The Common Good

Blog Posts By Christian Piatt

Posted by Christian Piatt 1 week 2 days ago
Being a Christian, by definition, means we endeavor to follow Jesus. But few if any of us does it, really. I mean all the way. As Shane Claiborne famously once said, Jesus ruined his life. Once he went all in on what he felt God was calling him to do, everything in his life — all he held dear and felt was important — got turned upside down.It happened all the time in the gospels. The second someone decided to follow Jesus, BAM! Life as they knew it was over.Who wants that? Who of us is really so invested in this idea of following Jesus that we’d set it all down and walk away if we had to? I don’t know about you, but the very idea of it is pretty terrifying.So I’m going to try and do it. With some ground rules, like I’m not going to abandon my family. But over the next 16-18 months, I want to be lot more intentional about what it means to follow Jesus. For real.
Posted by Christian Piatt 3 weeks 3 days ago
Last week I spent a few days in Rome with, among others, Tony Jones. As someone who hasn’t ever been to Rome, it was particularly helpful for me to have a Christian historian along. It’s easy enough, having seen one amazing display of ruins after another, or cathedral after awesome cathedral, to lose some perspective. So along the way, Tony would stop and point out the historic significance of various landmarks. Then of course, we’d go grab a bourbon and talk.Both of us, at one point or another in the week, thought of the Monty Python scene from Life of Brian, in which the disgruntled rebels exclaim, “What have the Romans ever done for us?” So of course, some wise guy in the group starts rattling things off, like the aqueducts, roads, education, and so on.So this led to a minor debate between Tony and me about the benefits of empire. Now, keep in mind that Tony is never one to pass up an opportunity to serve as the antagonist, but his argument as outlined in his blog post cheekily titled “In Praise of Empires,” is that it’s en vogue to trash empire, both present and past.To put a finer point on it, we chatted about whether Constantine, the Roman emperor responsible for establishing the Nicene Creed, was an ass-hat.
Posted by Christian Piatt 5 weeks 1 day ago
I was asked to contribute a chapter to a new book called Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. The volume, an edited compilation put together by Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant, takes on many of the weird texts in scripture that we either gloss over or completely ignore because they’re just too … well, weird.Of course there are plenty of spiritual oddballs to choose from, but as soon as I got the invite, I knew I wanted to write about the book of Revelation (note that there is not “S” at the end; there is no such book as Revelationsssssssss in the Bible). Suffice it to say that my relationship with the last book in the bible is a little bit complicated. In fact, it ruined my potential career as a lifetime Baptist. A number of you may have heard bits or pieces of the story about how I got kicked out of church as a teenager, but may not know all the details.Well kids, you can blame it all on one freaky Bible book, one intransigent teenager and a floppy-Bible-wielding youth minister. But although the experience pushed me out of church for a solid decade, it didn’t forever ruin my search for the divine. But this particular story isn’t about that. It’s about how I got one particular youth minister so red-faced and flustered that he cussed me out and almost hit me square in the noggin with the Good Book.
Posted by Christian Piatt 7 weeks 3 days ago
“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” —Arthur SchopenhauerI’m visiting Las Vegas this weekend, one of several stops on my postChristian book tour. I’m staying with my aunt and uncle, who are also in ministry, and who I don’t get to spend time with nearly often enough.My aunt JoLynn was reading aloud a story about the shipping company UPS and how their trucks don’t make left turns. Of course my first reaction was, “well, that’s stupid.” It seems entirely counterintuitive to send trucks on a roundabout circuit when they could much more easily cut the route short by hanging a left. You need to go right, turn right. Need to go left, turn left for crying out loud. It’s just common sense, right?Maybe not.UPS has a proprietary navigation system that helps drivers plot out all of their stops in a day and the most efficient way to get there. And based on their research, left turns result in more wasted time and more accidents than they’re worth. Drivers end up stuck at long lights when they could otherwise be turning through a red light making a right turn and making another drop-off. Plus, without left turns, trucks don’t have to cross oncoming traffic, which means fewer collisions.They save time. They save money. All it took was thinking differently about how the delivery routers should be configured without all of those high risk, time-consuming left turns.
