Friday, November 03, 2006

concerning swaggart part deux

i have little doubt that most of you have heard the allegations that ted haggard, the pastor of new life church in colorado springs and the president of the national association of evangelicals, has been accused of soliciting sex and using methamphetamines. as will samson said so well in this post this is a tragic situation that will profoundly affect everyone involved.

i'm not going to use this event as a launching pad for a sermon lamenting the oppressive expectations of superficial righteousness that we place upon evangelical pastors, though i definitely could, but i cannot help but utter one note of lament.

in response to this tragedy, which is bound to have a profound effect upon haggard's wife and five children, the 15,000 members of new life church and evangelicals who have been influenced by haggard's leadership at the NAE, james dobson offered the following statements on

"It is unconscionable that the legitimate news media would report a rumor like this based on nothing but one man's accusation," Dobson said in a written statement issued before haggard's leave was announced.

"Ted Haggard is a friend of mine, and it appears someone is trying to damage his reputation as a way of influencing the outcome of Tuesday's election -- especially the vote on Colorado's marriage-protection amendment, which Ted strongly supports," Dobson said.

so apparently, according to dobson, the primary cause of this tragic event is the liberal media and the primary consequences will be political.

as if we needed further evidence that dr. dobson just doesn't get it.

as will sampson reminded us, let us continue to pray for ted haggard's family, congregation and the well-being of his accuser.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


the most recent edition of next-wave features an excellent review of Jesus of Suburbia by dustin bagby and an intriguing article entitled dear emergents by indiana wesleyan professor keith drury. in the latter article professor drury commends the emergent church for its missional orientation, abiding idealism and mystical theology. however, he also offers two words of caution as well.

since the second caution effectively summarizes one of my own deepest concerns about emergent i'm posting it in hopes that you will read and respond.

Keep the church. You are going to be tempted to abandon the church and go off into solitary spirituality. Your crushed idealism may cause you to give up on the assembled people of God and our culture’s individualism will entice you toward your iPod rather than worship on Sunday mornings. There will be voices recruiting you to leave the church—reversing the notion of “called out ones” to being called out of the church to an individualized privatized spirituality. I pray you will not listen to these temptations. Be wary of any who claim to “love Jesus but despise the church.” Refuse to walk away from the assembly of believers into a privatized self-centered spirituality. If you are practicing privatized faith on your own apart from the assembly you are not being a Christian at all—you merely practicing spiritual masturbation. There is no such thing as a solitary Christian any more than a solitary marriage. Christians come in clusters. I hope you emergents will reinvent all kinds of new ways for the church to be the church, but none of them should include a church-less Christianity. For a church-less Christianity is essentially a Christ-less Christianity and thus not Christian at all. To be prepared for this temptation read Bonhoeffer.
overheard: cardinals apologize for winning world series

ST. LOUIS—Calling Friday night's victory on baseball's grandest stage "a terrible mistake," members of the St. Louis Cardinals issued a formal apology for making the playoffs, winning the World Series, and depriving baseball fans everywhere of a season featuring the kind of heartwarming, storybook ending to which they have grown accustomed in recent years. continue reading

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


yesterday leadership journal posted an intriguing article entitled preaching past tivo.* if you listen to "godcasts" for fun, enjoy the writings of will willimon, doug pagitt, john ortberg and/or efrem smith or simply have waaay too much time on your hands at work take a moment to read it. i was fascinated with the concept of "a shadow mission" and intrigued by shane claiborne's idea of earthy, life-application teaching. i'd love to hear your reflections.

* i find it a little disturbing that blogger's spell checker knows the proper spelling of TiVo but does not recognize any derivative of homiletics.
disconnected salem reflections

last night we offered peace to the city of salem, watched our beloved brooke perform on the fountain stage and, finally, shut down the confession booth for the season. serving in salem is such an overwhelming experience that i am hesitant to offer a benign summary. so i’d like to offer a few disconnected reflections instead.

when the temperature was at or above 55 degrees i choose to walk the streets barefoot. this discalced look reflects my love for the early franciscans, never fails to elicit comments from curious onlookers and provides conclusive evidence, due to the remarkable length of my toes, that i am indeed the missing link. last night i had a number of people take pictures of my bare feet, received the requisite amount of admonitions from senior citizens, had a passerby warn me about a pile of horseshit that blighted my intended path and a smartass kid share his hope that i would step on a hypodermic needle. today my feet hurt, so i guess i should give the old ladies their due.

okay, i'll admit it. next year i would really like to have placards and signs that proclaim: "blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God;" "blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven;" and "what does the Lord require of you? to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

on a couple of occasions last night i was almost certain i was about to get my ass kicked. fortunately that didn’t happen.

