Monthly Archives: September 2013

Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Book Review)

butterfield

By Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Rosaria Champagne, was a very successful tenured professor at Syracuse university. Holding a PhD in english literature & cultural studies she was the key professor in the critical theory department. Her specialty was queer theory. (a post modern form of gay & lesbian studies) She endeared herself to “radical leftist ideology” embracing the philosophical & political views of Freud, Marx, and Darwin. She genuinely believed that her perspective and her activism was making the world a better place.  As a result, she was deeply loved by the GLBT community and served as faculty advisor for all the gay and lesbian organizations on campus. She was a sought after key note speaker at gay pride parades and desired visiting lecturer at such reputable schools as Harvard. But all that changed…
The local newspaper had printed her scathing assessment of the “gender politics” displayed by a national evangelical Christian organization. As usual mail that hated her, and adored her poured in. There was one letter, however, which didn’t seem to fit in either pile. The letter from pastor Ken Smith suggested that she explore and defend the presuppositions that undergirded her conclusions. The letter was gentle, open, inquisitive and challenging. Rosaria was unable to let the letter leave her mind.
Life moved forward and Rosaria decided to write a book on the religious right. She believed that religion was as Marx wrote. “The opiate of the masses” an imperialist social construction made to soothe the existential angst of the intellectually impaired. But in the interest of good scholarship she knew she must study. She learned Greek, started reading the Bible, and tried to immerse herself in this thinking that was so foreign to her. It didn’t take long before she knew she needed a tutor. She thought of Ken Smith, Rosaria, suspected all Christians to be narrow minded, bigoted, and anti-intellectual, but maybe, just maybe, Ken was different. She called and started blasting him with questions. Ken responded, “These are the kinds of questions that need to be talked about in my living room in front of the fire place after dinner, would you come?” And so it began, the remarkable friendship between a 36 year old lesbian feminist, and a 70 year old reformed Presbyterian minister. After 2 years Rosaria converted to Christianity. She describes her conversion as a “train wreck” because of the massive destruction that it wrought in every aspect of her life. “When you die to yourself you have nothing from your past to use as clay out of which to shape your future.” Rosaria has little use for the concepts of easy believism. As Roseria reflects back on her incredible transformation she has a multitude of wisdom for us. I think it best to simply quote her.

  • Where everyone thinks the same nobody thinks very much.
  • There is a core difference between sharing the gospel with the lost and imposing a specific moral standard on the unconverted.
  • In the court of public opinion, Christians have lost the war on intellectual integrity.
  • I couldn’t come to church, it was too threatening, too weird, too much. So Ken was willing to bring the church to me. Ken Smith spent time with me — and not just spare time. He spent pricey time — real time. He didn’t hide behind bumper stickers or slogans.
  • How do you have the strength of character to repent for a sin that at that time didn’t feel like sin at all — it felt like life, plain and simple…sins of identity take a while.
  • Repentance requires greater intimacy with God than with our sin.
  • Christians still scare me when they reduce Christianity to a lifestyle and claim that God is on the side of those who attend to the rules of the lifestyle they have invented or claim to find in the Bible.
  • I needed to be shepherded, I did not need the glitz and glamor that has captured the soul of modern evangelical culture.
  • God’s people surrounded me. Not to manipulate. Not to badger. But to love and to listen and to watch and to pray. Eventually instead of resisting, I surrendered.
  • Homosexuality — like all sin — is symptomatic and not casual — that is it tells us where our heart has been, not who we inherently are or what we are destined to become. Pride and not sexual orientation is the root problem.

Roseria, had come to see herself as the controlling, manipulative, arrogant, rebellious person that she was. She stopped justifying herself and repented even when the feelings were not there. Differences in her were duly noted by her network of friends. Her lover suggested she take a holiday. Her drag queen friend told her she was sick. Eventually, Roseria knew she had to “come out.” She picked The graduate student orientation convocation as the time and place to do it. She was the key note. Towards the end of her speech which landed like a bombshell in the ears of all her listeners she said:

“I discovered that God isn’t just a narrative we pick like summer berries or leave for the next person; nor is God a set of social conventions tailored for the weak of mind; nor is God a consumerist social construct who exists in the service of Christian imperialist ideologies and right-wing politics. Rather, I discovered that God through Jesus Christ exists, the triune God of the Bible exists, whether we acknowledge him or not. I discovered that God wasn’t very happy with me.” (August 1999, Graduate Student Orientation Convocation) Syracuse University.

