I went through countless Men / Women ministry nights. My life in christian college involved a nearly weekly “accountability” group, which involved almost every dude on my all male dorm floor getting together and continuing the ritual I learned in Youth Group. I remember specifically going to a retreat with my dorm floor to an overnight campout at a local church. There the speaker, a well-known and well-respected Youth Guy™, pulled the same card as my old Youth Leaders, openly expressing his guilt about his porn habits. People in places of power, reminding you that these things are shameful. That you should feel shameful, especially if you want to become a leader.

So, I spent 4-6 years living my life with my sexual desires, impulses and actions constantly being shamed. I was marinated in it. And my journals are a testament to it. Pages and pages of entries, prayers, and even a couple of songs, full to the brim with guilt, shame and self-hatred for my inability to be “the man I was meant to be”. This was my experience in my formative sexual years. This was what was shown to me as healthy. This is what was modeled by the teachers and leaders in my life.

So tonight, when about 70% of the way through the Netflix special “Nanette”, I heard comedian Hannah Gadsby talk about “soaking a child in shame” and the tears started to flow. This was after spending all day struggling and losing a fight against my self-worth.

A battle I fight daily, and lose more days than I care to admit.

selah

And I was the safe person in those small groups.

What about the girls, who were taken to their own separate conversation, where they were told that it was their fault we boys were so horny. Where they were told to dress modestly, to help the sex addicted boys to control their dicks. Where they were taught, week after week that boys were monsters, that they as women were responsible for us monsters, and that if anything shameful happened, it was all the girls fault. Not only did they have to feel shame for messing around with their boyfriends, they had to feel personally responsible for it. AND for their boyfriends masturbating. AND for any future unwanted sexual encounters. They were taught the responsibility was on them. So, when that older boy forced himself on you, was it really his fault, or could you have maybe dressed more modestly?

What about the gay kids, who were told this was “a place where we are gonna get real”. That this was where we put down our masks and our barriers to get vulnerable with each other. And yet they knew full well that they couldn’t. That their feelings, their emotions and attractions and urges were beyond the pale. That even in this safe space, where we were able to be truly honest, they still had to keep hidden. Their shame, their “sin” was so bad, it was unspeakable. Because they knew if they opened up in that space, their community would reject them. That community that played games and sang songs and built friendships would crumble. They knew this because on many Sundays, the senior pastor would make sure to remind the congregation of their responsibility to preach the Truth™ to the corrupt cult of tolerance. They were taught that the straight boys and girls could be vulnerable and open about their desires, shameful as they may be. But, if these poor kids opened up about their struggles, their social life would collapse.

What about the trans kids, who had to keep their gender identity and possible dysphoria secret, while they struggle to choose which group to even go with in the first place. Being forced into a group where shame and rigid gender roles would be enforced. Desperately trying to appear the way they should, while again, knowing their feelings and struggles and identity is something way beyond this conversation. Knowing that being honest would remove you from both small groups. Being trapped, by the ideologies that fuel your inner conflict about your identity.

I could go on. The point stands. I was the most comfortable. The most privileged. I had it the easiest. My story is the tip of the iceberg. What lies below breaks my heart.

See, I was the straight boy (at the time. Read my last post to hear about my sexual discovery, sans shame at 30) who was fed a constant diet of shame that still debilitates me for days, even decades after I left that world. It started with sex, but it infected everything, fueling my depression, imposter syndrome, and body dysmorphia. And I had it easy. I can’t even begin to imagine the stories, the hurt, and the recovery that less privileged people had to go through. It breaks my heart to know the damage these small groups caused to so many. Which is why I said at the beginning, this isn’t just about me. My story is real, and it affects me to this day. But, my story is just the beginning. And the best thing you can do as a human being is listen. Listen to those stories. Listen to those who had it so much harder than you. Whether they be about shame and small groups, police brutality and institutional racism, LGBTQIA+ hate and intolerance, women being open about their own #metoo experiences or any other hurt human being open and vulnerable with you. These stories have voices. Those voices belong to people. Those people are real.

And, when you listen to others share their stories, and this is especially true for my fellow men out there, just listen and connect. Listen, don’t speak. Hear, don’t judge. Empathize, don’t criticize. If you manage to find yourself in a situation where someone chooses to open up to you about their wounds, don’t you dare fuck it up. Be the loving, caring ears that person needs.