Posted by Christian Piatt 10 weeks 2 days ago
Historically, Christianity hasn’t been very open to the idea of being influenced by other religions. In the early days of the faith, we borrowed from Hellenism, Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Judaism and various “pagan” religions, repurposing their symbols to mean something new. Following the adoption of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, we focused more on converting others to our faith, or at least denigrating the legitimacy of other faiths to establish ours as superior.Oh, but times, they are a’changin.’Our numbers are down, our influence continues to wane, and we’re struggling with what I call in “postChristian” both an identity crisis and a credibility crisis. The good news is that, in this newly humbled state, lies a glimmer of opportunity. Not the kind we’ve had previously, to once again dominate the cultural landscape. That time has passed. Rather, as more of us within the Christian faith take less for granted, we’re asking harder questions:
Posted by Christian Piatt 11 weeks 2 days ago
I’ve had the chance to speak with author and international peace activist John Paul Lederach about his book, Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians. The book, updated from an earlier edition with a new introduction from Bill and Lynne Hybels and additional stories, is a powerful guide on how to seek and realize peace among us on both local and global scales.Having traveled the world brokering peace agreements between governments and rebel groups, and having risked his own lives and that of his family for the sake of reconciliation, Lederach speaks prophetically to difficult issues facing us today in a way that few can.From Gaza to Iraq and even Ferguson, Mo., we want to know: what do we do now? Thankfully John Paul Lederach offers us both the hope and the tools to begin achieving reconciliation, wherever we are. In our discussion below we talk about his book, which is capturing the attention and imaginations of leaders everywhere.
Posted by Christian Piatt 14 weeks 6 days ago
A soon-to-be college-bound Michael Brown is shot by Missouri police, reportedly while holding his hands above himself in surrender and while unarmed. The resulting protests turn violent, leading ultimately to police setting up barricades, complete with snipers, tear gas, and flash grenades. Local stores are decimated and scores are injured in the resulting tensions.Not long ago, Eric Garner, another African-American man, died of suffocation while being submitted to a choke submission hold by a New York policeman.Last year in North Carolina, a black man was shot 10 times by a policeman. And all of this is in the shadow the Trayvon Martin, whose tragic and unnecessary death, is still fresh in our minds and hearts. As cited on the Economist website , it’s enough to elicit a grim question from Delores Jones-Brown, director of the John Jay College on Race, Crime and Justice. “People are asking,” she says, “Is it open season on us?”Meanwhile, half a world away in Iraq, ISIS continues to wreak havoc, and the United States has resumed an airstrike campaign after a decade of military force trying to maintain a tentative peace in a fractured nation. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t have reports of more Israeli and Palestinian blood spilled over the historic Gaza conflict, and Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to — in the words of a recent TIME Magazine article — “create problems only he can solve.” All the while, he stokes resentments between east and west not seen since the Cold War, seeking, too, to weaken the cohesive strength of NATO and to drive a wedge between the United States and its allies in Europe.What’s happening to us?
Posted by Christian Piatt 15 weeks 2 days ago
Anyone who has been paying attention knows that Christianity is in decline in the western world by all accounts. From progressive mainline churches to evangelical mega-churches, most institutional religious bodies are experiencing precipitous drops in attendance and giving. Meanwhile, the Christian voice in the civil and political conversations is also giving way to other perspectives, be they Jewish, Muslim, or secular humanist. It’s no longer a dark mark on one’s social character to say they don’t go to church, or even that they’re not a Christian.For many leaders within organized Christian circles, this is all a call to arms, a warning shot across the proverbial bow to wake us up from our slumber and engage the impinging culture war with renewed commitment.But as I suggest in my new book, postChristian: What’s Left? Can we fix it? Do we care? It’s actually good news. Granted, it may not slow the decline and closure of churches anytime soon, and we Christians will likely continue to lose some degree of political clout, but I argue that this isn’t the point. It never was. And in fact, our numerical, political and even financial success in recent generations has taken us far off track.
Posted by Christian Piatt 15 weeks 3 days ago
This week has been a rough one for Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Following one scandal after another, the Acts 29 Network – which he helped found – removed his standing and his church’s standing within the network. They also encouraged him to step down as the leader of Mars Hill.To add to that, Lifeway Bookstores, which is one of the biggest faith-based book chains around, decided to stop carrying all of Driscoll’s books. Basically this just means he can join me and all of us progressive Christian authors who have been edged out by Lifeway. You’ll get used to it, Mark.All of this is good for Christianity as a whole. For starters, it demonstrates the autonomy of the Acts 29 Network from their founder. And despite their many misguided policies regarding women and their proclivity for hyper-calvinism overall, it shows that they, too, have their limits.As for Lifeway, I can’t really tell if their decision to drop Driscoll is an ethical one, or a matter of mitigating further PR risk by having his titles in their stores. Either way, props for getting his face off the shelves, regardless.I’d not be surprised, too, if Driscoll chooses to step down from Mars Hill in the near future. At some point, even he will recognize his leadership as untenable.In the midst of all of this, I’m conflicted. 
