The Common Good

Blog Posts By Christian Piatt

Posted by Christian Piatt 50 weeks 4 days ago
I was talking to my wife, Amy, today about the news that Speaker John Boehner has requested movement from his party toward a temporary increase of the United States government debt ceiling.The shutdown in itself is problematic enough. Our leaders have willfully put about a million people out of work while they haggle about policy that has already been put into law. The cost of their standoff to the United States economy is a loss of about $1.6 billion a week in economic output. And it’s more than a little bit ironic that this is being done on the watch of a Congress that supposedly has its first priority as jobs and economic growth.However, all of this pales in comparison to the potential damage that would ripple throughout the global economy if we were to default on our debt. Because so many markets in the world peg their valuation system to the American dollar, and because so many exchanges use our currency as their monetary system, the prospect of the credibility of our money losing its footing in a potentially irreparable way could be nothing short of catastrophic worldwide.“We should just fire them all," said Amy. “Just clean house and start fresh.”The thing is, although this is a sentiment I hear on nearly a daily basis, and I've heard it over the course of many years, very little of substance seems to change when it comes to who represents us in Washington, D.C.
Posted by Christian Piatt 51 weeks 4 days ago
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people within mainline Christian churches note that, though they don’t embrace all of the theological positions of their evangelical sisters and brothers, they are impressed by their aptitude for organizing and affecting change on a large scale. At the same time, I see thousands converge at festivals like the Wild Goose festival in North Carolina, feeling both fed by the invigorating sense of community, but also frustrated to be leaving with the still unanswered question:What do we do now?The CANA Initiative, which is a joint collaboration of Brian McLaren, Stephanie Spellers, and Doug Pagitt, seeks to help answer that nagging question. Cana seeks to be the connective tissue that helps hold together communities of faith that share common priorities in addressing the pressing socioeconomic issues of our time.From their website, “The CANA Initiative brings together innovative leaders from all streams of the faith to collaborate in the development of new ways of being Christian ... new ways of doing theology and living biblically, new understandings and practices of mission, new kinds of faith communities, new approaches to worship and spiritual formation, new integrations and conversations and convergences and dreams.”Following is an audio interview I conducted with these three key voices in the CANA conversation. We talked about why CANA is needed now, more than ever, and what sort of transformation they hope to affect within the greater Christian body.
Posted by Christian Piatt 51 weeks 5 days ago
Every day, my previously stable faith is replaced with a little more hungry curiosity. I consider this progress.I posted this brief statement on my Facebook and Twitter accounts yesterday and promptly received quite a bit of interest in return. Not surprising, really, that my typical readership would resonate with such a claim, but I also found some surprising affirmations from those I would not have expected to appreciate my sentiments.I write fairly often about moving away from emphasis on a propositional faith and toward one that is more implicitly lived out in our daily experience. Said another way, I would much rather have the teachings and values shared by Jesus revealed through my actions and through what people see in me, rather than simply through any particular rhetoric that I offer them as an act of persuasion, or even coercion. This is also selfishly motivated, as I am increasingly convinced that, whereas a faith centered on the proclamation and defense of particular statements is one that lends itself to inertia, a way of life that reveals your values without explicitly having to state them is both more compelling to others and more fulfilling for ourselves.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 3 days ago
Renowned scientist and author of such books as A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking suggested recently that it is conceivable in the future that we may be able to upload the contents of the human brain onto a computer so that the information may, in a sense, become immortalized. He readily conceded, however, that such a task was well beyond our current technological capacity, and he offered some measured words of caution for those who sought to read too much into this potential.When asked if this meant that there was potential for the mind to live forever through an alternative medium, he was dismissive. Such talk of human immortality, he said (and in particular, the very notion of heaven), was the stuff of fairy tales for people “afraid of the dark.”Then in the same week, TIME Magazine featured a story about Google on its cover, highlighting a new company it has recently launched called Calico. The new enterprise is perhaps the most ambitious of what Google commonly calls their “moonshot” projects, as its aim is to prolong the human lifespan potential, and perhaps eventually solve the “problem” of death.All of this was particularly interesting to me in the context of the conversation between Richard Dawkins and Jon Stewart on a recent episode of The Daily Show about whether science or religion was more responsible for hastening humanities apparent self-destruction.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 5 days ago
First things first: with all due respect to interim host John Oliver, I for one am thrilled to have Jon Stewart back on The Daily Show. I know it is sad to say, but I actually missed him while he was on summer hiatus. Welcome back, little buddy!Last night, Stewart interviewed Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, who was promoting his newest title, An Appetite for Wonder. The most interesting moments in the interview revolved around Stewart’s question to Dawkins about whether science or religion ultimately would be responsible for hastening our journey down this path of apparent self-annihilation. What followed was a fascinating, if not entirely satisfying, dialogue about the “downsides” of both disciplines.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 1 week ago
I’m often asked about what trends I see within Christianity, both good and bad. So in my ongoing effort to help name trends and offer an alternative way of thinking about our faith, here are the five biggest things I’ve seen that tend to keep us from doing our best work as the living, breathing body of Christ in the world today.1. Church Buildings — Many of our church buildings were established in a time when Christianity was booming numerically in the United States. We could hardly keep up with the growth happening all around us. Understandably, churches popped up where the people were too, drawing many away from their old downtown churches to a more convenient suburban community. But as our numbers have dwindled – combined with the fact the we’re a much more mobile society now that ever before – many churches are becoming monuments to what has long since passed. They have become an albatross rather than an asset.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 1 week ago
It’s not every day you meet a practicing priest in the Catholic Church who is married, so when I got in touch with Fr. Dwight Longenecker (a man who meets the above criteria), I took the opportunity to get his take on sex, marriage, celibacy, and how the Church can, should, and already is dealing with sex differently, both within clergy circles and beyond them.Dwight Longenecker was brought up in an evangelical home and graduated from the stridently anti-Catholic Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. While there he became an Anglican and went on to study theology at Oxford University. He married Alison and they have four children. After 10 years as a minister in the Church of England Dwight and his family converted to the Catholic faith. Showing that God has a sense of humor, Dwight returned to Greenville to be ordained as a Catholic priest. He now serves as a parish priest in Greenville. You are both married and a Catholic Priest. How did that happen?