Also, go watch Nanette. It’ll fuck you up real bad and it’s important that it does.

 

 

 

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Living on the fake plastic earth: It wears me down

I am watching you!

The King.

I love Burger King chicken sandwiches. Ever since the noun tendercrisp came into existence I was hooked. It just all works together. Recently, with my commute to class, I find myself occasionally stopping at burger king for a tasty morsel of fried chicken goodness. My good friend Mike is also a fan of their cheap double cheeseburgers, so when we hang out, there is a good chance I will end up at Burger King. The three times I have been to Burger King, twice on my own, and once with Mike, they asked me to pull ahead and wait while my food was prepared. Now, this is something I normally frown upon because I know the employees are only trying to make it look like they got customers through the drive through quicker, but these past three times, something totally different dawned on me. All three times the employee at the drive-through said the same thing:

“I am sorry sir, but we are making the chicken fresh. Could you please pull up and we will bring it out when it’s ready.”

Now, let us forget the half question turned into command at the end and focus on what is most important and revelatory in this statement. This man was apologizing that my food was being made fresh. It was wrong of the store to make my food fresh. There is something deeply disturbing about this statement. Now, I know that you can get all caught up in syntax and perhaps his wording was just off, but I started to think about it and I realized that this is not the norm. It is abnormal in our society to get food that is cooked fresh. As I sat there, waiting for my food to be made, people behind me got impatient. I received many nasty looks and hand gestures as impatient customers were forced to drive around me. Now, I am going to set aside the fact that even if this was a problem, it was not my fault in any way, other than I ordered food that was not pre-made garbage. I will set that aside to focus on the much bigger problem: The store clerk was right to be apologetic. Everyone around me was getting angry that I was waiting. It seemed that I should have been angry. But, I wasn’t. I wasn’t angry because I know that fresh food is worth the wait. It was late at night, I had nowhere to go. I was actually happy that my food would be fresh, because that meant it would be good. But as the clerk and the other customers showed, I live in a culture where that kind of thought is not acceptable. We cannot wait for our food to be made fresh. We expect to pull up to the drive through, make our order, and by the time we are done paying, we want our food in our hands so we can drive away and eat. Waiting is an anomaly. The stores are not even set up for waiting. Normally if you have to wait, you are forced to be stuck in an awkward place where your care is barely not in the way, but everyone still thinks you are.  The system in the store is even set up for speed. Cars are not supposed to stay at the window for more than a minute, which is why I was forced into that awkward place at all. All of this leads me to only one conclusion:

We have sacrificed fresh, real food on the altar of impatience and convenience.

And what was it I was waiting for? Over processed chicken sandwiches and a burger with cheese bits fused into the meat. The food that was importantly made fresh, was not even real in the first place. So, what is it we want? We want fake food, pre-made to our convenience. Look around the food landscape. Real, fresh food is now a marketable factor. Places are special if they serve fresh food or free-range beef. It is an anomaly of our society to have real food. You can barely even get fresh, real food in our grocers. In order to get wild salmon or grass-fed beef or free range chicken you have to shop at top of the line organic grocers like Whole Foods and pay way more money for it. People choose to buy frozen, presliced and breaded chicken bits because the price for organic chicken is too high yet they are more than okay with paying Comcast way too much money for sixty something channels of cable television?

There is something wrong going on. Our world is fake, and we have embraced it.

We like our fake food. We have made it taste better than the real thing. There is a reason I love sandwich meat. It is so dang tasty. Real turkey is terrible in comparison to a nice, thin sliced piece of deli meat. Yet, that is not real. I have come to prefer the fake over the real. If allowed the choice, the majority of kids will choose chicken nuggets and pop over fresh cooked food and milk. Jamie Oliver proved it. The worst part is we promote it. We make our fake food taste better and buy it in bigger numbers and mark it down so more people can afford it. Everything around us, is becoming fake.

