Thursday, May 30, 2013

Being Ordinary




None of us want to be ordinary.

We're all special.  Unique.  Amazing.  Remarkable.   Or so we like to tell ourselves.   Lord, do we like to tell ourselves this.

So much of what passes for Christianity these days...and, frankly, many other faiths...has to do with stoking aspirational hungers that border on pathology.

I've always struggled with this.  Faith, at least as I understand it, is not about striving towards personal or organizational glory.  It doesn't separate us from the real, but guides us to shape reality in ways that are both kinder and more gracious.

But it does not make us shinier.  Or more powerful.   Or drive us to care about standing out.  We're called to find grace and contentment in little things, like the simplicity of a kind word.  

It's one of the reasons I love Ordinary Time, that great stretch of "we're just here now, people" that the Oldline Denominations celebrate for most of the year.    It's radically countercultural, and I'll freely admit that it's one of the reasons that folks pass us over lately.

That's why the stole I'm wearing and the colors at the front of the sanctuary will be different this week.  Back to green, the way it is most of the time.

We aren't Naming it and Claiming it.  We aren't impressing the world with our amazingness, with the shine of our screens and the sprawl of our facilities.  Because honestly?

We aren't all going to shine like flashy sparkles in the water, or stars in the sky.

Folks who tell you different are just trying to sell you something.



Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Level One Spells: Bless

Excerpted from Leveling Up: So You Want to Be A Christian Cleric, by Rev. J. Gary Gygax

One of the first - and one of the most essential - spells you'll be learning as a Christian Cleric is Bless.

This spell is one that can and should be cast by every level of Christian.  When you hear folks talk about the "Cleric-hood of All Believers," they're not kidding.

Meaning, as soon as you've decided to follow the Way taught by our Master, you need to get Bless under your belt.

Bless is a remarkably straightforward spell to cast, requiring only the capacity for self-expression and a connection with the Nature of the Deity.  Holy water had been traditionally used, but as it tends to short out people's cell phones, we've found it rather less helpful in the technological era.

As with most verbal spells, it primarily requires command of posture, tone, and language.  It can be also be effectively cast via written and social media, and even conveyed by nonverbal actions.

Using tone, posture, and language, you cast Bless by pouring out grace and kindness on your spell subject.  The specific words of the incantation vary, but they must always articulate a positive and encouraging potential future or affirm the best of whatever your subject has done.   As you'll mostly be casting this spell in our universe, and in this branch of the material plane, you need to cast this from a deep place of real connection with those you are casting towards.

The effects of Bless are subtle but immediate.  Individuals will be more eager and more creative.  You'll notice a slight but measurable improvement in the abilities of the group you're working with.   A little more will get done, and what does get done will get done more effectively.

There'll be a little more laughter, and a little more mutual patience.   Everything will be "Plus One," as they say.  What's best about Bless as a spell is that it's remarkably easy to cast.  So easy, in fact, that as you level up you'll find yourself casting it constantly.

So what does a Bless-casting look like?

Here are three examples of an effective cast of Bless, one verbal in the Material Plane, one nonverbal on the Material Plane, and one in the Virtual/Cyber plane:

1)  A friend is deeply depressed after the loss of a job and a sustained struggle for employment.  Realizing that their attitude is costing them the capacity to engage meaningfully with the world, you take them out for a beer.   During the sustained conversation that follows, you call down to the self you know they have the potential to be, repeatedly and honestly affirming that they're a valued and able person.   They're a fellow seeker, so as you speak their value back into them, you reference the shared story of faith.  It heartens them, and revitalizes them.

2) A neighbor is struggling with a health issue, and it snows.   They're too physically weak from their recent hospitalization to get out there and shovel...so you bop on by with your shovel once you're done with your walkway.  You get it done, and not only do they feel a bit better, but as they watch you grunting and shoveling, they feel a deeper sense of connection with the Creator.  Later that day, they pass that kindness along to a caregiver, and the world is a better place.

3) A stranger writes a blog-post that you find thoughtful, spiritual and moving.  So not only do you tell them so, but you make a point of sharing it with everyone in your social network.  That gives them the courage and encouragement to keep writing, and they move through the rest of their week with a spring in their step.

It's a minor spell, as are most First Level Spells, but that doesn't mean you can't botch it.   There are two ways Christian clerics typically mess this up:

1) Grasping: As a Christian Cleric, your Bless needs to be cast without grasping.  What does that mean?  Well, it means that you're really blessing, not just trying to get something out of someone.  Your intention needs to be for the good of the other, not for your own advancement.

If it's a Blessing, it needs to be a real Blessing.

Messing this one up can easily turn Bless into Command, a Level One Spell particularly popular among clerics who follow deities on the evil end of the spectrum.  Be careful with this, because making this error too many times ends up negating your connection to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, leaving you functionally powerless.

Worse yet, repeated casting of a Grasp-corrupted Bless opens a spirit-gate between you and the Dark Lord Mammon, who will happily turn you from the Way.  Use caution here.

2) Cursing:  The inverted version of Bless is immensely tempting, and increasingly common as this spell gets cast across media.  It's a spoken word of hostility, negation, and subversion, and it does have an impact.  Done well, it makes an opponent frustrated, angry, and chewing over your curse obsessively in their minds, sometimes for considerably longer than six melee rounds.

But that casting Curse is effective does not mean that it is something Christian Clerics should regularly include in their repertoire of spells.  A few higher level clerics (Paul, for example) and the Master himself could cast it effectively, but most of us find ourselves falling back on this spell more and more as we increasingly use it.

Our every thought becomes Curse, as we focus on the subverting of our adversaries.  We attack them for heresies and errors.  We mock them as ignorant and stupid.  We announce them to be evil, we undercut their every word, and we intentionally miscontrue what they're saying.

But the more we use Curse, the farther we get from the One Deep Spell that gives all Christian magic its power.  Separated from that heart, we move into a dangerous place.  Our lives become defined by it, and our communities become places defined not by Blessing, but by Cursing.  That's a dangerous thing. Curse draws its power from the Accuser, and the farther away we stay from Him and his path, the better.

As the Rule Book says, and as I'll say again and again, our primary task as a support class is to build up, not to tear down.

But what about Cursing in the heat of conflict, you say?  Can't I use it then?

Actually, no.  I do not recommend it.  Stay away from it.  Why?  Because it's antithetical to our Way.