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 2 weeks ago
About a year ago, I wrote about my family participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Challenge, which encourages families to try to live on the equivalent of SNAP assistance (food stamps) for one week. It was a growing experience for all of us, and we actually fell short of our intended goal. It turns out that it’s not easy to feed a family of four well — especially without great time and effort — on less than $20 a day.In looking back on that experience, a number of myths come to mind that I’ve heard from folks about SNAP, which I thought I’d share here.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 3 weeks ago
Ever since the most recent MTV Video Music Awards aired, there has been a breathless competition online to see who can be more offended by Miley Cyrus’ highly sexualized performance. Yes, I watched it, and yes, much of it made me pretty uncomfortable. It was hard for me not to imagine my own daughter a dozen or so years from now, longing to replicate the gyrations and sexual gestures of another – but similarly overt – pop idol.Basically, it was lowest-common-denominator entertainment: hardly anything new in the music industry. Madonna did as much and then some decades ago, so why is this particular incident such a big deal?For one thing, one of the most lurid moments of the performance had her grinding in a compromising position with a married man nearly twice her age. Interesting, though, that the criticisms of Miley online have far outweighed those of Robin Thicke, the married man in question who participated in said grinding. Suffice it to say that women historically have been held to different standards of sexual expression than men, and when in doubt, blame the woman. Not that her dance was appropriate, but it tells us more about ourselves when we obsess about the shenanigans of the young woman than the borderline adulterous displays of a much older man.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 3 weeks ago
I had a series a while back about the Christian Cliches that we should drop from our lexicon, and since then I’ve had people ask what they should be saying instead. So here’s a list of handy phrases to help bring followers of Jesus into a post-Christendom, 21st-century world.   
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 4 weeks ago
Trey Pearson, front man and creative mind behind the band, Everyday Sunday, is in many ways the picture of a successful Contemporary Christian Music artist. He’s toured the world, played to thousands of fans at a time and sold hundreds of thousands of records. So I was intrigued when I sat down with him at the recent Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina to learn more about why this icon of Christian pop was going solo with his most recent record. How did you get started in the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) scene?I was introduced to the scene as a teenager, finding out that people listened to "Christian music.” I started going to "Christian concerts,” and was inspired to write my own songs and have a band. I was already into performance art as a teenager from doing theater, musicals, acting, and modeling for commercials, print, and things of that nature. I grew up teaching myself piano, and was intrigued by the idea of playing songs for people. Given my background, I felt like I needed to do "Christian songs" to glorify God with my art. Long story short, after opening for several signed artists, I dropped out of college (after being on honor roll through my freshman year) to make an independent album and pursue a record deal. I went to Nashville, and knocked on doors until someone would listen. I signed a deal three months after I released my independent album.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 4 weeks ago
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King immortalized many phrases still used in the contemporary American lexicon. But it was on Dec. 17, 1963 in a talk at Western Michigan University when he noted that the “most segregated hour in this nation” is 11 a.m. on Sunday.Though many of King’s other famous quotes come from scripted speeches, the comment above actually was from part of a question-and-answer session with students and faculty about racial integration. He was asked if he believed that true racial integration must be spearheaded by the Christian churches, rather than in workplaces or on college campuses.Suffice it to say that Dr. King begged to differ, and sadly, his words spoken 50 years ago ring eerily prophetic as we scan the halls of most of our churches. What he claimed then is still, today, a stark reality. He went on in his response:“I’m sure that if the church had taken a stronger stand all along, we wouldn’t have many of the problems that we have. The first way that the church can repent, the first way that it can move out into the arena of social reform is to remove the yoke of segregation from its own body.” But how? About the same time King made these keen observations, white people were leaving the inner cities by the millions, establishing more homogenous suburbs on the far boundaries of town. So-called “white flight” took hold, creating entirely new municipalities, while decaying urban centers were hollowed out, left only with an aging infrastructure and those who had no choice but to endure being left to fend for themselves.As such, our churches were, in some ways, byproducts of the communities in which they found themselves.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 5 weeks ago
Eric Elnes, author of Phoenix Affirmations: A New Vision for the Future of the Christian Faith and Asphalt Jesus, always has something brewing. I sat down with him over a hearty cup of his own Darkwood Brew coffee at the recent Wild Goose Festival in North Carolina to find out more about Convergence Christianity, a new concept he’s developing, and which is gaining traction across many traditional ideological and theological lines.Here’s what Eric had to say about the current state of the Christian faith, as well as where he sees it heading.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 6 weeks ago