After we are done eating our fake food we are transported into our fake lives: living out our fantasies vicariously through actors and actresses. Television, movies, video games, porn: It is all a fake life we choose to connect with, we choose to live through, in order to make our lives more interesting. Our sex lives are mundane so we are told by psychiatrists to live vicariously through porn stars to spice up our love life. We have indie kids living through the mixes the characters in their favorite books, which were adapted into movies, made. People are naming their children Neo because they believe The Matrix was a documentary. And what happens when the disconnect between the screen and reality becomes to noticeable? We make it into a video game. We take control of the characters we are living through and merge our reality further into theirs, all the while severing our precious connection to the real.

Now, let me stop this rant for a moment to make a comment. I am in no way bashing media. I believe wholeheartedly that much of media is art. Someone had a vision, whether comedy or tragedy, and they poured their passion into this art form. The reason we connect with it is because of this passion. I am a huge fan of many movies, television series, video games and books. I love the emotional connections that are made. Crying tears of joy as Pam and Jim finally got married (spoiler alert…wait, I think i am supposed to do this before the spoiler….ooops.) Freaking out when the scary black monsters steal away the mysterious white princess as I make my way through ICO. Laughing hysterically as Modern Family creates even more awkward moments. Media is awesome at making connections to you through emotion and personal experience and there is nothing inherently wrong with this connection. The problem arises when we invest our identity into these characters and settings. I am not talking about Uberfanboy pretend fun. What I mean is that the real problem is when our real lives suffer and become mundane because we are spending more time in the fake world than in the real world. When the most exciting moment of your week is Monday night RAW (Thank you Mike for indirectly causing this reference) you have a problem. We live dull, unimportant lives because we are too busy living out our fantasies in a fake reality. This is the problem. The problem gets worse when we start to find meaning in consuming entertainment. People who flaunt their Gamer scores, or have to be the first Mage to get to 85 without ever doing a quest. Now, these things can be harmless bragging rights, but to many this has become their livelihood. The only problem is, it isn’t real. You can’t put your gamer score on a resume. Getting Shadowmourne will not help you in any way in reality.

So, we need to allow media its proper place. We need to allow art to be art. Art should inspire us, not consume us. Media should be enjoyed, not obsessed over. We need to gain control of our lives, and start living in the real.

So, after we have eaten our fake plastic food and lived our fake plastic fantasies, we head to our fake plastic churches. We do fake charity to whatever causes we like to pretend we care about. And this could be the worst part of our fake lives.

Now, I will try not to rant too much on community and church structure. That discussion is for a later time. But, it can be said that what churches in general do is further separate us from the real. Our community reduced to a few hours a week, where most of it is spent sitting quietly and listening to someone tell you what to believe. We are force-fed truth, which turns it into a fake form of wisdom. We cannot allow ourselves to find truth, in fear and trembling. We need our pastors to tell us what to believe and even they are fake. We set up this ideal belief that our pastors are these perfect people, and when they are found to be struggling, like all of us, we condemn them. We give our money to our church because we are told to, which is fake tithing. We cannot be giving of ourselves to help the weak and the sick and the poor, because our church needs air conditioning! Then we head home, angry at ourselves because we cut someone off while showing off our Jesus loves america bumper sticker.  This is because we are new gnostics (something that will be delved into on a later date) who have simplified truth to catchy statements on our cars: The fruit of our faith, transformed from real actions to fake stickers.

Or perhaps you are not a church goer. You are one of the enlightened ones, who finds the folly of theism to be laughable. You are much smarter and better than these people because you don’t just follow the words of your preacher. No! you just blindly follow the words of Hitchens and Zeitgeist. But it’s okay, because they are scientists. We can blindly follow them because they have dedicated their lives to show off how smart they are. They can’t have biases. So you turn science and philosophy into this fake bragging right.

When we all get home we go on facebook and write about all the injustice in our world, because if we post about it enough, then people will know we care. We send around slacktivist chain posts about this or that, feeling good that we support these causes, even though we have done nothing to change them. We rant against political figure A and praise B, even though we refuse to get involved or even learn the truth about either of them. We write blog posts about the injustices in the world, yet do nothing to change them. (>.>   >.>   >.>) It’s all fake.

Fake plastic charity. Fake plastic church. Fake plastic atheism. Fake plastic truth.