Posted by Christian Piatt 16 weeks 2 days ago
Anyone who reads my stuff with some regularity probably already knows that Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll isn’t exactly on my speed dial list, and I’m probably not in his. From his misogynistic quips to his hellfire hyper-Calvinist rants, he and I see almost all social and theological issues as differently as two people could and still call themselves Christians.Add to that the recent plagiarism scandal, compounded by the fact that he effectively bought his way onto the New York Times bestseller list (and it turns out he may have used church money to do it), and I question the man’s fitness for ministry.Having said that, I actually kind of love the guy—and you do too, if you’re being honest. No, I don’t mean in the “I love him because Jesus said I have to” kind of way. I mean you really kind of have a thing for him. Here’s why.
Posted by Christian Piatt 19 weeks 4 hours ago
We’d all love to claim Jesus for our team, but in doing so, we can safely assume that Jesus actually would wriggle free from such limitations. While it would be comforting to validate ourselves by claiming Jesus as a Baptist, Disciple, Catholic, or something else, what we’re effectively trying to do is keep from changing ourselves. We want to rest in the certainty that we’re all right how we already are, with no real need to grow or do things differently.
Posted by Christian Piatt 19 weeks 1 day ago
The modern era is marked by a tendency to worship such fences, such rules, institutions, doctrines and traditions, simply because they already exist. And oftentimes, the very things we are preserving are products of those with privilege and power—so in sustaining, or even not actively challenging, such systems, we’re actually contributing to the holding-back of those with less of a voice.
Posted by Christian Piatt 21 weeks 4 days ago
We’re headed home from Wild Goose Festival, a gathering of artists, activists, musicians, and theologians, in Hot Springs, N.C. It was hot, rainy, and messy. My suitcase smells like my fifth grade gym locker.I can’t wait to go back next year.The speakers are remarkable; many of them are walking the talk they’re offering, which is an unfortunately rare phenomenon. The music is fresh and exciting, the art is created before your eyes, and there is an energy of hopeful expectation that renews your soul, flushing out the broken-down-ness of daily life.But the most important part of the whole four-day event lies in the unexpected moments. Sometimes I would walk along the main dirt road in the middle of the grounds, lined with tables, tents, and makeshift gathering spaces, until I saw something interesting going on and just joined in.In one moment you’re debating the theological implications of the American food-industrial complex. Half an hour later, you’re laughing with new friends in the beer tent. And then, just when the sun sets and you’re sure you lack the fortitude to go one any more, the music on the main stage cranks up and the very earth beneath you vibrates.
Posted by Christian Piatt 22 weeks 2 days ago
One of the most gaping absences in church community often is a point of entry or transition for young adults. We do great with kids, and of course most congregations pant after the coveted “parents with kids” demographic. But what about after high school? How do we serve young adults as they transition to independence for the first time? How do we help them navigate the complexities of adult life, while helping forge in them a sense of character and mission informed by the Christian faith?One organization taking on these difficult challenges in real, transformative ways is Mission Year. I sat down with Shawn Casselberry, Executive Director of Mission Year, to find out more about how they empower young adults to live out their values in the context of church, community, and even daily life.
Posted by Christian Piatt 23 weeks 3 days ago
Our son, Mattias, is a complicated kid. He’s sweet, creative and remarkably intelligent. But to say he is strong willed would be underselling his capacity for intransigence.When he was in preschool he, like many kids, went through a “naked phase.” He never wanted to have his clothes on at home (which was no small issue with regard to our furniture’s upkeep), and getting him dressed in the morning was part chore and part all-out war.“We have one of these kids every year,” said his teacher, a seasoned veteran. “What you have to do is call his bluff.”
Posted by Christian Piatt 26 weeks 1 day ago
Anyone who thinks much on theology will tell you that you go through patterns of thought. For a long time, I was intrigued — and still am in many ways — by the notion of Jesus as a “third way” prophet, offering something different than both church and secular culture most of the time. As I learned of different interpretations of the crucifixion, I became obsessed with nonviolent activism, and the idea of responding to force or bloodshed with something else entirely.Now, my latest mental track is sacrament. I am interested in what makes something a sacrament, yes, but also in the power connected to sacraments and what human beings do with that power.I am part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a denomination that has Alexander Campbell as part of its roots. Campell was notorious for supposedly causing a stir in his local church around the sacrament of communion. At that time, the Church handed out tokens to those it deemed worthy to participate in communion. No token? No communion. So this one particular day, Campbell entered the church with his token in hand, but when they offered the elements to him, he refused, tossing the token on the ground and walking out. He went on to help start the Disciples based, in large part, on the concept of the open communion table.