throughout the day yesterday the cliché office conversation focused on the fears that there would be a gang battle in salem on halloween night. there was a grandmother worrying about her grandchildren, receptionists responding to the fear mongering on “news” radio* and a few people expressing amazement that i would spend time in salem on halloween. today, after hearing the reports of the relatively minor incidents that took place, people still can’t talk enough about the police thwarting the evil plans of the chelsea crips or recounting the stories of the two minor stabbings that took place. maybe i’m being an arse for saying this, but whenever i hear people obsessing about possible gang wars in salem or the supposed “lights out weekend” gang initiations that people worried about during my youth i hear a whispered subtext that sounds something like this: THE BLACK PEOPLE ARE COMING TO TOWN! WATCH OUT FOR YOUNG BLACK PEOPLE! HOW CAN WE KEEP OUR KIDS SAFE WHEN BLACK PEOPLE ROAM THE STREETS? maybe i’m misinterpreting the subtext, but i don’t think so. the overwhelming presence and subtle power of white, suburban suspicion is so strong that i caught myself doing a little freelance racial profiling last night. that makes me ashamed.

i must say that the haters, er…i mean the street preachers, were remarkably restrained last night. one of them was speaking so reasonably and persuasively about sexual ethics that a couple of young local women** stopped and told a group of our monks that if young men actually lived in line with such ethics “a lot less women would get hurt.” these young women were of eastern orthodox and coptic christian ancestry and shocked our monks by telling them to affirm the street preacher for “speaking the truth.” i was also surprised that by the end of the night several of the street preachers came to the gathering space seeking reconciliation with the church leaders and, to my knowledge, none of our monks were openly denounced or had a negative word spoken against them.***
i also ran into a guy that i spent talking to on monday night and he asked me how he could get in touch with me in the future. i suspected he might have been a tad too inebriated to either remember my phone number or write it down, so i told him to visit my friends at the gathering space if he wanted to contact me. at that he smiled and said “hey, if those guys are anything like you, they’re totally cool with me. i’ll stop by.” i must admit that i found that encounter rather gratifying.

we were fortunate to have a number of young gordon college students with us last night who entered into intriguing spiritual conversations with people by simply asking questions. i was impressed by their generosity of Spirit and genuine interest in the opinions of those who walked the streets of salem.

ok, that’s about it. i’m exhausted, my feet hurt and my voice is shredded. once again, it was a blessing to us to work beside the gathering as they seek to bless the people of salem. it is intoxicating to partner with a church that is on the mission and we’re looking forward to serving again next year.

* why would anyone in boston listen to a “news” radio station other than npr? one has to wonder.

** a couple of whom were sporting the almost requisite “i’m a hottie whore” outfits.

*** which is all the more intriguing since i went out of my way to wander into their preaching pit and shout things like “if you’ve heard enough condemnation from the church, come to confession,” “it’s time to purge the pulpits, it’s time to clean out the vestries, come to confession” and “if you’re sick and tired of Christian hypocrisy, come to confession” on a number of occasions.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


"Jesus doesn't meet our needs; he rearranges them. He cares very little about most things that I assume are my needs, and he gives me needs that I would've never had if I hadn't met Jesus. He reorders them.

I used to ask seminarians, "Why are you in seminary?" They'd say, "I like meeting people's needs." And I'd say, "Whoa. Really? If you try that with the people I know, they'll eat you alive."

Now, if you're a pastor in Honduras, it might be okay to define your ministry as meeting needs, because more people in Honduras have interesting biblical needs—food, clothing, housing. But most people in the churches I know get those needs met without prayer. So they've moved on to "needs" like orgasm, a satisfying career, an enjoyable love life, a positive outlook on life, and stuff the Bible has absolutely no interest in." - Will Willimon as quoted in Leadership Journal
livin' for the love of the city

last night we served with this guy, pastor phil wyman. all of us at sinners and saints love this guy and think you’ll love him too. the story of his community’s commitment to “be a blessing to the city of salem” is featured on the front page of the wall street journal and is included in the the salem evening news as well. you can pick up the journal at your local newsstand and read the news article by clicking on the link provided above.

in related news...

life has been really rich lately. i’ve reveled in renewed connections with friends in the lou and chicago-land, felt my crusty soul unfold as simkins and i rolled through the midwest, reveled in the cardinals winning the world series and spied the first signs of reconciliation in one of my most essential relationships. so much has happened that i’ve had precious little time to write, but i suppose that’s the way it goes. of course, i’m planning to explore these experiences further sometime after they cease to be relevant.

i suppose that’s a long way of saying that i would like to forego any reflection on the past week so that i can talk about what happened last night. for the past several years a small contingent of sinners and saints has been partnering with the gathering as together we seek to “be a blessing” to the people of salem. throughout the years we’ve served free hot chocolate, offered “p(s)alm readings”* and donned monk robes to offer free confessions to whomever will hear them.**

last night, as we were wolfing down meatball subs and openly wondering whether we should open the confession booth since there was a surprisingly small crowd walking in and around essex street,
phil wyman received a call from christian day, one of salem’s high priests of wicca. christian reported that the entrance to their psychic fair was being obstructed by fundamentalist preachers who were causing quite an uproar. so he decided to call pastor phil and the police in hopes that the witches and the visitors to the witch city could find some peace. at that moment, for some unknown reason, i received christian’s plea as a call to action. so four of us quickly finished our subs, donned our monk robes and headed down to the museum place mall.