I just got back a few days ago from a campsite outside of Asheville, N.C., the site of the third annual Wild Goose Festival. For those who are unfamiliar with the event, imagine and old-fashioned days-long outdoor revival, combined with Bonaroo and a traveling circus. For several days, authors, activists, artisans, musicians, and seekers converge to engage in spontaneous community, share ideas and to inspire one another.It's not every day that you can walk by a makeshift tent and listen to Phyllis Tickle succinctly summarize the history of Christendom in 45 minutes, and then wander over and pick up a vegetarian pita sandwich while on your way to hear the Indigo Girls perform. Impassioned conversations emerge all on your walk about everything from child trafficking to the state of the institutional church in the 21st century. And you're only momentarily distracted by the guy on stilts, wearing a hat covered in goose feathers who wanders by for no apparent reason.Welcome to Wild Goose.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 8 weeks ago
Our church is right in the heart of the city and as such, many who make their home outside find their way into our worship services on Sunday and throughout the week for various reasons. The first year Amy and I were here, we made a concerted effort to allow people to sleep on the steps and in the courtyard of the church if they so chose, as it seemed to be the bare minimum offering of hospitality required of us.In the past few months, however, things have gotten a lot more complicated. Several fights have broken out over turf, a couple of people have fallen and lost teeth or broken ribs, and at least three times, people have broken into the boiler room to sleep. At least once or twice a week, we catch a group of younger folks shooting up heroin in the courtyard, their needles scattered about in the midst of the greenery. We have found every kind of bodily waste one cares to imagine in the common area, and this Sunday during our annual church cookout, I had to escort one man out of the restroom for masturbating to pornography in one of the bathroom stalls.There comes a point when the hospitality afforded to those we are trying to welcome in has to be weighed against the safety of those already present in the community. Although the sanitation issues and the vandalism were less than pleasant, the violence, drug use, and sexual indiscretions finally pushed us over the line. We met with the Portland police and had a notice posted that said any loiterers who refused to leave upon request would be arrested.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 8 weeks ago
Pope Francis quickly is establishing himself as the “peoples’ Pope.” He has actively advocated for the poor, downplayed his elevated status, and speaks in colloquial terms that make him seem that much more human. He has left open the possibility that non-Catholics, non-Christians, and even atheists may fall within the vast embrace of a radically loving and merciful God. And now, he’s even made what many consider at least a benign – if not affirming – statement about homosexuality.Historically, popes have toed an ideological line, asserting that homosexuality is inherently evil, and that all gay people are fundamentally disordered. In an expression of sincere humility, political savvy, or perhaps some combination of both, Francis took a more compassionate position, adding at the end of his comments, "who am I to judge?"Welcome to the 20th century, Catholic Church.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 9 weeks ago
By now most of the world knows the royal family in England is celebrating the birth of little baby George Alexander Louis. The commentators panted as they caught the first glimpses of the magic baby, about everything from the infant's apparent ability to withstand a media onslaught to the ever-so-newsworthy fact that his father drove the family home with his own two hands.Meanwhile in Iraq, several hundred prisoners of the infamous Abu Ghraib facility escaped, many of whom were known or suspected members of Al Qaeda. Considering the attention given to the few dozen detainees still held in Guantánamo Bay, it seems reasonable to think that such a breakout would arrest the headlines around the globe.But instead, we stayed focused for the most part on baby George. I remarked about this to my friend, sharing my concern about the apparent distortion of priorities. He suggested that it simply is a sign of cultural fatigue, or even resignation. Sometimes, after all, these stories that have international importance seem so big, so abstract, and so far away that it is hard to wrap our minds around them. It’s easier instead to set our attention on something more hopeful — albeit remarkably more superficial — that won’t keep us awake at night.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 10 weeks ago
My wife and I are attending our denomination's national assembly in Orlando this week. Last night, we went to a retirement party for one of her mentors. As a group of ministers tends to do, they concluded by gathering around, laying their hands on, and offering him a prayer of blessing. Then the group spontaneously broke out into a round of song that went on for a few minutes. It was both beautiful and touching.The wait staff, however, wasn’t quite sure how to take it."Wow," one bartender said," that's amazing. You guys can all really sing."Amy just smiled.“That's church," she said.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 11 weeks ago
What kind of tentmakers are we? Are we more like Martha, so preoccupied with busywork that we neglect our neighbors, the guests of honor? Do we stand by and rejoice in the misfortune of others suffer the consequences of their own doing, rather than inviting them in and making room for them at the table, under the protection of our shade? When we see a stranger come by, do we drop everything, bring out the best of what we have and sit at their feet in humble service?