There was nothing in the speech the was pejorative or inflammatory, but even still it wrecked everything. The line up outside her office became long and the requests for her to resign her advisory posts poured in. She remembers one exchange with a young GLBT activist;
“How do you know you are not gay?”
“How do you know you are?”
“I’m a gay man because the GLBT community is the only safe home I have, a home that was made safe by you! How could you?”
She had nothing to say, she just hugged him while he cried.

Rosaria ends up becoming a pastors wife, adopts 4 children, and takes on the role of homeschool mom. As a reformed Presbyterian she embraces something called the “regulative principle of worship” — essentially all singing in a church gathering is reduced to the the singing of psalms without accompaniment. She attempts to make the case for this position by saying. “If God gave us a book of praise songs, who are we to add to them?” However, If God gave us creative minds and gifts. Who are we not to use them for his glory? To not use our gifts is to insult the giver of these gifts. I recognize that all followers of Jesus practice some form of regulation when it comes to worship. The RP practices the strictest of regulation, that’s fine. Rosaria makes her case and leaves it at that. Diversity among Christianity is healthy.
This is my favorite book of 2013 so far, and a worthy read no matter what perspective you are coming from.

Advertisements

Life of Pi (Book Review)

life_of_pi_ver2_xlg

By Yann Martel
 “Atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith, and every word they speak speaks of faith”  Let us have no more of these notions, that the “No God” people have science/reason and the “Yes God” people have faith. Every human is a person of faith. “We all go as far as the legs of reason will carry us and then we jump!”
Since all humans chart the courses of their lives on presuppositional faith, the one category of person that the author has the smallest amount of appreciation for is the agnostic. Yann Martel concedes that doubt is useful for a while, “but to choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”
The book is the grandest of survival stories. Pi the principle character of the story is a teenager of full faith. Much to the befuddlement of his religious mentors and his parents, Pi finds himself a believer not just in Hinduism, but also Islam & Christianity all at the same time! Selling the zoo and moving with his family from India to Winnipeg Canada is the setting for the adventure. Somewhere east of the Philippines the boat sinks, Pi is the lone human survivor, the journey lasts 227 days. He survives in a life boat with an adult male Bengali Tiger, fights off sharks, battles through starvation, and exposure, even a floating Meerkat filled island made of edible but deadly plants is worked into this adventure. The journey comes to an end, when Pi a virtual skeleton drifts into the cost of Mexico. The Tiger jumps out and disappears into the forest never to be seen of again.
During the struggle Pi’s faith remains even when God appears silent, perhaps even cruel, Faith is:
An intellect confounded
yet a trusting sense of
presence and of ultimate
purpose

    “Faith in God is an opening up, a letting go, a deep trust, a free act of love–but sometimes it was so hard to love” especially when starving to death. However, the paradox for Pi was though hard it was also natural “It was natural that, bereft and desperate as I was, in the throes of unremitting suffering, I should turn to God — The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar.” and so he continued to worship.
When Pi relayed this incredible story of survival to the investigators they would not believe him. It was too preposterous, too unbelievable. They couldn’t believe in cohabiting with a tiger and deadly floating Islands. It was too much of a leap, so it must not be true. Finally, exasperated, Pi says “I know what you want. You want a story that won’t surprise you. That will confirm what you already know. That won’t make you see higher or further or differently. You want a flat story. An immobile story. you want dry, yeast-less factuality.” They agreed, and so he told an alternate story, one without animals and floating islands. In its place was a story of selfishness, cannibalism, murder, cruelty, deceit, and hatred. Pi was curious so he said
 “Tell me, since it makes no factual difference to you and you can’t prove the question either way. Which story do you prefer? Which is the better story, the story with animals or the story without animals?”
The investigators preferred the story with the animals.
And so it goes with God
Yann Martel’s challenge to all people is simple “Don’t let a lack of imagination cause you to miss the better story.”  A salient point, told so powerfully.