 

Fake Plastic Trees – Radiohead

Her green plastic watering can
For her fake Chinese rubber plant
In the fake plastic earth
That she bought from a rubber man
In a town full of rubber plans
To get rid of itself
It wears her out, it wears her out
It wears her out, it wears her out

She lives with a broken man
A cracked polystyrene man
Who just crumbles and burns
He used to do surgery
For girls in the eighties
But gravity always wins
And it wears him out, it wears him out
It wears him out, it wears…

She looks like the real thing
She tastes like the real thing
My fake plastic love
But I can’t help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run
And it wears me out, it wears me out
It wears me out, it wears me out

If I could be who you wanted
If I could be who you wanted

All the time, all the time


Perhaps it’s time we break out of our fake plastic worlds. We need to realize that food is important. It is what sustains us, what keeps us alive. We are constantly putting it into our bodies, perhaps it should be good! We need to live our own lives. Go and have adventures, find out new things. Allow our imaginations to take back their proper place in our lives and allow art and entertainment to have its proper place. We need to break free of the bondage of fake truth. Realize that our facebook posts have no bearing on the problems in our world. Use blogging as it should be used, to educate and provoke. To get people to think and to share opinions, not a place where you can pretend like your writing is actually making a difference in Sudan. We need to allow church to become the true community it was meant to be. Allow pastors to step down and join the lay. Realize that we are all sheep trying to find our way in the dark or at the very least realize that our pastors and leaders are not perfect and be okay with that fact. Find truth for yourself. Read, read, read your bible. Fight with it, struggle with it. Do not just go to it to re-affirm your spoon fed beliefs. Allow it to challenge the very threads of your existence. Allow other writings and art and people to do the same. Never stop questioning, growing, struggling, and breaking down. It will only get better. It’s not easy, but its real. It’s up to you. Do you embrace reality or continue living in the fake plastic earth we have created?

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland,   and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”
Morpheus (The Matrix)

Real community.

Today we had our 12th meeting as Mosaic and for the first time I was truly amazed by what happened. This was the first week I really felt like we started to become a community. Over the past 11 weeks I have struggled to find the reason why we are doing this. I have lost vision and have become quite apathetic to getting things ready. Discussions were planned at 11:30 on Sunday, worship was thrown together and prayer was completely out of the picture. I was becoming burnt out, yet was not really doing that much. It was just a part of the destructive cycle that I was on.

But, for the first time since we started, I had everything prepared by Saturday. Worship was picked out and the words were printed, the downstairs was clean, my discussion was planned, and dinner was figured out. It was pretty great. I woke up, played Eternal Sonata and went out to lunch with my wife. It was easy, it was relaxing, and it was just what I needed. There was no panicked cleaning or frustration over not having something done. Just a relaxing morning. We got home, and Thomas was here. I love hanging out with Thomas. He is just an awesome person to have a conversation with or to sit around and write folky music with. Slowly people showed up, including my cousins, whom I missed last week. We ate dinner and enjoyed the beautiful weather. We played some unplanned but beautiful music and then came discussion.

I spoke my heart about where I want discussion to go. I hope it did not come off as a lecture, because I truly meant for it not to be that way. I just wanted to make clear what I felt discussion could be and how we could get there. I came up with three simple guidlines that I truly believe will make discussion flower into something truly life shaking. They were: be humble, be mature, and be open. Through these I really believe we can do amazing things with our discussion.

Then came the first critique. This is something I very much believe will keep Mosaic on the right track. I wanted to hear, from the people involved, what they felt were our strengths and weaknesses. We talked of some of the things people felt were needed. It was good, honest and will definitely help us to grow as a community. We moved into the discussion for the night and talked through the Jars songs I posted a while back. We prayed and moved into late night hang out time, which was amazing. Never before have I seen the connection we had tonight. People talking, laughing, venting, and discussing all sorts of fun things. I started to see the community come together.

I realized something, if I am not putting my full effort into this, it will fail. If I am not working, praying, and preparing with all my heart, this will never grow. But, when you get excited and put your all into something, people want to follow along. You start to focus on the vision G-d gave you and you realize that this is something that could be truly life changing, and you would hate to be the one who stops it. I realize just how much I need to do, and how much more needs to be done for this to become the vision G-d has for it. Mosaic, let us rise up together as a true community and work to be the true Eucharist, the body of Christ.

Turn that shit up.

