The Common Good

Blog Posts By Christian Piatt

Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 3 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 2 years 3 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 2 years 5 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 2 years 5 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 2 years 6 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 2 years 7 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 2 years 7 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 2 years 7 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 2 years 9 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 2 years 10 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 2 years 13 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 2 years 13 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 2 years 14 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 2 years 14 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 2 years 15 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 2 years 15 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 2 years 16 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 2 years 17 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 2 years 18 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 2 years 19 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 2 years 19 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 2 years 20 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 2 years 20 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.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 21 weeks ago
This week’s episode was recorded in the youth group room at First Christian Church in downtown Portland, Ore. To start things off, Jordan talks about being the Marv Marinovich of comedy by relentlessly pushing his daughter to be funnier while Christian embraces the black magic that is naturopathic medicine.This week’s guest is Wm. Paul Young, author of the wildly popular novel The Shack, which has sold 18 million copies to date. Paul talks about the creative process, about trusting God rather than trying to please, and the development of his latest book, Crossroads. Basically, it’s just an interesting conversation with a fascinating person who’s also incredibly gracious and humble.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 22 weeks ago
Many will remember pastor Terry Jones as the champion of the “Burn a Quran Day” event, intended to fan anti-Islamic rhetoric on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Though many shouted him down and criticized his motives, he continues to have somewhat of a national platform for his agenda.In this video produced by the New York Times, we get to witness what I consider a momentary intervention of God’s spirit in a beautifully, creatively nonviolent way. As Pastor Jones condemns Muslims and their religion, a man in the crowd pulls up the lyrics to the Beatles song, “All You Need is Love” on his phone. He stands next to jones and begins to sing, inviting the crowd to join in. It is beautiful because his hate is repaid with song, and the sting of his venomous words is neutralized without a hand or another voice being raised in anger (though I could do without the “idiot” sign, thanks).
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 22 weeks ago
I’ve seen plenty of articles responding to the shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Some are angry, some pastoral, still others, prophetic in their call for change in various forms. I have little to add to the conversation at that level, but I have heard questions from many children, some from my own kids. I thought I’d offer some responses I’ve shared.What happened? Something terribly sad. A man hurt some children and adults in a school in Connecticut. Some of them died. The teachers and students were very brave, and the community is working together to take care of those who survived and those who lost someone they loved. Even the President went there to be with them.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 23 weeks ago
I sat behind a couple of folks on a plane to Seattle this morning who were discussing their distress about a so-called war on Christmas.“Memorial Day is a holiday,” said the man in a santa hat with disgust. “July 4th and Thanksgiving are holidays. Christmas is, well, Christmas!”“Absolutely,” nodded the woman next to him. “It’s just more evidence of this war against Christmas.”On the way off the plane, a flight attendant made the grave mistake of wishing the man happy holidays. He stopped the line of outgoing traffic behind him (including me) to correct her. She demurred, looked toward her feet and smiled sheepishly.We Christians have a long and storied history of playing the martyr, whether there’s actually anyone persecuting us or not.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 24 weeks ago
Yesterday I wrote the first article in this series of posts on why it is that I write. Today I’ll jump ahead to the so-called more “successful” period of my writing work.I got my first book deal back in 2006, and it came, like everything else, by way of rejection.I had this great idea to publish a collection of my spoken word poetry in book form in a way that helped worship leaders and preachers incorporate them liturgically into worship services. Little did I know at the time that the word “poetry” is pretty much a four-letter word in publishing, particularly when you narrow your market down to mainline worship leaders to begin with. Top it off with the fact that people kind of have to have a natural sense of how to read the pieces aloud to make them work and … well, it was a stupid idea.Fortunately for me, the proposal ended up in the hands of an editor who liked my writing style, even if my proposal was crap.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 24 weeks ago