What the Master taught us was the revolutionary notion that Bless is not just something we cast on our friends.  We also cast it on our enemies.  Here's a case in point:

A few years back, I was traversing the virtual plane.  This was shortly after the Great Net Gate had been discovered, and that plane was a new thing to me.  Suddenly, out of nowhere came roaring this Atheist Troll (50 HP, AC 3).  The battle was on.

Now you might think, knowing Trolls, that the first thing I should have done was to hit him with Flame Strike.  But as I was only level 5 at the time, this was not an option.  That was fortunate, because - as we all know now - using flame attacks in the virtual plane only makes trolls stronger.

I'd gotten used to using Bless, and so I just reflexively hit him with it.  His magic resistance held on the first casting, but I stuck with it, casting it again after his first flurry of attacks missed.

Well, by the third melee round, we were talking about our families, and how hard his life had been recently.  When he went on his way, I cast several more Blessings as he left.  What was most remarkable about that exchange was that I found I'd received significantly more EXP than I would have if I'd pounded him into submission with my mace.

Bless.

Learn it, practice it, use it every day.

Pope Universalist the First

Francis is, well, an interesting Pope.

While I'm not on board with some of what he proclaims to the world, I'll have to confess that I find his tendency to wander off the reservation now and again to be delightful.

Setting aside pomp and power? I'm down with that.  Being obviously, directly, and explicitly on the side of the world's poor and struggling?  Yeah, that works for me, too.

And then, this last week, there was his astounding announcement in a sermon that God's love extends not just to those within the Catholic fold, but also to those who aren't.  That's not just Protestants, but non-Christians.  Even atheists, he said, so long as they are doing the good.   As he put it:
The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics.  Everyone!   "Father, the atheists?"  Even the atheists.  Everyone! ... We must meet one another doing good.  "But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!"  But do good, we will meet one another there.
What a remarkably welcoming, joyous, and hopeful view of faith.  And yeah, I know, some atheists may not want anything to do with the Plasma and Corpuscles of our Redeemer, but at least it's focusing on the reality of making the world a kinder and more just place.

This radical statement was quickly walked back by a Vatican Spokespriest.  No, no, he didn't mean THAT, they said, even though that's exactly what his words meant.  And here I was thinking he was infallible.

It struck me, in reflecting on the tensions between the gracious reality that Francis declared and the institutional backpedaling, that grace is something that institutions do rather less well than persons.  As a human being and a child of God, it does me no harm to allow you to believe as you wish.

Openness to other forms of truth threatens organizational integrity and institutional aspirations.   If I say, you know what, those Methodists across the road have a really nice church, or I say, hey, that Baptist actually preaches some interesting things, then I open myself...and my church...to the possibility that people might be free to leave.

Which, of course, they are.   But in our fear of allowing that freedom, we cast up thickets of theology to defend our institutional interest.   Not God's interest, necessarily.  But ours.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Bishops and Politicians

Virginia politics has always been...interesting.

Making it more interesting still this season is the GOP choice for Lieutenant Governor.  He's the fiery pastor of a congregation in Chesapeake, Bishop E.W. Jackson Senior.  He is a "nationally prominent" African American pastor, as his campaign website proudly announces.

Jackson's ferocious and uncompromisingly conservative positions have made him the darling of the Tea Party and of national conservative media.  Here, a bona fide leader of an African American congregation, standing as a staunch conservative for a significant public office.

So being a pastorly sort myself, I found myself wondering: what sort of church is Bishop Jackson overseeing?

Rule number one of any congregation in the net era: check the website.

Websites speak volumes about a church.  You read what they say, but you also read other things.  How is the site structured?  Is it regularly updated?  What are the stated priorities?  Who is visible?  Who is not seen?  How much care is taken in site maintenance and design?    It's like a church building in that way, or our own bodies.  If we're taking care of them, it shows.

Best I can tell, Bishop Jackson leads a congregation slightly smaller than my own sweet little church.

Meaning, maybe twenty to twenty-five souls physically in worship on a Sunday, with a slightly larger network.   That's very difficult to ascertain on the website of the church, where most of the pictures are shots of Bishop Jackson himself, with the whole church rarely in evidence.  But from the volume of call and response "Amens," it does not appear to be a whole bunch of people.  They do not have a building or structure or regular meeting place, so images of that are not presented.  They meet in a hotel meeting room, with mail going to a PO Box.

Lord knows I'm the last person to claim that you need a building to do ministry.  Buildings can be a distraction, and a royal pain in the tushie.  But that means effective 21st century ministry and relationship building needs to happen through other media.

Like say, the website.

And the website itself is...well...it's not exactly state of the art.  As of today's date, the last time anyone updated it was about three years ago.  The calendar announces Memorial Day 2010 as the last date when anything happened.  Perhaps they've been so busy bringing in new members that they just haven't been able to get to it.

More likely, there are two factors at play.  First, Jackson's aspirations for the national stage and political power have been more on his mind.  His political websites are more polished, showing attention and updating.   Second, for all of the site's rhetoric of Big Large Successness, this is a "family ministry."  Meaning, it revolves around the leader and their spouse, and outreach and evangelism are subordinate to the authority of the patriarch and matriarch.

In denominational churches, these are the little congregations in the country run by Old Man Johnson and his wife, where everyone in the church is related.   These churches are where hapless seminarians are sent to test their calling and endurance.  In the nondenominational world, Old Man Johnson becomes Pastor Johnson.  Or Bishop Johnson.  Or whatever he wants to call himself.

According to the website, Bishop Jackson is the chair of his own board of directors, on which his wife also serves.  This is sort of a no-no if you plan on having any meaningful accountability.  That, plus one of his board members is described as "Late/Emeritus."  Emeritus I get.  But "late?"  I'm reasonably sure that having a dead guy on your board doesn't meet the standards of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

I don't know...maybe the dude just never shows up on time.  Maybe that's it.

Perusing the rest of the site, I'd also recommend a change in the name of the Youth Worship Service.  "The Hook Up" may not carry quite the connotations that they intend.  Sort of like naming a Men's Choir Gathering "The Down Low."  Because, you know, they have lots of baritones.

Ahem.

What's clear from the web page is that he is a "Bishop" over an "International Ministry" in the same way that I am the Senior Pastor and Head of Staff of PPC International Ministries Incorporated.

Being a small church pastor is fine and dandy.   But I tend to think it's fine to own that reality.

Keep it real, as they say.  Keep it real.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Megachurches and Organic Spiritual Leadership

I blogged a bit ago on article last week in the Washington Post, one that described the increasing phenomenon of seminary attendees who aren't moving on to pastor congregations.   In fact, they were never ever planning on it.