Posted by Christian Piatt 27 weeks 3 days ago
There’s a place in the cultural conversation for both friars and fools, for those who discern truth through contemplation and prayer, as well as those who seek to reveal it through satire and silliness. But it’s not every day that both come together for substantive (if not always serious) theological conversation.Aric Clark, Nick Larson, and Doug Hagler, also known online as Two Friars and a Fool, host such conversations on their blog and podcast about theology and spiritual practice, sexuality, and popular culture. They recently combined forces as well for their first book, Never Pray Again: Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands and Get to Work. The intentionally provocative title emphasizes the need for Christians to get outside of our own heads and churches, and about the business of being the hands and feet of Jesus in a world in need.I chatted with the trio recently about their new project, as well as the “Never Pray Again” coloring book, which they crowd funded through a recently successful Kickstarter campaign. 
Posted by Christian Piatt 28 weeks 2 days ago
I’ve always had a curious sort of sympathy for the bad guys. I cried when King Kong died. I wept at Darth Vader’s demise. And I felt like the whole melting thing was a little bit harsh for the Wicked Witch of the West.Maybe they didn’t really want to be bad. Maybe they were just written that way. Could be that they had a rough childhood, or people made fun of them for being green, or big and hairy, or breathing through a big, black mask. I mean, imagine that on the playground …Ever since my childhood I’ve felt more comfortable in darkness than most kids seemed to as well. My 10-year-old son won’t even go into any unlit room in our house without being accompanied by our dog, Maggie. But I actually enjoyed being in the dark. It seemed like the one place where I could let the otherwise literal, concrete parts of my brain take a rest, and allow my imagination to run wild.Theologically, we’re taught to hate, or at least fear, the darkness. We are children of light, God called light into being, and it was from this light that all things were formed. So what use do we have for darkness?
Posted by Christian Piatt 28 weeks 3 days ago
One phrase comes to mind, time and again, when I think of Frank Schaeffer: “THINK AGAIN.” Any time I think I have a handle on things theological, he seems to find the thread, hanging from the edges, and gives it a good, solid yank.Such is the case once again with his newest book, Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God: How to give love, create beauty and find peace. Just when it seems the delineations between theism and atheism, between believers and nonbelievers, is sufficiently clear, Schaeffer blurs even those lines, leaving us to wonder what it is any of us actually believes and why.Frank Schaeffer is not one to deconstruct theology (or even the lack thereof) with some kind of sadistic joy, leaving us to sort through the pieces. Rather he explores what I might call trans-theism, offering us practices, a vocabulary, and a worldview that take us far beyond belief toward a deeply human – and yet inexplicably transcendent – experience.I asked Frank several questions about his new project; here is what he had to say.
Posted by Christian Piatt 30 weeks 1 day ago
Most people in their right minds consider Sarah Palin’s statement about using waterboarding to “baptize” terrorists as insensitive at the very least. It further reinforces the notion that she will say or do nearly anything to grab a headline, even if it is at the expense of her own integrity, and perhaps that of her political cohorts or even her faith.She’d be doing all of us a favor if she’d simply stop talking publically. But in as much as she continues to be afforded a microphone and speaking pulpit, we get to bear witness to her attempts to improvise a caricature of herself on the fly.Perhaps the most disturbing part of the statement to me is not the brazenness of it, or even the apparent lack of self-awareness or personal filter. It’s that she’s actually speaking on behalf of a significant – albeit shrinking – subset of Christian culture in the United States. It’s the strain that believes that the Prayer of Jabez (a prayer about expanding one’s spiritual territory) is a Manifest Destiny of sorts from Jesus to his followers. We’re to reach to all corners of the earth, emboldened with a “be assimilated or be eliminated” mentality at our backs.