I’ll preface this piece my saying I know I am making some broad generalizations based on gender, and that there are always exceptions to every trend. But despite that, I do think there are some cultural trends that can offer us some useful insight.Anyone who has been paying attention has noticed that, of those left within the walls of most churches, the majority still hanging in there are women. Some, like the advocates of so-called Masculine Christianity, see this as a crisis. The Christian faith and its symbols are becoming softened, feminized, compromised into being something other than what they were meant to be.Granted, when you take a faith whose principal authors historically have been men and then place that same faith in the hands of women, some things will inevitably change. Personally, I welcome the exploration of other, feminine expressions of the divine and values such as embodied spirituality that many female Christian leaders value. But aside from these assets, I think that women bring something far more critical to institutional religion.Without them, it may cease to exist.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 25 weeks ago
I’ve been asked how I knew I was called to be a writer. For me, calling is fairly easy to recognize. If the thought of doing something fills you with equal parts joy and terror, it’s probably a calling. There’s more to it than that, I suppose, since the idea of buying a new Tesla sports car fills me with both feelings too, mostly because my wife, Amy, would kill me. There are other elements, like the conviction that our calling should feel something of an identifiable need in the world, and that it should call on gifts we have in a way that is life-giving not just to others, but joyful and life-affirming for us as well.But the joy and terror thing is a pretty good sign you’re on the right track.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 26 weeks ago
I’ve wrestled for years with a Christian faith that focuses on personal salvation, on many levels, some of which I’m still excavating. First, the emphasis on individual salvation always seemed ironically selfish for a faith that seemed otherwise to be about putting yourself second to others. I also struggled with the idea that Christianity is about getting a certain set of beliefs right, articulating them before a group of peers through a statement of faith and then you were official. Is it really so rote? So didactic? So … human?All my life, I’ve heard stories of people who felt utterly transformed by their faith proclamation, or at the moment of baptism, in the throngs of prayer or during some particularly stirring worship service. They spoke of these feelings for which I longed. I wanted the mountaintop experience, after which I would never be the same. I wanted to be turned inside-out by God, illuminated by the Holy Spirit with a fire that never subsided. I wanted to feel what all these other Christians claimed to be feeling.I’ve been to literally thousands of worship services in my life. I’ve been back and forth through the Bible, taken communion more than a thousand times, was baptized, sang the songs, said the prayers, and yes, I’ve had moments when I felt as if God was so close I could nearly reach out and touch whatever it was that I sensed. 
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 27 weeks ago
First, we had CIA Director David Petraeus being held over the fire for a possible affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Then General John Allen, the top-ranking U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, drawn into the drama as allegations of indiscretions of his own with Jill Kelly (the credibility and severity of which remains to be determined), who also is linked to Ms. Broadwell and the related Petraeus drama. Then there’s rumor of FBI agents sending shirtless pictures of themselves to women and … anyway, you get the idea.As if all of that wasn’t weird enough, now there’s the matter of Kevin Clash, inventor of and voice for Sesame Street’s Elmo, being accused by a young man of having an illicit relationship while the accuser was underage. The man has since recanted his claim, but not before Clash admitted to a consensual encounter with the accuser when he was of legal age, if just barely.Why do they do it?
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 27 weeks ago
I’m known for holding an alternative view on salvation than many Christians – even Disciples — maintain, in that I do not adhere to the doctrine that Jesus died for our sins. I know there are lots of scriptures to back this position, and one can also use scripture to justify other explanations for Jesus’ death. As many of us have seen, the Bible can be, and has been, used to justify nearly any position we care to use it to support. As for me, I’ve done years of searching, praying, discussing, and reading, and my conclusion is that it is the love of God as manifest by Jesus that is redemptive, and not Jesus’ blood.I know some folks will likely stop here, discrediting anything else I have to say because of this perspective, which is unfortunate, but which I also understand. But a family member recently asked me about my take on communion if, in fact, I don’t ascribe to the idea that Jesus was saying “this is my body broken and my blood poured out for the remission of your sins.”
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 27 weeks ago
If we try to mold faith into something more certain than simply faith, it becomes something else. A crutch, perhaps, or a drug. So how or when does this happen?It happens when someone is suffering and we tell them that everything happens for a reason. In the bigger picture, this is that opiate of certainty and assurance being cast over all the chaos, suffering, and doubt in an effort to keep it all tied up neatly in a religious package. But what it creates beneath the surface is a bastardized image of a God who sits in the Great Beyond, plotting out our fortunes and misfortunes, causing loss and heartbreak in our lives for some greater unknown plan. This makes us no more than so much collateral damage in some narcissistic divine game.Is that really the God we believe in?
