Recycling Faith

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When I was in elementary school, our district did a can drive to promote recycling and cash-in the deposits for funding. Classrooms competed to collect as many aluminum cans as possible. The principal promised an ice cream party for the winning homeroom. I begged my parents to buy soda in bulk (“It’s the responsible thing to do!”). Instead, my father took us dumpster-diving.

We lived at the edge of suburbia in the midst of America’s housing boom; any square-foot of untouched land held potential for profit. At the end of each day, once construction crews were finished, we’d cruise the neighborhood looking for promising worksites. My sister and I scaled the metal walls of dumpsters glancing toward our father waiting by the car like we’d just been granted permission to rob an ice cream truck. Once in we would pick our way around the rubble, tossing any cans over and out where Dad collected them, like they were Easter eggs on a church lawn. Memory exaggerates, but I’m sure we collected several hundred cans with this routine.

A couple of weeks back, I went for a drink with a friend from grad school. We discussed his doctoral work, which was creating something of a faith crisis. “The old stories just don’t work for me anymore,” he told me. His tone was neither desperate nor dismissive; he wasn’t looking for answers or advice. Good thing, because the only response I could muster was swishing my glass while muttering “the drinks here have always been a bit too weak for me.”

It was in middle school that I began attending the weekly youth meetings at our church. We met on Tuesday nights for games and a Bible study. The youth pastor was young and cool (like, wore jeans-to-church cool); several college-aged leaders with frosted tips greeted us as we arrived. For two dollars, we could buy two slices of pizza and a soda.

We talked about Jesus and the Biblical stories. Seven days of creation, belly of a whale, virgin birth, the apocalypse…we got a crash course in fundamentals of the evangelical tradition. More importantly, we learned how to express that tradition (“share the good news”) to others. It was the latter that gave our education a sense of urgency. Faith had to be erected quickly like the new homes of the housing boom, structures built to meet the material demand of the masses which call for answers and concise paradigms. But, like a bursting bubble, not much is needed to reveal the weakness in the frames.

My childhood and the housing boom ended at roughly the same time. Dumpsters and muddy plots of land were replaced by overgrown gaps in the sidewalk. As puberty struck, I grew peach fuzz and skepticism. By the time I graduated college, enough of my long-held assumptions had been scrutinized that I felt like I was coughing in a cloud of smoke but still asking “is something burning?”

All this makes me think of a metal mug my father had in his office which he used for stashing all his loose change. Every six months or so he enlisted us kids to count up the coins into paper rolls— 100 pennies, 40 nickels, 50 dimes, etc. Completed rolls were left on his desk to be deposited in the bank. He called it our college fund. I never saw the deposit slips, but I’d call that “dark humor.” That said, it’s only recently occurred to me that the school district and my father seemed to employ a similar strategy for funding my education: save what you can, it just might add up.

I like to say that my childhood faith has evolved into deconstructed pieces. Practicing this faith is a kind of dumpster diving. Instead of checking boxes next to “I believe” I seek the pieces of my Christian heritage that can be recycled. Some days it’s difficult not to feel as though my tradition takes sincerity and cashes it in for platitudes. The 2016 election, for instance, was like someone gathered all those recyclable cans I’d been collecting and tossed them into the ocean, right above some seals. Baby seals. Just because they could.

I never left the church. Even though the old stories haven’t been working for a long time.  I think I lack the courage. A hiatus here and there may have done me— and my faith— some good. But I’ve never had the bravery of Thomas— searching for answers out in the world while the other disciples remained huddled, terrified, in a locked room.

My class won, by the way. And ice cream during school hours never tasted so good. Which is to say that I do think there’s still–there’s always— hope. Even if it comes from a dumpster, even if only worth a nickel. Because who knows, it just might add up.

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37 Signs That You Were a Christian Kid Born in the 90’s

Christian kid

Growing up in the Christian subculture was a unique experience. As was growing up in the 90’s. Those of us who emerged from a blend of these two backgrounds share common-experiences, cultural bonds and traits that make up who we are- and what we believe- today.

Here’s just a few of them:

1.) All you need to know you learned from:

2.) You seriously questioned whether or not you should read the Harry Potter books when they first came out…because witches.

3.) This was what you watched at every youth-group movie night for, oh- about sixteen years:4.) Most of the anxiety in your life can be traced back to the Left Behind series:

Will YOU be??

 

6.) Avalon, Steven Curtis Chapman, Plus One, OC Supertones and, lest we forget:

7.) Speaking of which: you know all the words to “Jesus Freak.”

8.) …and your first AOL screename was derived from the title (JSUSFreakgurl3599)

9.) Today, as an adult, you sometimes feel as though the faith of your youth propagated an us verses them mentality against the culture and ‘the world.’