Posted by Christian Piatt 30 weeks 2 days ago
Donald Sterling, eccentric billionaire and owner – at least for the moment – of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, learned firsthand the weight of his own words on Tuesday. After allegedly being recorded making numerous racist remarks about African-Americans (both on his team and otherwise), the National Basketball Association handed him a lifetime suspension from association with his own team, along with a $2.5 million fine.Though Sterling’s comments were highly inflammatory and distasteful, the NBA’s swift and severe consequences helps contain the damage, keeping the poison from infecting the league’s reputation any more than it already has. And good riddance to such attitudes, as they should find no audience in any public forum, let alone in a sport where a majority of the players are black.Sterling’s consequence is not why I feel pity for him. He got what he deserved, and the stigma that goes with such shunning likely will weigh on his future business ventures. What saddens me for him is the sense I have of him as an individual, having read extensively about him online, and having listened to the audiotapes attributed to him.
Posted by Christian Piatt 33 weeks 3 hours ago
It started when the United States Supreme Court determined that corporations were people and, as such, had similar rights and protections as us oxygen-breathing types. And now, in another recent decision, the court has decided that people (individual human beings or corporations) have the right to donate to an unlimited number of political candidates — therefore removing the aggregate cap on total donation amounts — as such gifts should be protected as an exercising of free speech, as defined in the constitution.So much for representative democracy.It’s my understanding that the founders of our nation and the framers of our constitution held the notion of representative democracy fairly sacred.
Posted by Christian Piatt 33 weeks 5 hours ago
New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy recently took some heat from a few peers of his in sports media for taking the first few games off of the new baseball season to be with his wife while she gave birth to their baby. In particular, former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason said on the WFAN radio show that Murphy needed to “get his ass back to work,” and that Murphy's wife should have undergone a C-section before the beginning of the season so he would not miss any games.  This kind of language is insensitive enough, but it is especially shocking coming from Esiason, who is a father to a child with special needs himself. Boomer has since retracted his comments, apologizing not only for his insensitivity, but for dragging Daniel's personal life, and that of his wife, Tori, into the public conversation. But if anything good can come from this, it is that it has raised the issue of a father's role in the birth in the early months or years of his child's life.  
Posted by Christian Piatt 34 weeks 3 days ago
Religion has, for centuries, been fairly obsessed with the afterlife. For some, what awaits us after our physical death is fairly central to their faith. But thanks to the Internet, many of us end up having a sort of life after death, whether we intended to or not.In a recent article published in the New Yorker magazine, Pia Farrenkopf experienced the sort of digital life after death that some might find appealing, while others would consider it rather horrifying. Pia traveled frequently for work, so it was not unusual for her neighbors not to see her for long stretches at a time. They would mow her lawn when the grass got long and kept an eye on the place during her long stints out of town.As such, she lacked many close ties near home, and like many of us, all of her monthly finances were automated and tied directly to her bank account. So although she died in early 2009 while sitting in her car in the garage, it was not until very recently that anyone actually discovered she was dead.It took that long for her checking account reserves to run out, which led to utility shut offs and a visit from the bank to issue an eviction notice due to missed payments. So although her body had set partially mummified in the garage for nearly five years, as far as the outside world was concerned, she was still alive.In his book, The Singularity is Near, Ray Kurzweil speaks of a not-so-far-off point in our future when the ability of computers to process information and replicate human thought and behavior will get to the point that we will question what it means to be conscious, and to be a person.It seems like the stuff of science fiction, to consider the possibility of people uploading the entirety of their life experience, or even some iteration of what we understand to be their consciousness, to a network of computers. But the fact is that we already are wrestling with these sorts of ethical implications, even today.
Posted by Christian Piatt 34 weeks 4 days ago
I grew up with music in my life. At first, it was a combination of my dad’s Willie Nelson and Ray Charles with my mom’s old southern Gospel hymns. I’d sit under the piano, feeling the vibrations as she played “Blessed Assurance,” and then lie on the floor in front of the speakers as Ike and Tina belted out “Proud Mary.”And then I discovered my own music, in the form of rock. Eventually, I sang lead in several hard rock bands around Dallas hitting all the local hot spots and singing until I was hoarse and exhausted. It was during my decade away from church that I did most of this, but I didn’t realize until recently that, despite the pretense of countercultural rebellion the music offered, it actually gave me some of the same things I experienced as part of organized religion.Of course, only the most uneducated would think of rock music as some monolithic think that was barely held together by the pursuit of sex, drugs, and fame. There were rules. There were codes. And my lord, there were categories.Any time you asked a band what style they were, inevitably they’d sigh and equivocate, finally listing off a handful of bands they most certainly were not like. No one wanted to be categorized, and yet we were more than ready to label all others and fit them in to their neat little musical denominations.