once we arrived on the scene, i realized we were walking into a fairly volatile situation. the street preachers were condemning the crowds of sins like beastaphilia, the witches were claiming that one of their number was physically assaulted by either a member of
repent america or an associated group and a goth kid was verbally abusing the preachers, denouncing the christians by screaming things that i am hesitant to repeat and stopping just short of taking a swing at any person who countered him.***

at that moment, i realized that i needed to do some pretty quick thinking. should i stand in front of the preachers and counter their condemnation by proclaiming Christ’s blessing upon peacemakers? i tried this approach for a moment but quickly realized that fighting fire with fire was not the best option. should i spend the next few hours standing in front of the “persecution cams,” smiling a benign smile and thwarting fundamentalist attempts to blatantly objectify my fellow citizens? i tried this course for a while, but realized it only incensed the “preachers” all the more and did little fulfill our calling to “bless the city of salem.” finally, i settled on simply speaking grace and truth to both the passerby and those who were committed to condemning non-christians for failing to live up to a kingdom ethic. this latter approach appeared to produce the best fruit, a couple of slices of which i would like to share below.

almost as soon as i decided to share Christ’s peace with the crowd i bumped into a young man who had once been a foster child of a family i know quite well. as soon as i saw him i removed my hood, reminded him of our connection and encouraged he and his friend not to pay much mind to the spite the preachers were spewing or even pay them much attention. i told that by standing around gawking at the street preachers and trying to convince the latter that they actually were not “nazis” they were only encouraging this event to continue.

after i spoke with a few more people i bumped into a leather clad townie who seemed amused by the street preachers and openly wondered “how anyone could take this shit seriously.” i confessed to him that i was a Christian who believed that Christ offered us the most beautiful, good and true approach to life, but that i thought it was ridiculous for the church to require non-christians to embrace the sexual ethics**** that Christ expected of the church and believed that the group that most needed to heed the call to repentance was the church. the townie responded that he had fought many great battles in his life against “crack, crystal meth and the bottle” but had ultimately found freedom from his addictions. moreover, he readily admitted that he believed in Jesus and, during one of the street preacher’s more hostile harangues, he pulled out a harmonica and started to play amazing grace.

in the midst of these encounters i also had the opportunity to speak with a young christian woman who had traveled all the way from wisconsin to preach to the people of salem. after we had a brief discussion concerning the primary focus of prophetic condemnation in the scriptures***** i asked her whether she had ever heard of marshall mcluhan. she told me that she hadn’t, so i spent a few moments explaining his dictum that “the medium is the message” and openly wondering with her whether spreading condemnation upon non-Christians was the best way to share the life in Christ we both value so dearly. our amicable discussion reminded me that true dialogue with the street preachers was both possible and potentially beneficial.

later i spoke with a slightly inebriated man who really wanted to know whether God’s forgiveness, which to him seemed to good to be true, was real and later responded to another question by affirming that even a broken man on his deathbed was not beyond the gracious embrace of God.

there were other remarkably beautiful encounters as well, such as when one of the witches crashed the church after all the earlier craziness to thank us for being a means of peace to the city of salem,****** but i’ve probably said too much already.

i’ll conclude by simply noting that last night i had the opportunity to share the gospel of God’s peace and embody Christ’s reconciliation in a manner, and to an extent, that i never have before. moreover, i left the city revelling in the fact that those who seek to be a blessing are often the most blessed indeed.

i can’t wait to get back to salem. if you’re in the area and would like to join us you are more than welcome.

* which i absolutely suck at.

** we confess the sins of the church in hopes that the Holy Spirit can clear new ground wherein reconciliation takes place. we stole this idea from donald miller’s blue like jazz and freely admit that our act is wholly unoriginal.

*** one of the fundamentalist’s video cameras was not so lucky.

**** the preachers roundly condemned homosexuality, adultery and fornication and returned to the topic of homosexual marriage time and again. but apparently they found the topic of beastiality most titillating. i must confess that after they loudly addressed “those who practice beastiality” i loudly asked “so where are the sheep?” i don’t know if the latter question was constructive, but i found it quite funny.

***** for the record, the people of God are almost always the object of such condemnation. Jesus does indeed denounce people as whitened sepulchers and hypocrites, but you’ll never find him speaking in such a manner to egyptians or greeks. the same principle almost always applies to the old testament prophets as well, though, in fairness, jonah did openly denounce the ninevites.

****** forgive me if i keep further details of that beautiful encounter to myself. some encounters should not be reduced to words.