Thinking on this got another old line of thought going, that peculiar mismatch between folks who are called to be pastors and congregations.   In my area, for example, there's a pastoral glut.  Lots of trained and eager pastors.   Not quite so many congregations.

At the same time, smaller congregations struggle to find pastoral leadership.   It's more an irony than a paradox, because the forces at play are easy to understand.   Little congregations simply can't pay a living wage to a pastor with a family, and in rural communities that may be economically struggling, finding supplemental work may be equally difficult.  So here there are all these folks who have been given gifts, and they end up doing little with them.

In the face of this, I got to thinking off along another line.

Church now increasingly looks like WalMart, or Nordstrom, or Target.   It's not just that new church buildings look like that, as the vast JesusPlexes of AmeriChrist Inc. spread over the land.  It's that those Big Box Churches are run and governed like corporations.

And like those Big Boxes, megachurches take advantage of economies of scale in ways that little churches cannot.  A megachurch has an internal structure that requires administrative infrastructure, but is considerably less pastor-intensive.

Oh, sure, you have plenty of folks who are tasked with support roles within the hierarchy.  But the job of providing spiritual guidance, of being the interpreter of the sacred, that role falls primarily to the Iconic Leader.

Think about this in terms of the natural state of human communities and what is known as Dunbar's number.   Anthropologist Robin Dunbar found that we homo sapiens sapiens tend to form social groups of around 150.  Across all cultures, it's the natural size of a tribe, and to a large extent, it's governed by our nature.  Up to around 150 individuals, we can grasp the complexities of social interaction, seeing the depth of relationship between those around us.  Beyond that, things become hazier.   Frayed.  Less deep.  Communities that exceed this size cannot, by the way God made us, be "organic" and relationship-driven.

Within each Dunbar-sized grouping, there would naturally be at least one pastor/shaman/spiritual leader/interpreter of the sacred.   The weird dude who arrives on a caribou with a message for you from the Spirit Realm.  Within a tribal culture, that's the natural state of things.

So here's the hypothesis: the larger gatherings made possible by our increasingly technological and hierarchical society "crowd out" this naturally occurring leadership.

Lets play around with this thought for a moment.  What would this look like?   If in natural human communities there is at least one gifted spiritual leader per every one hundred and fifty souls, then what impact does a corporate congregational structure have?  

Here's a sample of large corporate and megachurch structures, drawn from my denomination and a couple of large local congregations.  I've broken it down by number of named "pastors" serving number of individuals that comprise the community.  That's followed by a Dunbar Pastor Number, meaning the number of 150 member communities within each megachurch, and then a percentage that indicates where that congregation lies relative to what would be a human-scale fellowship:



Church
Membership
Pastors
Dunbar/Pastor
Dunbar Ratio





Vienna PC
2516
8
16.77
47.69%
National PC
1870
4
12.47
32.09%





Peachtree PC, Atlanta, GA
8675
8
57.83
13.83%










McLean Bible, VA
11748
2
78.32
2.55%
Thomas Road
16000
7
106.67
6.56%



Using Dunbar's Number as a measure of an organic pastor-to-church ratio, Big Box churches seem to do to organic spiritual leadership what WalMart does to the Mom and Pop Hardware store.   Meaning, they crush it like a bug, and the bigger they are, the more they crowd out the leadership that would otherwise be naturally occurring in human gatherings.  Take Thomas Road, for instance, the largest church in my home state.  There are seven named "pastors," leading what is effectively one hundred and seven separate churches.

Of course, one can argue that such economies of scale are just part of the competitive dynamics of a spiritual marketplace.  Better leaders gather more followers and build more robust institutions that provide the faith product that church shoppers want.  It's the church, red in tooth and claw.  So to speak.

One could also argue...reasonably...that organic leadership remains healthy in larger churches, particularly within small groups, affinity groups, and "task groups."

Still, as faith communities grow larger and more Christians get their Jesus on in large venues, it seems an interesting dynamic to explore.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Meetings and Other Forms of Torture

Last night, as my kid-shuttling schedule once again precluded me from hitting the Presbytery meeting.   A multi-hour weekly rehearsal on Tuesday nights requires my presence.  At the height of rush-hour, on the other side of DC, I just can't manage the both.    Over the last year or so it has made getting out to the big collective gatherings consistently impossible.

I read the pre-meeting materials, of course, keeping up with who is going where and who is arriving.  I track my way through the different materials, which are generally well put together and useful.

And then I follow along, in the midst of other work, as folks on social media reflect on the gathering.   It's a proxy, but it's the best I can do for the time being.  Some of the time, there is enthusiasm.  But mostly, there are cries of anguish over the social network, like I'm sitting outside of that conference room Lord Vader repurposed on Bespin for his "meetings" with Han and Leia.   And they didn't even ask any questions...

I've never been a big fan of meetings.   No.  Wait.  Scratch that.   I actually rather like a productive meeting.   I can't stand going to meetings where my presence seems to add little value.  Worse still are meetings that lurch and grind and spiral, or that stretch you out on a rack of time, or that drip endlessly on your forehead like parliamentary water torture.

Surely, surely, there's a section in the Geneva Conventions about such gatherings.

In my little church, Session meetings are short.  Never more than two hours, not ever.  If there's an issue that we can't figure out in that time, then we need to step away, and give it more thought.   As moderator, this is my stated goal.

It's night.  People are tired, or they will be.  They have lives, and my task is to insure that those lives are in balance.  We have stuff to do, and I expect folks to do it because they see value in it and want to get it done.

Meetings, after all, are not the Thing Itself.  They are not, as painful as this reality is for Presbyterians to admit.  Worship is.  Service is.  Fellowship is.  Learning is.   Meetings, while necessary, are to the reality of community what the process of digestion is to connubial hanky-panky, or what neural firings are to the choice to throw that life preserver.

Meaning, they are absolutely necessary, up to a point.  Without digestion, one has no energy for...um...that.  Digestion is essential.   But if all your energies are turned towards trying to deal with that Bacon Triple Whopper with Cheese that's heaving its way through your innards, ain't no Barry White playing.   So to speak.

Similarly, when you see that person struggling in the water, there are a set of decisions that need to be made.   That has to happen.  Calculations about trajectory, made by the ephemera of sentience dancing across individual neurons?  Those must occur.  But if the process stretches out, and there are motions amend the amendment to the motion to throw the preserver at a forty three degree angle at a velocity of seven point three feet per second, then nothing happens.  Other than a faint burbling sound from the water nearby.

Be decent and orderly, sure.  But in the doing.