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 12 weeks ago
I was five years old on Independence Day in 1976. The United States' bicentennial fever had overtaken the entire population. Everything was dressed in red, white, and blue. I remember decorating my tricycle in streamers and balloons for the neighborhood parade. It rained through the entire event, and although I crossed the finish line covered in red and blue dye, my award for "most colorful float" made it all worth it.Also attended Willie Nelson's Fourth of July birthday party/concert that same year. We camped out under the stars and enjoyed music for days in a Woodstock-like environment. I remember seeing my first naked adult woman there. She and her family – or some group of friends – were taking a break to bathe in the nearby river. Hey, it was the 70s, remember?But even there in that hotbed of post-hippie activity, everyone displayed affection for our country. Even those who likely had stood in protest against the Vietnam War only years before rose and placed their hands over their hearts when the national anthem was sung and the flag was unfurled every morning.Somewhere along the way, the idea seeped into our national consciousness that patriotism and political criticism could no longer coexist. Those who questioned or challenged the agendas or motives of those in power were pegged as patently unpatriotic; in turn, those dissident voices increasingly rejected the commonly embraced symbols of patriotism as mere tokens of jingoist American exceptionalism.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 13 weeks ago
There are lots of biases and assumptions about Christians out there, many of which are founded in real-life experience. And yes, we Christians have done our share of damage when it comes to tarnishing our so-called “brand.” But there also seems to be this tendency to understand Christianity and its adherents as one generally monolithic group that can be described in simple (often negative) terms that they would never be acceptable to apply to any other group.Part of this is because of the historic dominance of the Christian culture in the modern Western world. It’s the same reason that stereotypes of men on network sitcoms are pervasively unflattering, while the same stereotypes would cause a firestorm of negative publicity if applied to the female counterparts. Some of this is entirely warranted and necessary in tearing down false or damaging constructs of power. But sometimes, if we’re being honest, they’re just wrong. And stupid.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 14 weeks ago
For more than a generation, the gay conversion organization known as Exodus International has been one of the most prominent Christian symbols of LGBT intolerance. They have practiced what is commonly called “reparative therapy” to supposedly remove the urges of same-sex attraction from those who seek to become straight. I have personally written at great length about the damage done by such religiously fueled zealotry, but never in my lifetime did I anticipate that the leader of this infamous anti-gay organization would concede as much to the public in the form of a confession.What’s more, at their 38th annual convention, Exodus International’s director, Alan Chambers, announced plans to close the organization and cease its mission for good. You can read Mr. Chambers’ full of apology HERE, as well as the formal closure announcement HERE.I’m not prone to emotional hyperbole, but I read these announcements and confessions with a nearly overwhelming admixture of shock, disbelief, compassion, and hope.  I also try not to fill my blog posts with too much content from other sources, but this is one of those occasions when the original source material should be seen without adaptation. Following are several excerpts for Mr. Chambers’ open apology to the public, along with my thoughts:
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 15 weeks ago
It’s exhilarating to realize that I’m getting more done in less time. I got up and took a walk around the church while back, feeling pretty satisfied that I had fulfilled all of my professional duties for the day. And here it was, more than an hour before I even have to go pick up the kids!But then I had a moment beset with pangs of anxiety. Yes, at the moment I can answer emails faster with this little gadget than most people can muster a response. It puts me slightly ahead of the curve.  But then I realized this advantage is only a temporary luxury. The efficiency that a new technology affords only works as long as the majority of people you come into contact with aren't yet using the same technology. Once they are, the entire conversation accelerates, and the expectations of everyone increase to at least reach the maximum limit of the new capability everyone has just recently acquired.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 16 weeks ago
Anyone who listens to our Homebrewed Christianity CultureCast knows that we love Game of Thrones. The writing is complex and dramatic, and the characters are fascinating. What’s more, after the recent “Red Wedding” episode, we’re all too aware that no character, no matter how important or beloved, is safe.The series, set in a fictitious medieval Europe, is also dark, exploitive, highly sexualized at times, and one has to stretch to glean any moral redemption from the episodes. As such, there’s a debate swirling online about whether Christians can or should watch such a show. Where’s the Gospel? How can we justify all the sex and bloodshed? Do we watch with the (possibly deluded) hope that things will incline toward virtue, even though the series creator has suggested no such intention?Or should we just turn it off?Now, there’s a constituency of evangelicals and Tea Partiers who claim that, since the coffee super-chain Starbucks supports same-sex partner benefits, drinking their coffee (and therefore inadvertently supporting gay rights, I suppose) is anti-Christian. So sorry, followers of Jesus, but that favorite frappuccino you look forward to every afternoon is off the menu. If you don’t want to make Jesus cry, at least.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 18 weeks ago