I hate waiting…plus NIN

I am currently sitting in class at the horrible MCC (I am only going here because its cheap.) waiting for my teacher who did not account for snow. She is normally 10 to 15 minutes late and as I was driving I thought to myself, “Hmmm, I wonder if our teacher will be even later today.” I walk into the class and look to see a message stating that our teacher will not be here until 10:30. Now, in normal, real colleges this would mean that class was canceled, but not at MCC. No, we get to sit here for the next half hour and wait for her to get here. It doesn’t help that I was planning on leaving early to get to the second half of our home inspection for our new house. I am trying not to be frustrated. So, instead of sitting here, doing nothing, I decided that I would write about something that intrigued me the other day.

The other night I was driving back home after dropping off my friend Kyle at his house. I had grabbed a bunch of CD’s i hadn’t listened to in a few years to listen to during the drive, one of which was Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. Now, if you know Nine Inch Nails, you know that they have a tendency to be raw, angry, and vulgar. I have not listened to this album in quite a long time, but I remembered that there was one song that had a particularly negative view on God. This song, quaintly titled “Heresy” used to bother me quite a bit. I normally would just skip over it and move on. But, because I had forgot the lyrics and hadn’t listened to the album in a while I decided to ignore my “inner youth group student” and listen to the song. As I listened to it I started to find really deep meaning behind it. It was no longer just an anti-Christianity song, but rather a deeper look at society and the role that religion plays in it. I saw a critique that I agreed with on many levels. Now, I am by no means christianizing Nine Inch Nails. I do not intend to warp the meaning of this song in order to fit Jesus into it somehow. I hate it when people do that. However, I do believe that there is a lot of meaning we can draw from this song. Here are the Lyrics:

He sewed his eyes shut because he is afraid to see
He tries to tell me what I put inside of me
He’s got the answers to ease my curiosity
He dreamed a God up and called it Christianity
God is dead and no one cares
If there is a hell I’ll see you there
He flexed his muscles to keep his flock of sheep in line
He made a virus that would kill off all the swine
His perfect kingdom of killing, suffering and pain
Demands devotion atrocities done in his name
God is dead and no one cares
If there is a hell I’ll see you there

Now, I will admit it is a rather harsh song. But I find that my interpretations of this song hold some meaning.

NOTE: If you do not believe that music should be interpreted because it is art, read no further. I DO NOT WANT SPAMMING FROM PEOPLE WHO ARE LIKE ” NO THAT’S NOT WHAT IT IS ABOUT.” I understand that he wrote it about his feelings with the AID’S epidemic, I just personally heard the lyrics and was moved.

The point in the song that really made me think about things was the chorus. It was not the “God is dead” part, but the no-one cares part. I saw it as a wake up. God is dead is a classic Nietzsche quote. I have always heard it said that it refers to the outdated ways of the Church and the removal of God from society, that the God that the church offers is no longer culturally relevant or needed by our world. In this way, God is dead. Now, we seem to see this in motion in our society. The church in America has not grown in a long time. Churches get bigger and hold baptisms, but in large church growth comes from people swapping churches instead of new people finding love in the church. The reason for this: I don’t feel that we, as a whole, offer it. Not to say that church should be an avenue of consumerized love, but rather that on a large scale, we have done a pretty good job of disgracing the image of God’s church. In this, I find that in many ways God is dead. We are destroying people’s images of God by not being his body. People read that God is love and then His body goes on a killing rampage in His name. You can read that God’s heart breaks for the sick and oppressed yet you see His body hording money into super-palace churches and condemning AIDS victims. We are destroying the image of God to our culture, to the people around us and making God look like a hypocrite and because of our actions God is dying in America.

But here comes the kicker. Not only is God dying, but no one cares. We keep doing exactly what we have been doing. You would think that something like God’s death in our society would compel us to change. You would think that the lack of new people walking into churches would inspire change. Yet we keep doing the same thing. Now, I am not here to advocate catering to culture, but I am going to say that we should cater to God’s will and I don’t believe turning away single moms and crack addicts is the way. See, the deep meaning in the song comes from the fact that we don’t care. We have created a borg like attitude that says “assimilate or go away” and it’s just not right and because we are not doing anything about it, it is killing God. We spend our time “flexing our muscles to keep the sheep in line” that we don’t realize that the sheep our dying. That we don’t realize that we too are sheep.