My last session meeting ran for just under fifty minutes, for example.  We fired up a tick after seven, and were done by eight.

Everyone reported in on what they were doing.  There were a few action items, duly discussed and dispatched with motions and seconds and ayes.  It was decent and orderly in the way that small fellowship gatherings can be, meaning there was conversation and banter and some laughter as we trundled our way through the agenda.

It was pleasant, and it was brief, and we got done what needed to be done.  This you can do with a half-dozen souls, all of whom know one another.

It is considerably harder when there are over a hundred, and there's complexity, and the ground of mutual relation and understanding is more tenuous. There are political dynamics, and turf, and all other forms of mess.  I know how hard this can be, and it's a burden that often rests heavy on the shoulders of those who struggle dutifully to move such gatherings forward.

Looking at my son's schedule, it seems that Tuesday might be opening up again in the Fall.

Back into the breach, I suppose.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Presbyterians in the Quantum Realm

Yesterday, my afternoon wanderings took me to a public library, as my younger son rocked out across the street in his drum lesson.  I settled in and began casually flipping through the latest Scientific American, and was immediately drawn to an article on the latest theoretical exploration of the quantum realm.

This is what Presbyterian pastors do when they have a few minutes to themselves.  Which is why it's best to keep us busy all the time, I suppose.

New Exciting Approach to Quantum Mechanics, announced the teaser on the cover, and given my fascination with that topic, I dove right in.   The article was written by Hans Christian von Baeyer, a theoretical physicist, and it...well...it was fascinating for a variety of reasons.

It describes what von Baeyer describes, in what in my mind's ear is an aristocratic Austrian accent, an approach called "QBism."   No, we're not talking Picasso here.  It's short for what is being called the "Quantum Bayesian" approach of that odd branch of science.

This was, of course, absolutely tantalizing.

Following the completion of my forthcoming book on the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum theory and theology, I read Thomas Bayes' treatise this last year.  No, not the one in which Bayes established the foundation for Bayes Theorem, the equation that underlies all modern probability theory.  The first one, the one that inspired that theory.  Bayes, a Presbyterian minister, got his inspiration for probability theory from a theological exploration of the goodness of God.

Probability theory and quantum physics...particularly of the Many Worlds variety...are two great tastes that taste great together.   Probability is particularly useful as a measure for nonlinear ethical behavior and moral norms in a multiverse.  Or at least, that is where instinct seems to be leading.

But what was most interesting about this article was that it seems to be saying that the quantum realm doesn't actually exist at all.  von Baeyer's "QBist" approach suggests that all of the quantum realm is either just a mathematical construct or completely imaginary.

Capable of shaping reality, yes.  Real?  Well, sort of.  And sort of not.

Huh.  So at it's most fundamental level, reality isn't real?  Errr.

I think I'll stick with the Many Worlds approach for the time being.  But Bayes?  Bayes is still worth exploring.

Few things are more fascinating than a Presbyterian with time on their hands.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Church That Doesn't Teach

A front page piece in the Washington Post last week highlighted Wesley Theological Seminary, where I spent seven years snagging my Masters of Divinity, and where I'm currently trundling towards a Doctorate.

It's a fine institution, and being there deeply enriched both my understanding of the Christian journey but also my faith.

The article, though, was about the transition of seminaries away from being places to train pastors.  The individuals interviewed for this story were getting their degrees in theology, but had absolutely no intention of using them for full-time pastoral ministry.

This trend goes deep, as the article noted that while 90% of seminary attendees a generation ago intended to lead a congregation, only forty one percent have that as their goal today.   Instead, their stated intent was to have seminary be the place that strengthened their faith, so that they could better apply it in their day-to-day lives.

From experience, I know that seminary does this.  I understand why people would seek it out.

But what struck me was this:

Isn't that what the church is for?

I mean, really.  Maybe it's just me with my teaching elder hat on, but how is it that local congregations aren't meeting this need?   That's kind of the point of what we do when we gather as disciples.

Oh, sure, there are other things that church does...worship and service and fellowship.  But if you come into encounter with a faith community that leaves you with no idea how to apply faith in the day-to-day, what use is it?

The article places much of the blame for this on the tendency of the institutional church to focus on structure and politics, turf wars, and arguing over the modern theological equivalents of iotas or how many angels dance on the head of a pin.

That may be so.   And I understand, as the part-time pastor of a small community, that there are limitations to what one can do.  But our gatherings do need to both model and teach what it means to be a follower of Jesus, no matter what our vocation or calling.

Feels like a baseline, to me, at least.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Helicopter Pastor

I am not, or at least I try not to be, a helicopter parent.   You know the sort, the ones who schedule every last moment of their child's lives, and whose rotor-wash manages to blow every last particle of fairy-dust whimsy out of childhood.

I do not wish to be that sort of parent, because that approach to children has very little to do with loving them, and a whole bunch more to do with our own anxieties about ourselves.

It can, as the latest in a series of fretful articles highlighted this week, cripple the development of our children...so protected, they become vulnerable, so carefully managed, they have no idea how to live for themselves.

Aaaah!  We're so anxious, we're anxious that we're anxious!   We're meta-anxious!

They're everywhere in DC.  I see them as I walk.  I like to walk.   Walking is so much better than driving.  It allows me to go slow, to take time to really observe the world around me.

I walk past one parent, sitting outside of a kid's music lesson, car idling with the windows up on a beautiful late spring afternoon, fiercely texting and then arguing with their spouse about schedules over a cell.

There is another, the loudest of a cluster of parents shouting instructions on a sports field, running the carefully scheduled activity that now fills time that once would have been filled with childhood's blissful freedom.

"Watch me, all of you," she barks on the softball field to a gathering of ten year old girls, all helmeted and wearing complex black metal face guards.  Face guards?  Since when did softball require a mask for every single player?  There's a small fortune in orthodontia to protect, I suppose.

"This is how you call it," she says, motioning to one of the five other parents to knock a ball skyward.  "MINE MINE MINE MINE!"  And she catches it cleanly.

"Again!  Watch me, Tyler!  TYLER!  EYES UP!  NOW!  MINE MINE MINE MINE MINE!"

An ice cream truck rings its bell forlornly in the parking lot, but there are no takers.  Though the park is full of children after a long day of school on a warm May evening, these are not children at play.  They are on task.

I wonder just how many pastors approach their congregations the same way.  Every moment, carefully structured and controlled and directed.  Every meeting, carefully planned.   Task forces and subcommittees to review guidelines and protocols.