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 28 weeks ago
We were stoked to sit down with Jim Wallis, Sojourners guru, political activist and all-around change agent for the common good to chat up what happened during the most recent elections. We talk about what comes next, how the parties will respond to the electorate and where both sides can come together for real change.And although Jim Wallis does sound a little bit like Darth Vader in this episode, it’s not his fault. We had an audio glitch in the recording in our haste to get this to you quickly.Listen to the podcast and read a partial transcript inside the blog ...
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 28 weeks ago
Following the creation of my first five articles in this ongoing series about Christian cliches (links below), I was alerted to the fact that my lists were notably absent of particular cliches often employed by emergent Christians. While the emergent Christians are endeavoring to re-imagine the way we engage faith, one another and the world differently, the movement still is dependent on human beings. As such, we tend to screw it up.So in the spirit of fairness, I offer you a list of things emergent Christians can and should strike from our daily lexicon …
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 28 weeks ago
Steve Taylor, film director and rock hero, visits our (mine and Jordan Green's) Homebrewed Christianity podcast to talk about the disappointing theater run of his film, Blue Like Jazz, what made him leave music for film, and to announce his return to music through a new album he’s been working on.So, yeah, that’s a big deal. And yeah, we’re pretty much breaking the story.In the Echo Chamber, we talk about the election, Superstorm Sandy, scary movie commercials, and, you know, a bunch of other stuff. Finally, we discuss some common Christian cliches.Listen ... inside the blog.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 29 weeks ago
Quantum Theory is still in its relative infancy within the entire discipline of science, although it finds its roots as far back as Plato and Descartes. But if some of the notions being pursued by contemporary scientists prove true, it may result in a convergence of science, art, philosophy, and even religion that the world never imagined possible.I’ll admit from the start that investigating the literature for this particular article literally made my head hurt. To fully conceive of all that is discussed and examined in Quantum Theory takes a scientific sophistication that I lack. But fortunately there are some out there who are trying to make these complex ideas more digestible, without a string of letters after our names.One such scientist is Stuart Hameroff, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Anesthesiology and Psychology and the Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. To distill a very complex idea down into a few words, the general consensus in science is that consciousness can be attributed to computations conducted within the neurological networks in the brain. Basically, all consciousness can be explained by algorithms, which makes our brains essentially like big, highly sophisticated computers. There are some limitations thus far to this perspective, such as how such algorithms account for things like aesthetic experience, love, and even our sense of smell. Researchers in the area of Artificial Intelligence believe that discovering the algorithmic bases for such phenomena can lead to the construction (given the necessary technology) of an artificial human brain.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 29 weeks ago
I’ve had a number of interesting discussions with various people lately about the notions of hell, salvation and who goes where. It’s a rhetorical exercise for the most part, since no one really knows. But there are plenty of real-life implications, particularly in the sphere of religion. For some, the understanding of what happens to us after we die is the prime mover in their day-to-day faith.I know that the times when I resonate with more hard-line evangelical theology are few and far between, but in this case, I tend to resonate more closely with them than with my brothers and sisters of the Calvinist (also called Reformed Church) movement. For some not familiar with the differences, common Evangelical belief would suggest that God’s saving grace is available to all who seek it, and that the only thing standing between us and eternal salvation is us and our unwillingness to accept God’s perfect gift. In the Reformed Church, however (represented most prominently today by pastors like Mark Driscoll and John Piper), salvation is reserved for an elect few. The rest of creation will suffer the eternal wrath of God, period.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 30 weeks ago
I was pretty amazed by the popularity of the first lists of Christian clichés I created (linked at the bottom of this article). I think it was because so many Christians saw themselves somewhere in the list and others (maybe even some Christians!) have been on the receiving end of these clichés and resonated with my frustration in hearing them pretty much my entire life.Since that initial series ran, I’ve been thinking about other things Christians often say that tend to do more harm than good. So here are a few more to add to the list.Bless his/her heart: This usually follows one of two less-than-Christian kinds of statements. Either it’s said after some kind of thinly veiled insult or after a juicy bit of gossip about the person whose heart you want to be “blessed.” Examples include, “Did you hear Nancy’s husband got caught sleeping with his secretary? Bless her heart,” or, “He’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, bless his heart.”If you’re from the South, you definitely know what I’m talking about.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 30 weeks ago