10.) When you started dating you learned the meaning of a DTR

11.) But then you kissed dating goodbye:

 

    (…and that hat too, I hope.)

12.) You’re not sure what Jesus would do..but he sure as h-e-doublehockeysticks would wear this bracelet:

13.) …and ironically (though not until now) your entire conservative, non-denominational youth group all wore rainbow versions of the above-mentioned.

14.) You had a lot of great experiences at church as a child, but sometimes feel like God was missing from them; and now you struggle to see how that faith is relevant to this life.

15.) You weren’t allowed to watch the Simpsons…because they make fun of Christians!

(though it does justify your previously mentioned anxieties about Harry Potter).

16.) You didn’t shop at Abercrombie and Fitch but did buy:

17.) You wanted (and tried) to vote Republican– at age 9.

18.) You can finish this bridge: “Scanned the cafeteria for some good seating / I found a good spot by the cheerleaders eating…”

19.) The first time you went to Mexico was on a missions trip the second time was on an all-inclusive cruise…sometimes you get the two mixed up. 

20.) You didn’t date your first love, you courted them… and it’s about as awkward as it sounds.

21.) Sometimes you long for the days when faith (and life, really) was black-and-white.

22.) You think Nicholas Cage is a poser, because:

23.) The first rapper you listened to was Kirk Franklin.

24.) You remember visiting the Creation Museum for the first time- you wondered then (and wonder now) if faith always has to come at the cost of science.

25.) It’s not Christmas without Amy Grant and it’s not Christmas (evidently) unless you’re in Tennessee.

26.) Your first kiss was at the youth group lock-in.

27.) Your first broken bone was at youth group, during a game of red rover.

28.) So was your second.

29.) That youth pastor was fired.

30.) You’ve done communion with Surge and Cheese-Its.

31.) That youth pastor wasn’t fired.

32.) You got a purity ring on your 13th birthday:

33.) Today you are fearful that members of your church might find out what you did while wearing it.

34.) The phrase “Touched by an Angel” prompts nostalgia, and this never seemed weird to you….until now.

It’s like a face-off with the board of Planned Parenthood

 

35.) Harvest parties not Halloween. Done.

36.) You accepted Christ nine times- usually at church lock-ins. Today you often wonder about those in the world who don’t get a chance to accept Christ. “Is the Christianity orf my youth really the only hope?” You’re not entirely sure. And you’re not sure who to ask.

37.) But what cheers you up is when you read the Bible and encounter a story you’ve definitely heard before… on Veggie Tales:

In a research project titled Faith That Lasts the Barna Group looked to identify the reason why nearly three out of every five young Christians (59%) walk away, either temporarily or permanently, from their faith after the age of 15. Their conclusion, after five years of interviews, surveys and case studies, was that

“No single reason dominated the break-up between church and young adults. Instead, a variety of reasons emerged.”

The most prevalent of these reasons being:

  1. Churches seem overprotective.
  2. Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  3. Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  4. Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  5. They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  6. The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

Christian heritage is a wonderful thing. But it comes with its share of baggage. One of the great challenges for those of us entering adulthood is rectifying the realities of faith with the questions of our world. How does Jesus matter outside of Vacation Bible School? Is the notion of ‘purity’ we learned as kids truly pertinent to faith? Is there room on the straight and narrow for our wide and over-bearing questions? Where do I belong? 

What we have to remember- what we’re coming to learn- is these 37 things are not the cornerstone of our faith. The foundation of Christian faith is not what we do, how we identify ourselves or the way we grew up- the foundation of Christian faith is grace. Grace that permeates our homes, childhood and new beginnings; grace that opens up the gates and invites all to enter; grace that answers our questions with a gentle smile; grace that confronts our doubt with outstretched hands; grace that reminds us that we are caught up in it every minute of every day.

Maybe we can come to see our upbringing with all its traits, flaws, debaucheries, guffaws, legalities and nuances– maybe we can come to see these, not as relics of our disillusionment but as the quirky means of ordinary grace.

If we can accomplish this then maybe, just maybe, our reasons for leaving the faith can become the transformative means of God’s grace in this ongoing journey. Maybe we can take the good and the bad, knowing that Christ sees all of it as somewhat peculiar (at best) and yet loves us anyway. Maybe we can reform our hearts instead of leaving our traditions. Maybe renewal is possible and redemption- even of the most idiotic aspects of our backgrounds- does have a chance.

Maybe. Just maybe.

If nothing else, it’s worth a try.

Fellow Christians, THIS Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

this is why we can't have nice things

Nice things like respect and social admiration. Nice things like good radio and romantic novels that aren’t pre-cycled TP. Nice things like a fair historical analysis (are you sick of “Hitler was a Christian!” yet?) nice things like positive perceptions in the media.

It’s because of things like this:


That’s a handwritten lawsuit from a certain Nebraska resident who claims to be representing Jesus Christ and God in a lawsuit against- and oh, how I wish I was kidding- all homosexuals.