The image...heck, the BRAND...must be protected.

There can be no mess, no failure, no spiritual equivalent of a stubbed toe or a black eye or a skinned knee.  What if things don't go well?  What if things go downhill?  What if people don't believe exactly what we say in our carefully thought out set of theological positions?  What will my peers think?  Jesus will be mad at me!

The pastor frets and tightens their control, and the children of God find themselves pressed into activity after activity, every moment accounted for.

Planned. Safe.  Joyless.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Jesus Loves the Little Spammers

With all the talk about welcoming and inviting that bounces around the church lately, I find myself wondering if there is ever an instance when a visitor might not be welcome.

Like, say, the "visitors" whose presence is announced daily in my blogstats.   I'm a small potatoes blogger, and will remain so.  This blog is too diffuse, too "what I happen to be thinking about today" to be successful.

So my traffic on a daily basis is about half-human, and half...well...what?

They have urls like vampirestat and and visa-plus and pornogig.  Sometimes their bots will leave comments, in semi-coherent English or...if the algorithm is good...a sentence or two culled from the post to feign connection.    The country-code and tracking data indicates that they're Russian and Chinese, mostly.  These particular Russians and Chinese aren't interested in the blog, or interested in crosscultural exchange.   They are clumsy masks, worn by criminals and predators, intent on deception and theft.   They are not real visitors, any more than that email you received about $1.5 million waiting for you in a Nigerian widow's account is real.

You'd think autocratic regimes would be better at cracking down on lawlessness, but they are evidently unaware that all of their efforts to pretend that all is well mean nothing if every single blogger in America is being relentlessly spoofed and spammed from their shores daily.

So daily the links come, and I am meant to click that link, which will then permit them to cull the data that they can then either sell or use to access accounts.  I am not a fool, so I do not.

And yet, in the deep cybernetic thicket of spoofed servers and fake addresses, under the mediating structures between myself and those intent on theft, there is a real relationship.  Somewhere hidden behind those thousand lying masks is another soul.

A broken one, at that.

What is my responsibility in such a relationship, where I know the Other does not see me as a person?  Does not see me, in fact, at all.

You can reach out to the thief before you, or show incongruous forgiveness to those who harm you, when they are right in front of you.  That can establish the possibility of transformation.

But how can I convey grace to damaged souls who hide so far away, and so deep under layers of falseness?

Such a spiritual challenge, this new world is.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Echoes, Teaching, and Memory



As I got ready to take the little guy to his drum lesson this evening, he insisted that I download a bunch of Pink Floyd onto my iPhone.  He's been on a hardcore classic rock kick lately, with Zeppelin and Floyd being the rock of choice.  It's history to him, as far back in the past as Count Basie or the Ink Spots are to me.  But good music is good music, and that he is twelve going on thirty doesn't hurt his taste.

And so on the way to the lesson, as we navigated across the snarls of country-worst Beltway rushhour traffic, the sounds of Pink Floyd's Meddle filled the car.

The little guy sat back, soaking it in.   "This is an amazing album," he said.  Then he reclined the bucket seat, and promptly went right to sleep.   In-transit naps seem to be a genetic trait both boys have inherited from their mom.  It's a useful skillset.

This left me in the car, as what was side two of the Meddle record/cassette kicked in.  Back in the analog era, those grooves in vinyl or magnetic variances on a tape would yield Echoes, a twenty-plus-minute drifting bit of sweet psychedelic mind-butter.

As I listened, and as he twitched slightly in his sleep, I was struck by just how long it had been since I last heard that song.  I don't think I've listened to that album since before I got married.  

Twenty years, at least.  Twenty two, more like.

Every note, every change, every word of the lyrics was familiar.  Not a one was surprising, or out of place.  And as much of my life has passed since I last listened to it as had passed when I last heard it.  The last time this music played for me, the Internet wasn't a thing we knew about.  Cell phones weren't common or even viewed as necessary.  I was thin.

Yet my mind received the music like an old and familiar friend, a peculiar assemblage of neurons lighting up in recognition in encounter with the song.

Music is like that.  As are stories.  They linger with us, folding their harmonies and progressions into our minds in a way that simple data cannot.  They become deep memory, and they weave themselves into our identity in ways that are both subtle and inescapable.

Which is why both musicality and storytelling are so key to teaching anything of value.


Guns, Gandhi, and Nonviolence

Having noted the dangerously self-absorbed demonstration being planned for DC this upcoming July 4th in a recent post, it was interesting reading through an article on provocateur Adam Kokesh in today's Washington Post.

His plan to march with thousands of others into the District, all armed, all locked and loaded, well...it's so obviously dangerous that even folks like the NRA and the even more strident Gun Owners of America have distanced themselves.

More fascinating, perhaps, was Kokesh hauling out the word "satyagraha" to describe this open-carry firearm protest he's misguidedly leading.  Satyagraha is, of course, a Gandhian term, describing the essential nature of nonviolent protest.  It's translated as "soul force," and was used to describe the spirit that pushes for reconciliation even in the face of violent resistance.

To an objective observer, nonviolence appears as nonviolence.  That is its deep strength.  Observing, for instance, the peaceful marches of Gandhian resistance to British rule, there was no question as to where violence lay.  Those who gently presented themselves before the club and the whip were clearly and self-evidently nonviolent.

Similarly, the singing, dressed-for-church marchers who were hosed and gassed and set upon by dogs in the American South were obviously and self-evidently nonviolent.  They turned the heart of a nation towards changing an oppressive system.

Defiantly carrying a loaded .223 Bushmaster carbine down the middle of a thoroughfare is blindingly, obviously different.   It is definitively not nonviolence, because open-carry is inherently a threat display.

Like the bared fangs of a chimp, it is the threat of violence to ward off violence.

This is not true if you're carrying your rifle in the woods during deer season.  It is also not true if you're at the range.

But if you wander around with a gun out in the open...in a mall, in a restaurant, near a playground, near a school...you aren't doing so for any reason other than to present a threat.

That action says: "I can kill you.  Don't mess with me."

Whatever eventually happens with this misbegotten mess of a demonstration, it is not...nor could it ever be...rationally and objectively described as "nonviolent."

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Physicist and the Funeral

It's been making the rounds, and on some levels, I resonate with it.

It's a bit from NPR a few years back by commentator Aaron Freeman, about how you want a physicist to speak at the funeral of a loved one.  It's a riff on conservation of energy, on the interplay of light and matter, on how no particle of a loved one is lost.

Its almost mystic in its articulation of the interconnectedness of all being, and in that, it has a sort of beauty.