I’ve written before about the seemingly contrasting messages we offer to young people in church about sex and sexuality:Sex is dirty; save it for someone you marry someday.Umm, what? Granted, we walk a narrow rhetorical tightrope when discussing sex with our kids. If we tell them it’s actually pretty awesome, and then tell them they can’t do it, that’s a setup for failure. On the other hand, if we focus on the negatives, we risk scarring and shaming them into a life of emotional conflict and struggle when it comes to sexual intimacy.What we end up with, often times, is a vacuous silence when it comes to the real, difficult issues of sexual identity, impulse, and expression. Add to that the Christian emphasis on marriage, and the result in many cases is scads of unhealthy, sexually awkward young people, married far too early with no idea why.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 19 weeks ago
Sarah Thebarge is the author of The Invisible Girls, a new memoir from Jericho Books. I was fortunate to get a few minutes to ask her a few questions about her touching, funny, compelling new piece of work.Q:  Your book is about Somali Refugees and also about your survival of breast cancer.  How do you write one book about both things?A:  When I met the Somali mom and her girls on the MAX the first time, we had a lot of differences – different religions, ethnicities, skin color, and language. But as I developed a relationship with them, I realized that we had a lot in common at the core. Because I’d been a little girl growing up in a fundamentalist culture, where men buried you under yards of fabric and lists of rules and taught you that women were supposed to be silent.  And I knew what it was like to be a refugee of sorts, because after I nearly died of cancer in my 20s, I sold everything I had and got on a plane with a suitcase of clothes and flew from the east coast to Portland, Ore., and started over. And so even though the narrative lines of the Somali refugee family and my cancer experiences seem disparate, they actually weave together well, because all this time, I’d been an Invisible Girl, too.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 20 weeks ago
You know, I always hedge when people ask me where I’m from, because the second I tell them I was born and raised in Texas, all kinds of stereotypes pop up in the conversation.Yes, I can read.No, I’m not a Republican.Yes, I’m a Christian. No, not that kind.No, I don’t ride horses, own a cow, oil derek or know JR Ewing personally.And no, I do not think Texas should become its own republic.But then, stories like this one come along that only serve to reinforce the negative biases against Texans that I try so very hard to debunk. Come on guys, work with me here!
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 22 weeks ago
Not to get all braggy here, but this episode is pretty great.First, we have our first return guest, and it’s one of our best: Jim Wallis. Christian moderated a discussion with Jim at Powell’s Books last week to talk about his new book about nurturing the common good, called On God’s Side.I swear, Jim Wallis is incapable of saying uninteresting things. What an honor to have him back (even if Jordan didn’t get to be there).We spend the second half of the show talking about bombings and explosions and ricin. I promise, it’s not as depressing as it sounds. Namely, we wanted to talk about racial profiling when it comes to terror suspects, the shifting tectonics of how we get news in America, how to talk about tragedy with children, and how much faith is to blame in religious extremism.Seriously, even with horribly serious subject matter, this was a really fun show to do and talk about, and we use our senses of humor to cope. We hope you enjoy. 
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 22 weeks ago
I’ve experienced some strange extremes lately. First, I attended – and spoke at – the Subverting the Norm conference in Springfield, Mo., where we took some time to consider how, if at all, so-called “radical theology” could exist within today’s religious systems. Then I got home and found my latest TIME Magazine, with a cover story titled “The Latino Reformation,” which reveals what most within Protestantism have known for some time: formerly Catholic Latino Christians are dramatically reshaping the face of the American Christian landscape.Interestingly, there is little-to-no overlap between these two groups – a point which was made clear to me by the fact that there were very few people of color in attendance at Subverting the Norm. One comment, from an African-American woman who was there, was that the very focus of the conference (on academic, esoteric questions of theology and philosophy) assumed the kind of privilege still dominated by middle-class white males. Put another way: while we’re busy navel-gazing and discussing the meaning of Nietzsche’s “death of God,” non-Anglo religious leaders were busy dealing with real-world problems right in front of them.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 23 weeks ago
I woke up this morning, like everyone else, to the news of a shootout with one suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing and the ongoing manhunt for a second brother. Like many others, I’ve heard lots of misinformation over the past few days about whether officials did or didn’t have a suspect, whether they did or didn’t have them in custody, and so on.“I heard someone dropped a bomb on Boston,” said Mattias, my 9-year-old son, over breakfast while I scrolled through the breaking news reports.“Not exactly,” I said. “It was two guys. Two brothers who came from [another country] to go to college at MIT.” They put homemade bombs in and around trashcans by the finish line of the marathon.”“Why?” he asked.“I really don’t know.”“Maybe they were angry about something, and they didn’t know how to talk about their feelings.”“Maybe so,” I nodded.“Did they hurt people?”