Posted by Christian Piatt 35 weeks 4 days ago
I suppose it is an indication of how steeped in popular culture I am that the first thing that came to mind when I heard of the death of Westboro Baptist Church founder and former leader Fred Phelps was the song, "Freddie's Dead," by Curtis Mayfield. But although it is a relatively superficial and tangential connection to make, I still prefer that to much of the venom and grave dancing have witnessed since the announcement.Phelps and his predominantly family-based ministry is best known for their over-the-top protests of everything from gay pride festivals to military funerals, as well as their deeply divisive and inflammatory signs. But given the fact that only a relative handful of people attend Westboro Baptist, and given the extreme nature of their mission and message, Phelps's ability to galvanize and garner the attention of the mainstream media was nothing short of remarkable.It is less well known that Fred Phelps was kicked out of his own congregation in recent years as the beast of intolerance he had given birth to within his congregation turned even on him. Apparently, even Phelps himself had lost the necessary edge of judgment, anger, and intolerance his followers deemed necessary to champion their cause going forward.
Posted by Christian Piatt 36 weeks 3 hours ago
I drive a Prius. I wouldn't exactly say it's a sexy car; the word "practical" comes to mind. It gets good mileage, is safe, and fits our family of four just fine in most cases. It's gotten its share of bings and dents over the years, but it has been a very reliable and low maintenance way to get around town.Of course, what I really want is a Tesla. My son wants one too. There is a showcase for them in a local storefront, and he begs me to go by for a visit every time we are nearby. Though he is only 10, he already makes a pretty strong case to my wife, explaining how much of the cost of the car will be offset by the savings in gas, and he was elated to find out it was recently rated the safest car on the road.So far it hasn't worked in our favor. But we keep trying.This, of course, is not envy; it is simply good old-fashioned greed. The thing I have is sufficient, only until something newer, edgier, shinier comes along (which, in America, is a daily occurrence). Then suddenly, perfectly good car in our driveway has shortcomings and liabilities that were, hereto for, invisible to us.Envy is different, and I would argue that it actually is worse than greed. While the latter is simply our desire off of its proverbial chain, envy gets personal. It is the easy but unattractive marriage of greed and judgment. Yes, we desire what someone else has, but there is more to it. When we are envious, we gain nearly as much pleasure from the idea of the other person not having the thing we want as we do from the idea of having it ourselves.
Posted by Christian Piatt 38 weeks 2 days ago
Tony Kriz is, in many ways, the definitive postmodern Christian. He’s a Christian writer, teacher, and he even lives in intentional community with fellow Christ-seekers. He comes from an evangelical background, and, though he claims portions of the theology of his youth, he also continues to reinvent himself as he forges the path of Christ in his cultural context.Known first in the public eye as “Tony the Beat Poet” from Donald Miller’s bestselling book, Blue Like Jazz, he is a voice and a presence unto himself. He’s more inclined to meet friends over a beer than he is to join a particular congregation in worship every Sunday. He is both deeply embedded in the Christian conversation and cultural identity and, at the same time, a stark contrast to what tradition dictates a “good Christian” should look and act like.I shot a handful of questions his way after a recent book discussion we conducted at First Christian Church in Portland. Here’s what he had to say.
Posted by Christian Piatt 38 weeks 4 days ago
I have great respect for religion writer Jonathan Merritt, even though we disagree on a lot of social and theological issues. He evoked a maelstrom about his article suggesting the Arizona law allowing businesses to deny service to LGBTQ people was less than Christian, and yet he stands behind his words.Basically, many prominent voices from the Baptist and Neo-Calvinist camps went berserk about his call for tolerance; never mind that he didn’t even take on the moral issues surrounding LGBTQ identity itself. It was simply enough that he called for equal treatment of all people as fellow human beings, period. But he broke rank with the conservative Christian rank-and-file, which depends heavily on uniformity of voice and position on key issues.Merritt took a risk, knowing full well that he’d likely suffer for it. And he did. In a small online forum of fellow religion writers, he expressed dismay both at the aggressive, hateful nature of peoples’ response from the right, as well as the relative palpable silence from the center and left.For that, to the degree that I can speak for myself and others like me, I’m sorry, Jonathan. When someone steps out like this, putting himself at risk, we should rally to support him, as much as those on the right rally behind causes.
Posted by Christian Piatt 39 weeks 1 day ago
I get asked questions sometimes that I feel are useful for a larger audience to consider and discuss. One such question was submitted to me by a reader a while back, which echoes the sentiments within many other similar questions I’ve received. Here’s the essence at the heart of those questions.What do I do if I’m not sure what I believe?First of all, don’t freak out. Most of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament is about a priest suffering a crisis of faith. And though some argue it was more a fulfillment of prophecy (quoting a psalm) rather than a personal cry of distress, it’s hard not to feel Jesus’ own existential suffering when he cries out from the cross for a God who seems to be missing.