Then comes the last line: If there is a hell, i will see you there. I think a major part of this line is in reference to the hypocrisy of the holier than thou attitude. That we condemn some for their sin, yet allow others within the church keep up with it. There is a hypocrisy that in all reality, Trent has nailed down. I mean, if Westboro Baptist Church is right, then they are going to hell too. But, I found an even deeper meaning in this. That our lack of compassion for God’s true will and our lack of humility to realize that change is essential is dragging us down. We have become no better than the pharisees, sitting in their courts, praising their ways. Jesus never got angry at those who were in darkness. Why on earth would you expect someone in darkness to look like light? He got angry, and very angry at that, at the religious leaders. The “holy” ones. The ones who passed by the broken and hungry and left-out because they were too busy. It is our job, our purpose, our charge to be the body of Christ. To reach out to the broken and give them healing. To love the marginalized and realize that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and if we do not, then there maybe Trent is right in saying he might see you there.

Matthew 25:34-40

The end of a “season” (God I hate that word.)

This past weekend my wife Allison and I announced to our church that December 15th (the day the battle of ticameron was won and the day that Nero died) would be our last day at Light House Church, our church home of three and a half years that we have been with since it began and that we are both actively involved in. I myself am the worship and the youth guy and Allison is the Children’s ministry person. This decision was an extremely painful decision but also a necessary one.

Over a year ago I came home from bible college worried. I was worried because during my time in bible college i started to question why we “do church” the way we do. I did a lot of research into the origins of the christian church and into church history. I looked at the first three hundred years of the church and saw something completely different than what we have now. I went to many churches and saw to much focus on a few hours and not nearly enough focus on community and service. I saw people preaching “the gospel” but not acting on it. I saw people claiming to do things different, but only saw a change in rhetoric. Due to all of these things I became incredibly bitter to the church. I stopped attending church at school and became very worried because I was very involved in a organized church back at home when I left. I didn’t know what I would do, because even walking into a “church building” made me sick. Thankfully, God squelched the bitterness in my heart and I realized that even though they might be way different from the way things used to be that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong, and that even more importantly they are my family and I love them regardless of their silly practices. I came home and became very involved at Light House Church in both the worship team and the youth group. I poured my heart, soul, passion, money, and time into the youth group. There was still however, something about Sunday service that didn’t sit right with me. I told Allison of my ideas of what Church means and what community gatherings should look like and at the time, she told me I was crazy. I asked “what ifs” involving leaving LHC and moving and Africa. At the time I was met with a fairly sure ideal that we were to stay there a long long time. I held my tongue and hoped that someday things would change. Allison spoke of licensing with the Assemblies of God and becoming a actual pastor with them.

Over the course of a year, many things have changed. Allison has realized that she disagrees with a lot of what the Assemblies believe and that she could not be licensed through them. This worried her because she was fairly sure that our pastor would want her to get licensed. Now, at this same time some changes were going on at LHC. I started to notice a focus on aesthetics that I had never seen before. We had met in sticky movie theaters and big warehouses in the past so aesthetic was a luxury that we did not have. But, after building a “sanctuary” we now had pretty things and like any typical western thinker, we needed to keep those things pretty. Slowly but surely I started to see more of the typical American church come into LHC and those feelings I had kept dormant for over a year started to come back. Little did I know that those feelings would be the springboard for something bigger than I could ever imagine. I felt torn, for I wanted to support my pastor in his decisions, yet there was that part of me that wanted to go back into bitter, sarcastic, mode. The rebel in me was brooding and it didn’t help that others around me were more open with their opinion. It got to the point that I felt like I was trying to bridge the gap between the complainers and the yes-men. We had my Mother, whom I love very very much, on one side getting mad at the way things were and Gracey, my fellow youth leader and friend, on the other side getting mad at those who were mad and no-one was listening to each other. I became incredibly frustrated because I was trying to propagate a more civilized approach to peoples frustrations, but because of my previous bitterness and others current anger, no one wanted to listen. You were either in or you were out. You either trusted the pastor, or you didn’t. I didn’t know what to do, or how to deal with this. I felt a meeting with my pastor was needed, but was so afraid, because of past discussions, of how he would respond. Then I went to Urbana.