Yeah, uh:


The self appointed plaintiff goes on to: “Contend that homosexuality is a sin, and that they the homosexuals know it is a sin to live a life of homosexuality. Why else would they have been hiding in a closet.” (punctuation and word order as per the original). As evidence for her proposition, the plaintiff presents passages from Leviticus, Romans and “Jenesis”.

Thankfully, the lawsuit was thrown out without so much as a hearing. Said Judge John Gerard: “A federal court is not a forum for debate or discourse on theological matters.”   

This is beyond embarrassing. Its beyond an eye-roll and a sigh. Because, unfortunately, its sickeningly diagnostic.

What is it about the issue of homosexuality and the American church that makes us look so buffoonish? What is it about the topic of homosexuality that leaves us perpetually (but remarkably unknowingly) putting our feet in our mouths?

We claim to listen to Scripture, but instances such as this make that a hard claim to purport (cf: 1 Corinthians 6:1-20 & John 8:7). Additionally, the problem is continually revealed to be that we don’t listen to culture. We don’t listen to culture and so we don’t have the slightest clue of how to address culture . We listen to our Christian subculture- yes- and from thence we attempt to blast our intellectually incestuous rhetoric into ‘the world’. Which goes over like a pork pizza at a Bar Mitzvah.

It is not the calling of the church to conform the world to our standards; its the calling of the church to conform ourselves to God’s grace. There’s no room in said job description for applying diagnostic morality vis a vi legislation. None. Nu-uh.

Jesus said that the world would hate us because he is not of the world. But- generally speaking- the “world” doesn’t hate the American church; hate would signify some level of adversarial respect. Culture doesn’t take us seriously enough to hate us.

Uh…^^^^^…. can you blame them?

Please take note of the pronoun here: “we.” I want to be clear that I consider myself to be in the same camp. For, as my pee-wee football coach used to say: we win as a team, we lose as a team. My fellow Christians, we sin as individuals but we lose as a church. Doesn’t matter if its sexual sin or social sin- all of Egypt suffered even though only the Pharaoh told Moses “no”. God is concerned with broken systems just as much as he is concerned with broken people- his redemptive power is not limited contrary to our narcissistic notions.

And as a group we bear the following indictment: we don’t listen, we talk (he blogs, ironically). And because we don’t listen we can’t hear the laughter generated by our own absurdity.

The issue of homosexuality is not black and white. It is complex. Because it is a matter of sexuality. And sexuality has a lot to do with personhood and human beings are anything but black and white. And they certainly don’t fall under the label of “issues” nor should they ever be handled as such.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy O’Toole profiles a man by the name of Ignatius J. Reilly. Ignatius is a poignant character by any standards. He’s fat, repulsively unkempt, given to unashamed bowel movements, loud, selfish, narcissistically arrogant and incestuously intellectual; he spends his days berating his mother and writing his uncompleted works of self-designated genius while bemoaning the ‘mongoloids’ that have overrun society. Examined theologically, Reilly serves as a startling portrayal of the state of the American church.

At one point, Reilly self-righteously bewails the moral decay of the miscreants with whom he finds himself forced to interact. In between audible bowel movements, Reilly proclaims:

“A firm rule must be imposed upon our nation before it destroys itself. The United States needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency. I suspect that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss.”

Wait…was it Reilly– or did I read that in the handwritten lawsuit?

My point is that American Church is indeed on the edge of an abyss. But that abyss isn’t “the gay agenda”, it isn’t liberal disregard for Biblical authority or abandonment of loyal translations and submissions to church tradition. The abyss is that of our own making, the corner we’ve backed ourselves into, the mountain we’ve sworn we’ll die upon.

Because America is on the verge of entering the post-Christendom era, whence Christianity is being increasingly separated from matters of the state and quickly dethroned from its temporary role as a cultural authority. The icons we continue defending in the midst of so-called “culture wars” are not the gospel- after all, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword. What we’re defending is our own religion, the grip we have on Christianity as we know it, the grip that doesn’t allow for conversation because we’ve not stopped talking long enough to hear what the other side might have to say.

The posture of the American Church towards culture needs to be one of listening. Simultaneously, we ought not listen to Scripture- we ought to live it. And living in Biblical truth means living with great concern for how we portray that truth to those around us, for the stories we tell with the lives we lead.

It’s laughable to reduce that story to a handwritten lawsuit filed against someone else’s moral decision. Nor should we allow our story to be conveyed in anyway that it might be taken as such. The imperative is on us, not the culture; the teacher cannot blame the students for her shoddy communication.

If a 66 year-old lady from Nebraska can teach us anything (besides how ‘Genesis’ really should be spelt) its that it’s time we took a moment to listen.

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