But I wonder, frankly, two things.  First, the author is not a physicist.  He's a performer and writer.

I've been at family funerals where a physicist has spoken about someone they loved who had just passed.  Here's what was important:  that person.  Not the matter, not the energy, not the stuff of our universe that comprised that person, but that peculiar and ineffable interplay of those things that brings a self into being.

If you ask a physicist to get up and talk about someone who has just passed, they will remember that person.  They will remember their laugh, their strength, their boldness, their gentleness.  They will tell stories of life, some wistful, some joyful.

That's what we do, we humans, when the breath leaves one of us.

But second, I wonder at what comfort can be had in the talk of what happens to our bodies.  Amid talk of conservation of energy, Freeman says: "You need not have faith."  Freeman, speaking in the voice of the scientist, reaffirms this.  "You should not have faith."  That the material being of one's loved one is dissolving into the fabric of spacetime should be comfort enough.

What strikes me as peculiar about this is that we have never, not for a moment, not known that our bodies return to earth.  As long as we've been self-aware, this has been true.  That is easily observable, even for bronze age semi-nomadic cultures.  Dust is dust, be it on the ground beneath your feet or in interstellar space.

That you can spin that vision out into the cosmos is all well and good, but what we miss about a person is not the mechanics of their existence.

It is not the body, not the meat and bone and sinew.  When you see another human being die, you know this.

What we mourn and what we miss is them, their awareness, their sentience, their soul, their spirit.  That was woven up with the star-stuff of which they were made, sure.  But it both was that stuff and was not that stuff.

For all the beauty of our cosmos, it is better to remember the person, I think.  And to have hope that on some fundamental level, that ineffable self, that light behind their eyes, that sentience, that too has not been forgotten.  

There, faith still does come in handy.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Therapeutic Ministry

As I find myself more and more perusing the blogs of those who write for the CCBlog Network, I've come again across a meme within Christian ministry that I struggle with.

It's the "ministry as therapy" meme.

On the one hand, ministry can get muddled with therapeutic interventions.  Pastoring can become so focused on counseling and the psycho-social dynamics of community that it can almost cease to be a spiritual enterprise entirely.

But on the other hand, there's a tendency to belittle "therapeutic" approaches as craven and consumeristic.  The only reason people go to church, folks will opine, is that they want to be bettered.  People showing up at church looking for "therapy" are just being selfish consumers, church shoppers looking for affirmation.  It's just a product, argue the leftists, part of the capitalist pharmacopeia, that makes us good little cogs in the vast consumerist machine.  What about Justice?!   What about caring for the least and the last and the lost?

It's just a sign of our lack of spiritual integrity, say the conservatives.  Come to be washed in the Blood of the Lamb!  Not seeking some squishy liberal talk-therapy hoohah, or some name-it-and-claim-it self-help twaddle.

As I was thinking about this today, I found myself wondering why it is that coming to Jesus desiring well-being and personal wholeness would be in any way antithetical to what Jesus wanted for us.

I mean, sure, there was the desire for the wrongs of our social systems to be righted.   And Lord knows, we can get selfish sometimes, and muddle "well-being" with the false whispers of Mammon.  But I also seem to recall a story or two in which broken people came to Jesus to be made whole.  They were beset with demons.  They bled.  They were a mass of sores.

And Jesus did not tell them to piss off for being such selfish, rabbi-shopping consumers.  Or question their theological motivations.  He healed them.

As I was looking at those stories, something occurred to me.

The word "therapeutic."  It's got some familiar components.  They're...um...Greek.  So I looked in the Bible, and then into one of my Greek/English interlinears.

There it is, in a bunch of different places, like Luke 9:11.  When Jesus "heals," the Gospel writers are using the word therapeias.

So I suppose, if we're taking Jesus seriously, that we shouldn't be quite so glib about setting that aside.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Liberty and Responsibility

In the thickets of other things going on in the world, one bit of news that stuck in my mental craw this week was the announcement by Adam Kokesh, a libertarian blogger/self-promoter/provocateur, that he would be leading a march on Washington this upcoming fourth of July.

The purpose of the march?  To declare the fundamental right of a citizen to "open carry," meaning to visibly carry a loaded firearm wherever and wherever one wants.   This is the law of the land in the great state of Virginia, but it is very much not so in the District of Columbia.

So what is planned is this:  A thousand gun rights advocates will cross the Memorial bridge from Virginia into DC.  Every single one of them will be carrying a loaded weapon.  From pictures of prior demonstrations, most of those weapons will be AR-15s and the like.

They will be met by law enforcement for several reasons, not the least of which is that on the 4th of July, security in DC is considerably tighter, as families from the entire area and around the country arrive for the evening's firework display.

So a thousand armed individuals, many of whom are convinced that the government is inherently tyrannical, will be asked to put down their weapons by police on high alert.   Does this sound like a good idea?

Actually, to many of the event supporters, the answer is "Yes."   It's extreme, but what is called for, they say.  It's bold!  It's defiant!  Sure, there could be violence, but we won't start it, they say.

I tend to strongly favor individual liberty.  In fact, my theology increasingly demands it.   Human beings...all sentient life...has been created fabulously, terrifyingly free.  That's taken me to increasingly view morality and ethics not in terms of the One Right Choice.  Unlike deontological ethics, which are grounded in an absolute duty, or consequentialist ethics, which assume particular outcomes, probabilistic ethics are squishier.  They leave space for freedom.

That ethic involves making decisions that frame and shape possibility.  No guarantees.  Just increased likelihoods.

So let's look at this libertarian decision from the standpoint of the ethics of probability.

The scenario imagined by the organizer is a peaceful march that draws out the sympathies of liberty loving Americans.  Fifty-five hundred patriots, all good-hearted and true, march to the city bearing the arms that guarantee our freedom.  Law enforcement, impressed with their discipline and evident love for America, approach them and there is a constructive and mutually respectful exchange.   Media coverage shows the real nature of the libertarian movement, and national sympathies sway more towards the right to individual freedom.

Is this possible?  Why yes it is.  In some universe, it might happen.  But it is not likely.   Why not?  Because it is an ideal that isn't grounded in reality.  It is so improbable that it amounts to delusion.

Here is the reality, which both reason and compassion permit us to see.

The reality is that being Cop is hard.   Law enforcement professionals have a hell of a job, and for all of Kokesh saying that he respects what they have to do, he doesn't.  He's a paleolibertarian, dangit.  Not respecting the law is that entire worldview in a nutshell.