Allison and I, as previously mentioned were invited to a pastors conference in Urbana. At the last minute one of the people we were to drive down there dropped out and we had an extra spot. So, Cassie (one of my closest friends) decided to come with. We spent several hours in a car discussing our worries and frustrations, our fears and our ideas. We started to realize that we all had this idea lurking within us. This realization did not become fully recognized however, until the end of the first night when we spent several hours discussing church and community over wheat beer and onion rings. We then spent another several hour trip talking all about ideas and dreams of church. Ideas about community and service. Ideas about dinner with your christian family and loving all regardless of past. Ideas about discussion based learning and getting back to the way the early church was. We talked of a mature way to bring up to our pastor our worries and frustrations. We also talked of what we would do if he didn’t take it well. It was here that I at least believe that Mosaic was “born” per-say. We thought through situations and found that there was a good chance that in bringing up these ideas he would ask us to leave. It was here that we started to think up what on earth we would do if we were asked to leave our home. We started to reflect back on conversations on organic church and real community and service. The pieces started coming together. It went from a last resort idea to the vision of God for our lives very quickly. We realized that we were all thinking similar things all at the same time. As time passed it turned out that our meeting with pastor Neil turned from a call to change and a prophetic call back to vision to an announcement of future vision and direction from God. The night of the meeting came, and God showed up. We stated our problems and hurts and worries, as did our pastor. We both apologized for things we did that hurt. Wounds that could have brought division were healed as we moved on to our crazy ideas. Something unbelievable happened. He was ready for them. He even had a Bible verse ready for us. We talked about our desire to stay closely connected to LHC even though we would be a separate body and our crazy house church ideas. He, through his sadness to see us leave, became very excited to hear that we did not want to break ties with LHC and hoped to stay connected in many ways. So, we prayed and this past weekend announced that on December 15th we would be going on our journey to start Mosaic. I hope to write more about Mosaic as we come up with more. I will definitely post more at a later time, but I wrote this whole thing in one sitting and am becoming tired of typing. Pray for us and if you live in the anywhere near us and want to be involved, let me know. People are essential to community.

“We are just the asses that get to bring Jesus in”

Today I took a trip to the one and only Willow Creek church. I went there to see Shane Claiborne speak. He was speaking to their youth service because, as I found out today, he used to be an intern there. This whole thing seemed like one big paradox to me. Shane Claiborne, a crazy communist who has spent time working with Mother Teresa, speaking at one of the biggest mega-churches in existence. Yet, because of his past and his friends, he shows up every once and a while and speaks. As a friend of mine once said, he says just enough to offend yet be invited back again. A quick side note, that person that I para-quoted is Patrick Green. You can read his blog if you click on the from high brow pirate to hometown pastor link on my sidebar. I figured as I mention people I should let y’all know where you can find more fun stuff about them.

We arrived at willow creek about fifteen minutes before service started, which as a very good thing due to the overwhelming largeness of that place. We parked in section C-7 (yes they have sectioned parking, a lot like a mall!) and started to head to the big doors that would give us access to this crazy place. Upon walking in to willow creek your mind races with many thoughts like “is that an escalator???” or “Is that a falling water fountain that goes down through all the stories of the church and lands in a fountain lake in the basement?”. For me though, above all those things was a simple “holy shit…” thought. I was battling through a mixture of disgust, amazement, and confusion. I wandered into the main sanctuary for just a moment to see it and I was completely blown away by the sheer hugeness of it. It has two balconies. Two. One balcony and then another above it. Two effing balconies.

We were then directed to the youth area where Shane Claiborne was speaking. The youth service was very interesting. The worship team seemed to be a “we want to be like United” team, which was fairly expected. There sound guys, however seemed to be a bit confused about how to mix the room well. You could hear the snare and bass drum and nothing else. The acoustic guitar was really soft as well, but that could be due to technical difficulties because the guitarist spent quite a bit of time fiddling with his EQ. The guitarist and lead singer guy was also really interesting. His voice was like a mixture of Chris Conley (Saves the Day) and Bryce Avary (The Rocket Summer). It was extremely high and nasally. It was just very odd. They also had a wide variety of “cool” and “hip” videos and graphic stuff involved in between everything. The whole service was quite planned and structured.