#5. Delivery complications: Amy was a real trooper when Mattias was born, but nothing about it was easy. Actually he and I had eerily similar experiences making our way into the world. We both were exactly the same length and weight, we both were faced the wrong way, and both of us were finally delivered by caesarian section, after putting our moms through hours of hardcore labor.The story I’ve heard is that my delivery was a big part of why my folks decided not to have any more children. Before that, they planned on having more but it was too much to deal with. And let me tell you that I can sympathize. I was in the room both when Amy tried to deliver naturally, and when they cut her wide open and yanked the little peanut out. His face was blue from a lack of oxygen, and his umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck. Though I’ve never experienced such awe and joy in my life, I also have no desire to relive that sort of terrifying vulnerability.#4. Postpartum: We didn’t recognize it as such for almost a year, but Amy suffered from pretty severe postpartum depression after Mattias was born. In a phrase, it sucked. I also happened to be running for local political office at the time, which added stress to the situation, but I didn’t know what the hell was going on. It was our first time, after all, and no one really warned us about what to do if your wife has quasi-psychotic images of herself pushing your baby down the stairs. She was so worried she was going crazy that she didn’t tell anyone for fear that they might take Mattias away from her. So instead, she tried to manage it, quite unsuccessfully, on her own for nearly 12 months.The breaking point finally came one night when we were lying in bed and I laid it all out. I knew something was really wrong, but I had no idea what it was. I could feel her withdrawing farther away from me every day, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything about it.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 30 weeks ago
Don’t ever kill me, OK? Killing me is not safe. —Mattias, 3 years, 0 months“What’s your greatest fear about having another baby?”I don’t think Amy was just goading me when she asked me this back in the early stages of impending double fatherhood, but she knows we’re both pretty good worriers (though I’d argue she’s better at it than I am, and since I’m the one writing this book, we’ll assume she’d agree with me).Talk about an open invitation to worry! I don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about day-to-day matters; I’m more of a saver. But when something comes along that’s really worth worrying about, you can bet I’ll draw down that worry account a bit.After Amy asked me the fateful question, I started compiling a mental list. I figure I’ll lay out at least my top ten here for your edification, or at least for simple amusement:#10. We could have twins...
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 31 weeks ago
Growing up, I looked to my dad as the quintessential definition of what a man was. He was pretty quiet but prone to anger. He worked crazy hours as the primary provider in the house, but still made time to build things nearly every weekend around the house. He had tons of tools, knew everything about everything and was never, ever wrong.Some of what he was to me was passed along; most of it didn’t stick. And for that, I was pretty sure there was something wrong with me. Maybe I was gay. Could be that I just missed out on some critical “male gene” that made me want to work with tools and amass an encyclopedic knowledge about sports. I mean, I liked baking with my nana, and when I stayed over at their house for the weekend, sometimes I’d even paint my nails with her polish. I also went golfing and fishing with granddad, but I’d rather draw or play music than help my dad rebuild the retaining wall around the porch.Must be something wrong with me.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 31 weeks ago
Writing books is a strange process. When you’re in the middle of creating something this big, it tends to consume your every waking moment in some way. I can’t watch TV or have a conversation with a neighbor without my mind searching the content for narrative or thematic threads to weave into the chapter I’m working on. It can be a little bit maddening, at least for those around us, I expect. But I love it.One unlikely wonderful source for material as of late for me has been the show “Louie,” by comedian Louis C.K. To say he’s irreverent would be underselling his shock value. He’s a little bit like Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame in that he levels the playing field of propriety simply by making nothing off limits. Some might not be able to get past his coarse and occasionally nihilistic approach to life, but I consider him to be nothing short of prophetic in his observations about the human condition.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 31 weeks ago