Upside Down

upside-down

A nude man yells at us for asking him to put clothes on. We didn’t want our children to be exposed to his nudity, is that so bad? He is incredulous at the inconvenience we are causing him. Us telling him that there is a nude beach available for him not far away, does little to quell his fury.

A music teacher at our school can’t understand why we object to a song she is teaching our second grader. The song talks about eating each others brains, “But it’s a really fun song” she says.

“It’s just words, It doesn’t matter! They are having fun!” was the angry retort my wife received.  A local college first year initiation rite involved songs that promote rape. My wife, simply said it was not a good idea. “but there is nothing funny about rape, ever.” was her comment. Eyes rolling, our friend just shakes her head and walks away, mumbling something about how my wife is not liberated enough to understand.

“Life is better when you share it” says my poster. It’s an invitation for the people of our neighborhood to come together at my house for a BBQ. It has pictures of about 30 of us, smiling and enjoying each other and good food. The other night it was torn down. “We don’t want that kind of thing around here” is the obvious implication. It’s hard not to notice that posters like “Rent Money” remain unscathed. It’s a local strip club’s attempt to “help” the more financially challenged of our female population come in once a week to give a show. They take off their clothes, the audience deepens it’s sexual addiction, women in general are further objectified and these girls get their rent money. How nice.

Complaint’s trickle in to the school: “We don’t want churches in our schools.” What does that mean? We don’t want people of faith helping to make our schools better? Why not? What would happen in our neighborhood if someone said we don’t want Asian people helping to make our schools better?

Will our society flourish? Will our children be safe? Will there be more peace and prosperity? What is the stuff that’s really needed for human thriving? I think it is relational stability and longevity. If that’s true, will we thrive if we have a culture that embraces nudity, celebrates death and darkness, condones sexual violence in media, celebrates proudly and publicly sexual freedom in all it’s forms and continually marginalizes those who believe in loving a real God and loving their neighbors? I don’t think so. Our society’s path is not taking us to better places. I know this because I can see it in the faces of the people that walk down my street. There is a reaching but a never finding. There are deep wounds in these smiling faces. We are upside down. We’ve come to think of wrong as right and right as wrong. The brights of our era have worked hard to erase both of these categories, but as humans we just can’t, so we’ve inverted them. We are like my daughter hanging from her legs on the monkey bars. But we can only remain upside down for so long until all the blood rushes to our head. Eventually we will pass out, as we slip from consciousness there might be a bit of euphoria but a great and painful fall is the end result.

My Journey into understanding church — We are Servants — Part 3

penny-drops1

After 4 years, my time drew to a close at this little church. I was discouraged because there were multiple problems with this church. I began to ask questions like, “If this is what Christianity is all about, do I want to be a part of it?” The answer in my soul was a resounding “NO!” But Jesus was real to me and I had come to love the gospel. What should I do? A brilliant idea came, so I packed everything up, and enrolled in Seminary. As newlyweds, my wife and I moved into an apartment complex that was almost completely African American. We intentionally built our schedules so that our evenings and weekends were free so we could love our neighbors in simple ways.  A kid’s club started, then a youth group, then an adult Bible study. Then came haphazard Christmas concerts and camping trips – it was awesome! As people came to know and love us, it seemed that they came to know and love the God in whose name were were serving. It was such a beautiful thing. The church we were attending got excited too and began to help out. They eventually hired me as a full time associate pastor.  This was a precious season in our lives, but it was also the time that God used to help me realize something crucial about the church. I became very busy with message prep, trustee meetings, deacons meetings, event planning, crisis counseling, parent meetings, trip coordinating, advertising, and media stuff. The work of the ministry became all consuming. One day I found myself irritated because once again I did not have the time to reach out to my neighbors because I was too busy with the church. As I mulled this over, “the penny dropped” and I had a defining moment of realization. I was too busy doing church work to be on mission in my neighborhood. I didn’t have time to serve those who needed the gospel because I was too busy preaching the gospel. It was one of those unforgettable “uh oh! what am I doing?” moments.