Shane Claiborne spent quite a bit of time telling his story. It made sense, for the youth were going through a series called the vox series where they had a variety of people come in and tell their story. He talked of hanging out with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and of hanging out with interesting people at The Simple Way. He told stories of people he has met while touring the country. His main points were to become real lovers and to embrace love for the poor and downtrodden and to find interesting and radical ways to do that. My favorite quote of the talk was “We are just the asses that bring Jesus in.” He was talking about the donkey that carried Jesus into the temple. There are people all around yelling and cheering, waving palms and praising God and the donkey is all like “oh yeah, you all love me.” We need to realize that we must do the things we do completely for God and He is the one that should get the glory. We must realize that we are just the asses that are bringing Jesus into our world.

Prophets, Pastors, Cynics, and Churches

The first day of the convention ends with tired eyes and a mind racing with questions, ideas, and concerns. I sit here with a heart full of options and ideas and a brain trying to compute all of the data, discussion, and debate that has gone on. For me, this night is not one that brings up bitterness or anger. It brings me no cynicism or malice. It brings no frustration or strife. For me it brings hope. It worries me because I have played the role of the cynic too many times and I am now the person who I would once be cynical of. I am the glassy eyed dreamer, who sees a future of hope and love. I see so many things coming together. It’s exciting and scary all at once. This night has been one of refreshed ideas, revelatory concepts, and dangerous ideas and it all started with a djembe player who was off beat.

The first meeting consisted of a few well intentioned worship songs and a wonderful communion time. I at least thought the communion was great because it was one of the first times in a long time that I truly got to be reminded of the sacrifice of my Saviour. Normally I have an instrument in my hands and don’t get to even partake in the elements until afterwards and at that point I am running over to kids church. This was nice. To just sit back and remember and pray. We then moved into at time where we got to basically listen to four people have a discussion about the changes in the christian church. We spoke of Christendom and the emergent movement. I took down my favorite quotes. Then we moved on to the group discussion. This part was where the beginnings of the magic took place. The first thing of many to be discussed was the trend throughout history for visions and missions to become establishments that trade their vision for maintenance. The biggest part of the discussion was how we could avoid this. This is something that has happened throughout history and we wondered if it was possible to avoid this. Perhaps it is just the nature of things. That a vision will turn into the establishment until a new revolution will bring up a new idea. Or perhaps it’s something that can be fought, something that can be changed. I mean, the first church made it almost 300 years before becoming an organization, which as something that was forced upon us. So, how do we avoid this? It seems that the place where visions and movements become organizations is when things start to become comfortable. When you have to work hard you are constantly reminded of your mission. When things get comfortable you stop thinking as much about the vision and you think far more about keeping things comfortable. Comfort is the cancer that is killing both our culture and our churches. It fits even into the picture of the first church. The church was faced with hard problems. When Constantine established the Christian church things got easy. Things got comfortable. They might have been wrong, but it was okay because it was comfortable. There is also the inclusion of commercialism into the church. This is hugely apparent in the church growth movement. Places like Willow Creek turn faith into a product to get people to accept it. This works, until the person gets to the discipleship phase. Then someone brought up something interesting.

Prophets.

In biblical times when an organization or idea got off its purpose, it was the prophet that corrected the leaders. They would be the ones who would become critical of the system to keep it on the vision that God gave to it. It is this role that seems to be missing in the church. We have super pastors who lead with iron fists and no one willing to tell them they might be off, when it is the biblical model for there to be someone in that role. This, plus a good dose of humility, a situation that leaves people uncomfortable, and a true dedication to the love of Christ seem to be key in keeping the vision alive and beating in any movement.

We then moved on to drink wheat beer and talk of personal experience with college, God, churches and life. We talked of cynics and hopelessness. We talked of sitting and discussion without action. Most importantly we talked of love. Unconditional love for all, even those who hurt us, those who take advantage of us, and those who abuse the church for profit or personal gain. We shared pains and frustrations, fears and dreams. It was a wonderful night full of discussion, tears, laughter, that’s what she said, and alcohol. I find our group is the perfect blend of cynics, hopefuls, liberals, conservatives, and beaten-downs with enough personal stories to fill a night with deep conversation, true emotions and mounds of joyous laughter.