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 23 weeks ago
We have a group at our church that does a weekly sandwich ministry together. Though we already had a group that makes sandwiches each week for a local shelter, another team realized some folks don’t go to shelters, and that they might be missing out on a real opportunity to connect with different folks in our community if they didn’t go out to where the people are.So now, every week, they walk the streets of downtown Portland and hand out upwards of 100 sandwiches. As they’ve met folks who live outside, they’ve identified other needs some have, such as socks, new underwear, rain gear, flashlights, and batteries. Each week, they come back with a list of needs, and each week our congregation helps fill those needs.To me, this kind of ministry is exemplary of what missional church is about. We don’t simply wait behind the walls for people to come ask for something; we go out, meet people face-to-face and get to know them. Yes, we offer them a meal, but we also share stories, learn a bit of their history, and they come to know that there actually are flesh-and-blood people behind all those steeples and stone facades.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 25 weeks ago
Uncertainty about the existence of God is not the same thing as certainty about the non-existence of God.I’ve enjoyed taking part in the “Subverting the Norm” conference this weekend with many of the forefront thinkers in what has been called “Radical Theology.” Although the word “radical” has sensationalist connotations for lots of people, it really just means a theology that isn’t firmly rooted. I know that in itself sounds scary to some folks, but the radical theology camp might suggest that fear stems from an addiction to certainty.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 25 weeks ago
Jimmy Carter offered an open letter a few years ago explaining why he divorced himself from the Southern Baptist Convention after six decades as a deacon and Sunday School teacher. Basically, he contended that the SBC continued to legislate gender inequity from the top-down, cherry picking select verses to serve a desired patriarchal end, to which Carter responds:It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.It’s easy, in the daily course of events, to forget how pervasive such judgments against the equality of women really are, especially as we have examples of powerful women in political office and business. But just as having a black President doesn’t solve racial inequities, neither do a handful of high-profile women indicate there isn’t an ongoing struggle for parity among millions of other women without such power.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 25 weeks ago
I’m no postmodern theology expert, so I’ll leave it to the pros to explicate more about what’s what in postmodern thought. But for me, the exciting work revolves around supplanting things like binary, propositional “truths” about God with more inductive, open-ended notions of the Divine that transcend religious doctrine or even our own mental constructs of God. This is both a necessary and a liberating process, I think, that indeed can lead the Church (big C Church, that is) toward something far more reconciling and healing for humanity than the modernist approach to faith we’ve employed for many decades now, if not some centuries.It’s helpful to look back a little bit at where we’ve come from in our religious and theological evolution of thought and practice. At the risk of geeking out on something that puts everyone to sleep, I’ll try to make this quick and fairly painless. Interestingly, it can be argued that the more fundamentalist strain of Christianity can trace its origins back to the “liberal” thinking following the Enlightenment that suggested all things – faith, God, and religious thought included – could be explained by rational means. This hyper-rationalism sought to build up rhetorical constructs that made a case for God, so to speak, as well as buttressing the doctrines of the Church.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 25 weeks ago
This week on the Homebrewed CultureCast, we welcomed Stephen Simpson, one of the heads of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, to the show to discuss the intersection of faith and psychology. Specifically, we wanted to try and figure out with him where the thin line between religious fanaticism and pathological mental illness was. Hey, there it is!!!
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 28 weeks ago
(Note: This post contains some frank and graphic discussions of sex and sexuality.)Two boys from a Steubenville Ohio high school (I’ve opted not to use their names, though they are readily publicized by other media) have been sentenced to time in a juvenile detention center for the rape of a 16-year-old classmate who was reportedly so drunk at a party that she could no longer stand on her own. Aside from “digitally” raping the girl with their hands, reportedly multiple times, one of the boys took photos of the girl without her clothes, shared them via social media, and both young men bragged about the incident to their social networks following the incident.As the father of both a boy and a girl, I was particularly angered and disturbed by this story. The very fact that such things happen in a supposedly civil society is a stark reminder that we have only a tenuous hold on the well-being of our kids once they leave our sight. We can only hope and pray that we’ve empowered them with the sense of autonomy, respect, compassion, and restraint to keep them either from becoming victims of such violations, or perhaps even perpetrators of it themselves.But once I get beyond my initial feelings about the whole situation, I’m left wrestling with a number of questions that still feel terribly unresolved.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 28 weeks ago
Only a day into his papacy, and I’ve got to admit, Pope Francis has my attention. In an editorial piece on the Sojourners website today, Jim Wallis cited a surprising and very heartening quote from the new pontiff, especially for those looking in from the outside as non-Catholics. Here’s an excerpt from one of his first public addresses:“We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church. It’s true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that’s sick because it’s self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former.” 