What a cop will see as that march approaches is a thousand individuals, all of whom at best adhere to the idea that he/she is an agent of tyranny.  What that cop will feel is tense, knowing that his/her duty is to disarm those individuals, all of whom believe that setting down their loaded weapons would be an affront to their person.   The entire armed march does not respect Cop, or the law.  That is why they are marching.

"Put down the gun," says the cop.  "No," will say the marcher.   So we have tense, frightened, angry human beings with loaded guns, confronting tense and angry human beings with guns.

And not just tense human beings.  Reading through the Facebook page set up to organize this event, you read some posters who are libertarian, and defiantly so.  That is their right.

But you read others who are insane.  Not eccentric.  Actually mentally ill.  There are posts that can only be typified as paranoid schizophrenic, incoherently ranting about the Zionist Occupation Government and the end times.   As of a few days ago, Kokesh had tried to delete these posts, but he doesn't seem to totally know how Facebook works.

So in this crowd of armed citizens, there may well be several gun-bearing individuals who are there to kill and die, to start an armed conflagration that plays into their delusional fantasies.  How can you tell them from a sane armed citizen who is expressing his legal right to open carry in the state of Virginia?

You can't.  Not until they start shooting.

From the standpoint of the ethic of probability, what this march creates is a tiny likelihood of a positive outcome, and a vastly higher likelihood of violence and bloodshed.

It isn't bold.  It's blind to both reality and compassion.   And that, by the standard of the Law of Liberty, is just plain wrong.



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Pastoring and Comedy

It's a sustained meme, a thread of thought that keeps popping up in the conversations pastors have about themselves.


You'd think we'd be psyched to be in ministry, filled with joy at the prospect of proclaiming the Good News, about sharing both the Spirit and the ethical teachings of that kwazy Nazarene.  But instead, many of us are struggling.

Why are we so exhausted?   Why are so many of us burned out and miserable and so sick of it all that we're seriously thinking about going into retail?  Or just walking the earth. 

There's been some interesting conversation about this lately, but one sustained theme I've seen reposted I find myself having some trouble processing.   In a post on the need for wholeheartedness in ministry, Todd Bolsinger suggests that part of the reason pastors burn out on ministry is this:
People now demand that their pastors be part shrewd cultural commentator and part comic.  We must entertain, inspire and instruct a little, all the while never really challenging the worldview or tribal instincts that make us Christians seem little different than anyone else.  
This is a significant factor we are burned out, or so the argument is presented.  We're just so tired of entertaining people.  Laugh, pastor, laugh, and we weep.  I'm down with the wholeheartenedness thing he presents.  Bolsinger makes some other excellent points in the article, which is well worth the read.   But I struggle with his take on "comedy."  Being "part comic" is a source of exhaustion?  

Pastors get exhausted, in my experience, by the [bovine excrement] parts of ministry.  Dealing with the awkward political dynamics of institutions?   Making sure you've filed your old-line-mandated 27 B/6 in triplicate?   A church leader who thinks "Here I stand, I can do no other" was Martin Luther referring to the tile selection in the Wittenberg foyer?  These things can be draining, dispiriting, and exhausting.   

Gossip and whispering and powerplays within the local church and in our broader church are also tremendously draining, but again, this is an inescapable reality of human gatherings.

Churches should resist this, but in my experience, they often do not.  We are, after all, flawed beings.  And those flaws exhaust us.   So it goes.  The good fight is tiring.  It's our task to do battle against them...or, rather, to teach those around us about the Way that challenges the power dynamics of every human condition.   Honestly, that's not all that tiring, because I'm not the one doing the challenging.  You got a problem with the Gospel?  I'm just the errand boy.  Take it up with Jesus.  

Where I diverge here is in some of the assumptions about expectations.   Or expectations about assumptions.  Or maybe it's both.

A congregation has a right to expect that their pastor will be a shrewd cultural commentator.  There's not a single thing wrong with that expectation.  If you're going to be prophetic, you'd danged well better be aware of culture.

And being a comic?  If they're a comedian, well, all the better.   

Because comedy isn't treacle.  It's not fluff.  Not the comedy I enjoy, anyway.

Neither is it canned, culled from the pages of some "1001 Ways To Start that Lousy Sermon With A Laugh" book.  

Real comedians use humor to challenge and transform.  They subvert and undercut the garbage, the false assumptions and the self-righteousness and the illusions that tear apart our society.  They speak truth in a way that resonates deeply, and in a way that entertains, disarms, and forces us to think.

Laughter connects us.  It opens us up a little bit.  And then, if it's being used rightly, it teaches.

I'm thinking Jon Stewart, whose "comedy" is some of the best political commentary out there today.  I'm thinking George Carlin challenging the powers that be.  I'm thinking Flip Wilson subversively tearing a generation's hearts out at the injustice of segregation.  I'm thinking Patton Oswalt lately.  

I'm thinking of what it was like to read the Onion on September 12, 2001.

It's just a particularly potent way of talking about what matters.  That it makes us laugh is just a bonus.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Saying "Thou" to the Caveman

There was a fascinating bit of news today from linguistics.  In a study of the sounds underlying many of  the world's languages, a team of linguists think they've come up with a set of primal words.

These are the sounds that provide some of the most essential human communications, conveying concepts that are somehow fundamental to the human condition.  Digging into these sounds, researchers suggest they may have found the ancient echoes of a language that lies at the foundation of nearly half of all human communication.

Many are sounds conveying concepts we must have used regularly back in those prehistoric days, like "worm" and "give."

"Eegah hungry!  Give worm!  Worm rich in protein and antioxidants!"

But as someone who plays around with words regularly, whose vocation revolves around the Word spoken and proclaimed, seeing this echo of a deeply ancient language was kind of neat.

Neatest of all were two of the most ancient words in any human tongue: "I" and "Thou."

Martin Buber would have been pleased to hear that.  Nice to know even our ancestors could have existentially and spiritually valid relationships with those around them.

The Powerless



Between twitter and Facebook and my blog-feed, I get a tremendous amount of Jesus data poured at me on a daily basis.  One of the most striking characteristics of that wash of information is just how much of it is dedicated to disagreement.

A blogger will say something, and a dozen others will chime in their opposition to that thing.  A pastor-provocateur will make a public pronouncement, and it will be the genesis of a thousand snarky tweets.

I have done this myself, frankly.  As we stand in relationship to one another, we naturally respond to one another's perspectives.  It's so very tempting.