Posted by Christian Piatt 40 weeks 2 days ago
There was a time when calling someone “salt of the earth” was a compliment. It suggested a strong work ethic, moral integrity, and someone whose priorities were in proper order. Today, it seems like more of an insult than anything else.When surveyed about what they wanted to be when they grow up, the most common response from a cohort of school-age children was “famous.” The response revealed nothing about personal passion or ambition, let alone anything about a greater need to be addressed within the larger community. It points to the fact that one of the most revered qualities in our culture is to be known. What you’re known for is less important than simply having people know who you are.It would be easy to speak critically of a younger group of people who seem to be losing their orientation to a greater social moral compass, but this is a bellwether for where we seem to be headed. Shine brightly, get noticed and make a place for yourself.But the thing is, the kind of light Jesus talked about is different.
Posted by Christian Piatt 41 weeks 5 hours ago
I’ve done the Valentine’s Day thing in the past. And with two school-age kids, I still make the annual pilgrimage to the card and candy aisles in the grocery store to buy sufficiently benign greetings for them to hand out to every kid in their class, whether they like them or not.But my wife, Amy, and I don’t do Valentine’s Day. In fact, we don’t even do Christmas anymore, in the way the culture tells us we should, at least. We’ve stopped buying presents, cards, and other trinkets for each other on these obligatory days, opting instead to surprise each other with gifts or other gestures of affection throughout the year.One of my biggest objections to Valentine’s Day came from a friend recently who was commenting about the coming date. She was excited, she said, because her husband “always gets me something good.” Nothing about spending time together. Nothing about love for one another. Nothing about doing anything for him. She was excited to get something cool.I know I’m sounding a little crusty and cynical right now, and if couples choose to observe such days with the exchange of gifts or a night out, I hope they do it joyfully and without any sense of obligation. But the “Hallmark holiday” mentality in our society has swallowed the proverbial Kool-Aid when it comes to reducing love down to a materialistic, forced transaction.Yes, Valentine’s Day is about love, but the kind of selfless, dangerous sacrificial love it recognizes is trivialized by lacy cards and chocolates. Though there’s disagreement about which priest the day venerates exactly, the legends stretch back to the Roman rule of Claudius II, some 1,750 years ago.
Posted by Christian Piatt 42 weeks 1 day ago
Whenever I hear about someone else making a case for Young Earth Creationism in the name of Christianity, I’m embarrassed, once again, to associate myself with them. And people wonder why many of us prefer to identify as “Jesus followers” or “Spiritual but not Religious” rather than be lumped in with the Ken Hams of the world.Duh.The thing is, a healthy number of us who consider ourselves to be Christian embrace science. We think critically. We accept the likelihood that much we think we understand about the world, the universe, and about our faith can (and should) change as we learn new things. We understand that faith is more about questions than answers, and that the prime mover in our faith practice is to be more like Jesus in our own daily walk, rather than focusing so much on making others more like us.The desire of a vocal minority (yes, that’s what I said, and I meant it) of Christians to cling to a notion that the entire universe is a few thousand years old, despite the clear physical evidence to the contrary, points less to a reasonable alternate view of the observable world. Rather, it points to a desperate attempt to maintain a dying voice in the cultural conversation.
Posted by Christian Piatt 43 weeks 1 day ago
Understanding the process of turning an implement of death and violence into a tool for creativity and imagination is one part of the strategy. In doing so, there is hope that participants in such an event will begin to reimagine their own world and how they engage it. After all, true change first begins with imagining the possibility of such transformation.Further, Reyes hopes to challenge U.S. citizens to consider their relationships with guns, and moreover, the impact that value has on people in other countries. Again, in the NPR story, Reyes explains, “We have to be allowed to ask questions. If you are not allowed to ask questions, you are not free." 