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 31 weeks ago
Yesterday, I discussed some of the historical bases for our contemporary understanding of Satan. Today, I’ll consider how hell evolved as part of the Christian faith.In Old Testament scripture, the resting place for the dead is called Sheol. While some believe this is the same as hell, there are indications to the contrary. In the ancient Jewish tradition, Sheol is a place of rest for both righteous and wicked, with no distinction.Not everyone is happy about it either.In the third chapter of Malachi, the prophet recognizes the consternation of faithful Jews who are frustrated that the wicked share the same fate. In Ecclesiastes, the priest Koheleth claims that serving God is vanity. For him, the fact that the righteous are treated the same as the wicked and vice-versa should be a call to eat, drink and be merry.With respect to any relationship between Satan in the Old Testament and Sheol, there is none.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 31 weeks ago
(I was invited to take part in a debate about hell at a university recently, but unfortunately, the dates don’t work with my schedule this time. But since it’s an interesting topic, and one about which many folks have questions, I thought I’d share a couple of short essays I’ve written on the subject.) While Jonathan Edwards wasn’t the first to preach about hell and condemnation, his ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ sermon in 1741 crystallizes the beginning of a modern movement in the church. Edwards employed fear of punishment as a primary means for conversion and doctrinal adherence. Meanwhile, his congregants fainted in the aisles and clung to the pews to avoid being dragged down into the abyss.We can argue day and night about whether fear-based theology is effective, biblically accurate, or even necessary. But it’s worthwhile to consider where our contemporary ideas about hell and Satan even come from.Today, we’ll begin with Satan; we’ll save hell for tomorrow.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 32 weeks ago
For the first time in six centuries, the head of the Catholic Church is stepping down. Some, like Huffington Post Religion’s Senior Editor Paul Raushenbush, have suggested this is an indication that the stodgy religious institution is creeping its way toward modernism. Could it be that the role of Pope will be considered to be that more like a CEO than a sovereign ruler? Is there room within today’s church for its leadership to step down when they feel they can no longer adequately fill the tremendous demands heaped upon them?Can Popes retire? And if so, do they have to give up those cool red shoes?So if, indeed, the Catholic Church is moving in a new direction, why not consider a more thorough overhaul? Some have suggested that the next Pope should come from the southern hemisphere, given that this is where the faith is growing the most (actually, it’s not really growing much at all in the northern half of the world). But as some have suggested within the church, the process of selecting a Pope is not necessarily driven by creating a representative leadership.That said, it seems a rare opportunity to do something exciting. I, like many people, assumed that the successor to Pope Benedict would have to come from within the College of Cardinals. But though this has been tradition for most of the life of the Church, Pope Clement V is a rare exception. He was plucked from a monastery to become Pope, with the hope of overcoming much of the perceived corruption within the College.And though the College of Cardinals is not explicitly mired in scandal at the moment, the Church itself certainly has suffered some blows in the court of public opinion, as well as in the court of law, in some cases. So given that precedent, perhaps it’s time for another radical departure from tradition, one that will signal to the world that the Church is more committed than ever before to its mandate to care for the poor, and support the marginalized.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 32 weeks ago
A day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!-Joel 2:2Who in their right mind looks forward to Lent? Seven weeks of preparation to lead up to Good Friday hardly seems like an enjoyable way to spend our time.Why not work on those New Year’s resolutions that have already been slipping instead? How about some more quality time with the family? What good, after all, can come from dwelling on darkness and death for more than forty days?How about we all just agree to skip Lent this year and just get back together on Easter, okay?
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 33 weeks ago
A man buys two dogs to live with him in his apartment. They drive him and his neighbors crazy. They bark at all hours, get sick all over the place and cause rifts between him and his neighbors. And yet he insists that, despite the tremendous amount of work and inconvenience they present, he loves them.So the question is: does he do all the work and put up with the nonsense because he loves them, or does he love them because he’s invested so much of himself in them?Researchers looked at this question, particularly with regard to the wild popularity of the DIY furniture store, Ikea. Basically, you pay them to give you some furniture in a box that you have to take home and build. Sometimes you screw it up. Sometimes it takes a lot longer than you expected. Sometimes you scrape the skin off your knuckles and call the furniture names that would make your mother blush. In the end, if most of us assessed the value of our time against the money we’re saving by buying the furniture unassembled, it’s a net loss for us.So why do we do it?