At that point I began to pour myself into the study of ecclesiology: What is the church? Why are we here? What do we do? What do we look like? Meta communities is the grand experiment of this journey into understanding church. At Meta we see ourselves as a family, not a business or service, event or club.  But a community of people that know, love, and take care of each other, we try to welcome people into the good news of Jesus by welcoming them into this family regardless of where they are at on their spiritual journey. We believe we are sent by God into this world to tell, and show the good news of Jesus in the everyday, it’s who we are, and finally, since Jesus said “I am among you as one who serves” we endeavor to embrace his servant DNA into the very fabric of our lives.

My Journey into understanding church — We are Sent — Part 2

img_1467

When I graduated from high school, a Christian university was my choice. They had a hockey team there, and I wanted to study the Bible. My life had changed so much since my faith came alive as a 16 year old. My time at this university was outstanding! I grew in the gospel and learned much. Upon graduation, a church invited me to become their youth pastor. I had big dreams of helping these teens understand and live out the reality that all Christians are sent people. Leading by example, I launched myself into the fabric of this small midwestern town. As a football coach at the local high school, I was the designated driver on weekends for the coaching staff when they drank to much after a big victory. I was constantly in the homes of not yet believers. The culture in this little town fascinated me and I was thrilled to witness God do some amazing things. However, it wasn’t long before pious eyebrows were raised at the church.  This is when it hit me: High walls. The church had erected extremely high walls. Protected within these walls was a completely separate culture. This Christian culture had it’s own language, it’s own priorities, even it’s own air! It became apparent early on that my job, as understood by the church, was to perch safely on top of the walls so as to not be contaminated and yell down into the doomed world below the good news of Jesus.  Of course if anyone called out for a rope, I could happily throw one down, hoist them up, and toss them into the Christian culture behind the safety of the walls. More questions began to rise: Was the church supposed to be this way? When Jesus said “As the father has sent me into the world so have I sent you” was he thinking safety ropes, high walls, and separate uncontaminated cultures? The unsettledness of soul continued to grow.

My Journey into understanding church — We are Family — Part 1

rules-for-all

In the world of professional sports, it doesn’t matter who you are. It only matters what you can do. This same mindset was adopted in the church where I grew up. The messages were always about what a person should do for God. Here is the list, In fact there were two lists.
Things to do:
Tell people about Jesus,
Read KJV Bible
Pray
Get angry at sin.
Go to church service at all costs.
Things not to do:
Don’t go to movies
Don’t listen to rock music
Don’t get close to the world and especially other Christians that don’t agree with you on all the things your not supposed to do.
As a young impressionable lad, I wanted to impress others so my lists of “do’s” and “do not’s” became quite long and distinguished. This list was well kept and prominent so I could see and measure how good a Christian I was. All the while, I had an issue which was rotting my soul: I hated my dad. It was a deep, firm, committed, growing, consuming hatred. Of course I justified my hatred because in my estimation my dad was a horrible person. Every ounce of ill will & spite I sent in his direction was well deserved. It seemed that my church was blind to this issue, just so long as I kept my lists from getting dusty.
One year as a teenager I went to a Christian camp and almost immediately one of the counselors took a real interest in me. We talked about all sorts of things. He didn’t seem overly interested in my lists, but rather in who I was. That’s when it came out. It was a simple question, “How is your relationship with your dad?” he asked. I let him know in no uncertain terms! A two week long conversation about belief, the gospel, love & forgiveness began. I fought these notions! “I am a good Christian! Look at my lists and besides, my dad is a moron!” This was my justification for hatred. My friend persisted, but the relationship was real, the love was real, and the talks were genuine, so I couldn’t dismiss him and at the end of two weeks I repented of my sin. I took a countercultural, counterintuitive step of faith. I chose the Jesus way of love over hate and forgiveness over bitterness. For all practical purposes, I became a Christian, and my life changed forever. Questions began to form in my mind regarding church. All those years in a church, and never once was I relationally connected to another follower of Jesus so that we could look deep into the gospel and experience it’s transforming power together. The church was not a family. It was not a network of ever deepening relationships centered around the gospel. It was a machine that spit people out like toy robots on an assembly line. We all looked the same; we all had knee jerk reactions against things; and we were programmed to be for our against certain issues. Thinking was not necessary, and neither were deep relationships. As long as we could “get er done” everything was fine. Well it wasn’t fine. That church blew up, and many of my friends from that era left the faith all together. I couldn’t articulate the restlessness in my soul back then, but I knew things were not as they should be.