But those responses are so very often ferociously polar, assuming the very worst about a soul.  I wonder why we respond in the way that we do.  Oh, sure, we're speaking the truth to power.   But how much power...real power...does any one other voice have?

Take, for example, Mark Driscoll, whose big bold provocations seem to be mainlined catnip for progressive Christians and their bloggery.    I've been seeing a whole bunch of Driscoll lately.  Maybe he has a new book coming out, and is turning up the volume.  He declares that there's no point in caring for creation, 'cause God's just going to destroy it when Jesus comes back.  Them's fighting words, says anyone who cares about the Garden.  He smacks down women in leadership, with a smug certainty that has launched a thousand outraged posts.

He's an "influential pastor," and the Mars Hill church he serves is rather on the large side.  With fifteen thousand attendees and a few thousand official members, it's hardly a teensy little thing.  Couple that with a media ministry, and that influence is there.

Sort of.   I mean, really, what is the reach of any individual pastor?  Here we are, a nation in which 246 million individuals claim to be Christian.  Driscoll leads, what, 15 thousand on a good day?   That's six-one-thousandths of one percent.    What authority?   What power?  None but that we give him.

None of us have the right in this nation to force our perspectives on any other.  It's the great blessing of religious liberty.  So if someone wants to say the universe is only 6,000 years old, they can do so...but I do not have to believe it.  If someone wants to argue that women should be subordinate, they can do so, but they cannot ever coerce any person into agreeing with them.  They can stand on zealous certainty, or rant, or attempt to spiritually bully, but ultimately, they can do no more than that.  It's a threat display.

As much as I disagree with positions that to me seem diametrically opposed to both reality and to the grace of the Gospel, I wonder at the point of umbrage and rancor.

Those positions are meaningless to me.  I know they have no power.  They cannot rule me, because I do not let them.

Do I need to exist as if they do have power?  Or can I simply name them as the powerless, empty things that they are?

It seems that the most potent response is simply to say, we are free.  We were created free.  You may listen to me if you wish.  Or not.

You may listen to the one who wants you to feel weak, if you so choose.  But you do not have to.  He has no power over you.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Stephen Hawking and The Alien God

In thinking about Stephen Hawking's ongoing "the multiverse means no need for God" schtick, I found myself the other day reflecting on something else he'd pitched out there a few years back.

Looking out at the great sprawl of intergalactic space, Hawking said that he was convinced there was alien life out there.  He was also a bit concerned at our noisy efforts to make contact.  Why?  Because if life out there was as much a mess as life on earth, the most likely outcome would be that our shouting out into the great deep would just call attention to our stuff.

"Hey aliens," we'd be saying.  "Look at all the complex organics we have!  And we're delicious!  We taste just like t'chiK'nnn!"

And they'd show up, and it'd be like that closing scene in Apocalypto.  It'd be the end of everything.  We'd be outmatched, outgunned, and out-thought.  A universe as vast as ours has surely spawned beings who are dangerously more powerful than humankind.

So his recommendation?  We should lay low.   Be vewy, vewy quiet.

I found this interesting on a couple of levels.

I do wonder, quite frankly, why any spacefaring sentient being would bother making the trip just to take our [stuff.]  Yeah, we're impressed with our planet and all, but what's most interesting about our world is...what?  I mean, the universe is chock-full of hydrogen for fuel, carbon, and metals.  There's not exactly a shortage out there.  It's an impossibly generous cornucopia, our universe is.

The only thing interesting on this little rocky world, frankly, is life.  And possibly sentience, although many days I find myself doubting it.

But I also find it neat that he sees the logical likelihood of alien life in our time and space.  It makes sense, and I agree with him.  We may never know such beings, given the distances involved.  But they are likely there.

Where I diverge is when we step outside of time and space, and suddenly the same mind that can imagine impossibly advanced alien beings can't quite wrap itself around the idea that perhaps in the vastness of all that is lies a Mind that underlies all being.

Maybe if he visualized God with little antennae.  Hmmm.



Friday, May 3, 2013

Defending Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll isn't my favorite pastor in the whole wide world.  Any ministry that sniffs disdainfully at laypeople who dare to get into the original languages of Scripture instead of just Obeying the Word of Pastor is questionable.  Any ministry that disciplines men who stay at home while their wives work is questionable.

His approach to Jesus is also too aggressive, and not in the bold speaking truth to the Power sort of way.  Jesus didn't spend his energy hammering on the struggling and the world-broken and the weary.

There's a too much kristosterone flowing through his veins, and no amount of hip t-shirt wearing can mask it.

But last week, my feeds were filled with approbation for something he'd said about nagging, negative wives.

Among other things, he'd suggest that wives who undercut their husbands are like water torture.  And the blogosphere went wild.  

It reminded me of something.

Years ago, I spent time with this guy.  He was married to M., the sister of my girlfriend at the time. M.  was hardworking and smart and a good mom.  She was employed, full time, and he...well...he floated in and out of technical school.  Which she paid for.

One day, he needed a ride to class, so I gave it to him.

The entire drive, he complained about her.  About how she didn't make time for him.  About what a lousy cook she was.  About how stupid she was when it came to money.   About how she had no idea how to do anything and was getting in his way.

I listened to him complain about her and cut her down, and heard my efforts to redirect him more constructively utterly ignored, I remember thinking three things.

One, that the only thing his wife had done wrong was to marry him.   

Two, how easy it is for people who are insecure and lost to project their own failures onto the world around them.  It's a defensive mechanism, this turning outward, as we choose to hate or to belittle rather than coming to terms with our own brokenness.

And three, how vital it is that you genuinely respect and honor your wife.  Or your husband.

A spouse or partner...of either gender or of any orientation...who publicly belittles or mocks or undercuts the person they've committed to is tearing apart the covenant foundation of their relationship.  

So in that, Driscoll was not wrong.  Bitter and negative partners are an agony.

What is wrong, though, is not seeing that this is true for all humankind.  It is a universal.

In the seven authentic letters of the Apostle Paul, that's what Paul teaches.   Men and women, he tells the church at Corinth, have equal responsibility for one another.  We are interwoven with each other, interconnected and part of the same creation.   Patterns of power based on gender are meaningless in the Kingdom, he tells the Galatians.

Of course, that was soon forgotten, as the early church blended in with Roman culture.

Our task as lived and taught by Jesus and Paul is modeling that behavior.  Our first and primary task is to repent of our own brokenness.  It is not to criticize, mock, or belittle.   Or to order around the people we view as our spiritual inferiors.

The log in our own eye needs to be our priority, and as we teach, what we teach is our own struggle to live into the Gospel.