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 34 weeks ago
Mattias: “Dad, I forgive you.”Me: “But I didn’t do anything wrong.”Mattias: “That’s okay. I forgive you anyway.”— Mattias, 5 years, 1 monthI’m a big, gigantic jerk of a dad.My son, Mattias, is a charmer. As introverted and crowd-averse as I am, he feeds off the energy of a group. His uncle Matt calls him “Slumdog Millionaire” because he’s convinced that, if you dropped him in the middle of Calcutta with nothing but the clothes on his back, he’d be running the joint inside of six months.This particular day, Mattias was working on a smaller scale, charming his uncle Joe out of five bucks over a family dinner. The problem is that, about half the time, he loses the money before it makes it into his bank. So I offered to carry it for him while we were out running some errands later on.He asked for it back after a while, and I explained that if he lost it, there were no refunds. I figured, though, that even losing the money was a lesson worth learning.Sure enough, that evening at dinner, he dug into his pocket for his cash and found nothing.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 35 weeks ago
I consider myself a feminist, which means (to me at least) I support the elimination of barriers to access for all people, regardless of their gender. But in spite of that, the equality that follows such efforts comes with its own consequences for the culture, and sometimes even for the woman herself.My wife, Amy, pastors a prominent church in downtown Portland. She has office hours, late-night meetings, and weekend commitments that keep her away from home quite a bit, sometimes more often than she’d prefer. I work most days from home as a writer, which means I have greater flexibility in my schedule to take the kids, pick them up, and sometimes make dinner or even put the little guys to bed. It’s not often that Amy gets home after both kids are asleep, but it happens. And when it does, I see the pain on her face.Zoe, our four-year-old, had a dad’s night at her preschool this past week, at which they presented us with the requisite finger paintings and other artifacts of her classroom time. But my favorite thing was a letter that she dictated to her teacher for me. The very first sentence in the letter was as follows.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 35 weeks ago
Rev. Mark Driscoll, founder of Mars Hill church, has a true gift. Just when I think I’m making at least a modicum of progress toward tolerance – if not actual Christlike love – toward the guy, inevitably he does something to make me despise him all over again.On the Monday, before President Obama’s inauguration ceremony, Driscoll sent out the following message to his more than 300,000 Twitter followers:Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know.As of Thursday morning, the tweet has received more than 3,400 retweets and nearly 1,350 favorites. Driscoll’s next tweet was about an iPad Mini giveaway.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 36 weeks ago
It’s easier to guide the vision and mission of a church you start. It’s another thing to help a 135-year-old congregation reimagine what it means to be a downtown urban church in a world that has changed dramatically all around it. At Milagro, the church we founded in our living room some nine years ago, we set the course for what we wanted that community to look like: a refuge for the spiritual walking wounded, safe haven for questions, doubt, and a culture of mutual encouragement, support, and accountability that would allow people to explore their own relationship with the Divine. We have since set that community free and already, it is becoming something different.As well it should.Now we find ourselves at First Christian Church in downtown Portland — a different animal entirely. In some ways, the two communities are very complementary, in that one has what the other tends to lack. But we’ve discerned that, first and foremost, our job is to help cultivate a spirit of radical openness and welcome. But what does this mean, and how do we even begin to change the makeup of an institution that has exited for more than five generations before us?Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that say the most. We had a tradition at Milagro of “mugging” people when they came for the first time. This meant one of our hospitality stewards (AKA, “muggers”) would approach them and give them a coffee mug filled with candy and some information about the church. With First Christian, however, most people know we’re here; the bigger question lingering in the public mind is why.In this case, instead of a brochure describing programs or institutional history, Amy included the welcome statement that follows, which she borrowed and adapted from a Catholic community.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 37 weeks ago
I was a nervous kid. Once, I got so freaked out by the prospect of a speaking part in my first-grade school play that my folks thought I had come down with appendicitis. But there were two times in particular that I remember descending into unmitigated panic. Both involved discussions with my dad about my career.The first time, my dad was telling me about his year-by-year earning trends as an insurance salesman. He went from being one of several agents manning a booth in a Sears store to being the highest-earning employee in his major international company over about 15 years. He added zeroes to his income, and a passel of staffers, including my mom for a while (didn’t work out so well – they divorced thereafter).At his height, he was earning upwards of half a million a year, and this was in the 80s. His company flew him all over the world, showered him with awards, and held him up as the high-water mark for all other agents to aspire to. I combined this remarkable achievement with the implicit cultural message that all generations exceeded their parents in earning power and went into an emotional tailspin.How in the hell was I going to make that kind of money?
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 38 weeks ago
I know this sounds totally bizarre, but I had a moment of clarity about the value of human life in, of all places, a kid-themed pizza joint yesterday. No, they don’t exploit their workers (that I know of, short of submitting them to overstimulated kids all day). It took a few steps for me to get there, so bear with me.Yesterday, my daughter, Zoe, turned four years old. It’s a crappy time of year to have a birthday party, since lots of people are out of town, and those who are around are more or less partied out from the holidays. On top of that, we just moved here a few months ago and hardly know anyone. So to try and make up for all of that, we let her pick anywhere she wanted to go for dinner.Not surprisingly, she picked John’s Incredible Pizza Company, which is like Chuck E. Cheese on steroids. Not high on my list of choices, but hey, it wasn’t my birthday. Zoe’s grandparents are in town and they invited a couple other family members who live nearby to join us. One of Amy’s distant cousins brought along her husband or boyfriend (still not sure which), and I remarked after the dinner to amy that he bore a striking resemblance to the alt-rock front man Perry Ferrell, of Jane’s Addiction fame.“What ever happened to Perry?” Amy asked. Short of founding the Lollapalooza Festival and hitting every Coachella festival ever held, I had nothing. So I Googled him.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 38 weeks ago
When Chinese kids won’t eat their Cheerios, do their parents tell them there are starving kids in America to convince them to finish?The good news is, we didn’t take their advice; instead, we sold ourselves to China! ***Footnote: I have since been educated on the context of this sign, which makes it understandable. The sign actually suggested that crushing China was a bad thing. Why does history have to go and ruin my fun??? Stupid history!!!
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 38 weeks ago
Generally, we only know how history will be remembered once it is in the rearview mirror. Something, or some things, jump out and remain indelible in the collective memories of the culture. And in a world defined by sound bytes, sometimes only a few words tell us a lot about that moment in time.In that spirit, here are my selections for the ten most defining phrases that will stay with us from the past year.