It’s always annoyed me when people assume that, because I’m a Christian, I must also be socially conservative on all requisite issues. And while I understand those who lean further right because of their Christian beliefs, I take issue with those who suggest that being both a follower of Christ and a social progressive are mutually exclusive.In fact, most of my positions on social issues can be traced back to my faith, which goes to show that the spectrum of beliefs taken from any given faith, as well as the many ways in which those beliefs are applied, is wide and arguably still growing as we continue to become increasingly pluralistic and intertwined.Depending on your perspective, it could be argued that the landscape of presidential candidates either reflects such religious diversity, or that it’s still more of the same old majority rule at play, with a few minor cosmetic adjustments. For some, the fact that a Mormon is the Republican nominee is nothing short of astonishing, and what’s more, that the evangelical right is generally finding their way toward alignment with Mitt Romney’s presidential ticket.It’s also worth noting that last week's vice presidential debate was the first time in history that we’ve had two Catholic VP nominees running against each other. The only fairly typical one in the group (unless you ask the Muslim conspiracy theorists, that is) is Barack Obama who is a member of the mainline protestant Christian denomination, the United Church of Christ.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 32 weeks ago
A friend of mine forwarded a link to a recent Huffington Post article about the most and least religious cities in the United States. Interestingly – but hardly surprising – you have to scroll waaaay down the list to find my current city of Portland, Ore.“Looks like you have your work cut out for you,” he said. He’s right; I’ve met folks here who work in churches that tell people they work at a nonprofit when asked what they do, leaving the bit about the nonprofit being a church until they get to know each other better. And of course, we knew this when we came to the Pacific Northwest.In fact, that’s part of what made me want to be here.For some, there is great appeal in coming to an “unchurched” community, mainly because of the notion that this means there are that many more people in need of saving. And while this may or may not be true, there’s a lot of presumption that goes into saving those without religion, while assuming those who claim a faith are the ones to do the “saving.”
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 32 weeks ago
We’ve been hearing an awful lot about the national debt lately – particularly during the current election cycle – and specifically, we’ve gotten an earful about the problem of our enormous debt to China. Though some mistakenly believe we borrow all of our money to finance our upside-down economy from China, the truth is that they hold only about one-tenth of our total debt, which is about the same amount as we owe to Japan.What’s staggering is that, even at 10 percent of our total indebtedness, that still amounts to well over one trillion dollars. That, in itself, is close to $3,700 for every man, woman, and child in the United States, plus interest. And if you consider that we owe ten times that much, it’s nothing short of depressing.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 32 weeks ago
So yeah, it’s my birthday, and that really doesn’t have anything to do with church signs. But hey, I gotta call it something, right???
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 33 weeks ago
I used to be in a fantasy league, but the fanaticism of the whole thing wore me out. The guys would gather online for an evening-long draft event, debate rules ad nauseam, and haggle over trades through the wee hours. I considered myself to be a fan, but these guys had practically made, well, a religion out of fantasy sports.I was reading a piece today by Bruce Reyes Chow about what we Christians might learn from fantasy sports, and it got me thinking. One of the most interesting things being in the fantasy league did for me was that it totally changed how I watched the games. I would turn on games I never would have had interest in before, just to see how my selected running back performed. I even found myself rooting against my own favorite teams once in a blue moon when it served my fantasy team and didn’t affect the outcome of the actual game.The whole experience drove my wife crazy, partly because of all the time it took, but also because the way I engaged sports was so different that, even if we were watching the same game, it was as if we saw two completely different things.We’re in the middle of a similar kind of shift in the west with respect to organized religion. While folks within the walls of church may be intent primarily on keeping the institutions placed under their care alive, a growing majority of people outside the doors don’t really care about the denominational logo over the entryway, the name inscribed on the stone sign by the street or the long, rich history of all the congregation has meant to the community.
Posted by Christian Piatt 2 years 33 weeks ago
I was invited to appear on a Detroit radio show this past week called Christ and the City, hosted by Christopher Brooks. It’s a right-leaning talk show with an evangelical focus, but I was energized and encouraged by the conversation because it was respectful and substantive. We didn’t see eye to eye on much (as you’ll hear), but we made space for the differences, trusting that listeners would reflect on the broadened perspective, with the hope of being enriched in the process.The premise of the interview was a discussion of my book, Banned Questions About the Bible, but you’ll soon realize as you listen that we got into all sorts of other interesting topics, such as salvation, interpretation of scripture and the difference between “Truth” and “Fact” in the Bible.