Posted by Christian Piatt 43 weeks 2 days ago
Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones have been at this whole church leadership thing for a while now. As two of the voices at the forefront of the emerging Christianity movement, they are visionaries, strategists, and hands-on practitioners who, as much or more than anyone, have wrestled with the complex and persistent question of what tomorrow’s Christian faith looks like.For one thing, there’s an emphasis on the word movement: ideas, communities, and understanding of what it means to be engaging a Christ-inspired faith in relevant ways is forever in flux. As such, certain contemporary iterations of the Christian tribe have been criticized for being ill defined or for too easily accommodating cultural trends.But if Christianity is being true to the one from whom its name is borrowed, it will undoubtedly be countercultural. Any practice that has at it’s core mantras like “it’s not all about you,” or “community need trumps personal gain” will find a skeptical audience in popular culture. Jones and Pagitt are far less interested in offering church leaders a novel attraction gimmick to fill their struggling churches. Rather, they are focused on helping visionaries, activists, and theologians discern what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the 21st century.That’s why they created the Christianity 21 Conference, part of what Pagitt describes as the Generous Christianity Movement.
Posted by Christian Piatt 44 weeks 1 day ago
A recent report by OXFAM offered some sobering data about both the concentration and flow of wealth in the world today. A few key points, also summarized by a new business article on The Atlantic website , include:The richest 85 people in the world control as much wealth as the poorest 3,000,000,000 people;Nineteen out of 20 “G20” countries are experiencing growing income inequality between rich and poor;In the United States in particular, 95 percent of the post-financial-crisis capital growth has been amassed by the richest 1 percent of Americans;While domestic income inequality continues to grow, the income tax rates for wealthiest Americans have steadily dropped.My first reaction to seemingly immoral concentrations of wealth, and the systems that enable it, is anger and a compulsion to call them out, to change them and to distribute the world’s treasures evenly among all of God’s people.But what if we need the insanely wealthy to realize a kingdom-inspired vision for our world?
Posted by Christian Piatt 44 weeks 2 days ago
Recently, I presented this piece at the Christianity 21 Conference in Denver, and then at South Broadway Christian Church later that same week, also in Denver. I’ve been asked by several in attendance to post what I offered, so here’s the text below. The talk was accompanied by a slide show that depicted a combination of Hubble telescope images, electron microscope images and artists/musicians. I considered making that into a video, with me narrating the text underneath, but it takes a lot of time. So let me know if this is something you have particular interest in and I’ll try to make it happen.In the BeginningArt Saves lives because art is at the source of all life. It is the taproot to the dormant breath of God, Dwelling within all of creation, waiting for invitation. What we think of today as art is not art. It has become another product to be consumed, Rather than a phenomenon to be engaged, And experience to we have to submit ourselves to, Allow ourselves to be changed, And in doing so, catch a fleeting glimpse of The author, the wellspring, The essence of what it means to be a soul draped in skin and bone.[Poem continues after the jump.]
Posted by Christian Piatt 44 weeks 3 days ago
I’m asked pretty often what I see for the future of organized religion, and Christianity in the West in particular. Given the fact that I am in the process of completing a book called “ postChristian ,” some people make assumptions that I am convinced it’s all going away.Granted, Christianity has experienced precipitous decline, and the drop-off likely is far from done. Before we see any leveling-off within the institutional church, there will be many more church closures, consolidation of shrinking denominations, and an increasing number of people called to, and already working in, ministry who supplement their income with some non-ministerial side vocation.So what do we, who still operate within the system of a declining religion, do about our situation? Some of this has little or nothing to do with anything the church has done or can do. Our increasingly distributed, decentralized, and accelerated culture has forced churches out of the center of American social life. Also, changing cultural norms have made it much more socially acceptable not to go to church.I’ve long suggested that many of the folks filling the pews during the so-called heyday of the Church some 40 to 60 years ago were there under some duress. They went because of community pressure to do so, because their spouses made them, or because it was a great place to do business networking. But honestly, were we any better off as a faith to have our buildings full if the folks who were there didn’t really want to be there?
Posted by Christian Piatt 45 weeks 1 day ago
I do most of my work by contract, which means I'm usually looking for work. When the time comes for me to put my feelers out for new opportunities, I tend to look far and wide. In doing so, sometimes I come across some unexpected prospects.A couple of years ago, I applied for an editorial position at a magazine. Things were going well until we got down to the final rounds and they placed a statement of faith before me that I was expected to sign. There was much in the document that I didn't agree with, and in general, I balk at signing anything that tries to nail down what I believe or what I claim as a Christian.I respectfully declined to sign the document, and within the hour, they withdrew my name from consideration for the job. I was recounting this to a friend and fellow writer last night over a beer, and he shared a number of similar experiences. He tends to "get" evangelical Christian culture a bit more than I do, however, so he has found various ways to work around the points of disagreement he finds in such statements.In one case, at a college where he was applying for undergraduate studies, he performed a line-item edit, striking out everything with which he took issue. Surprisingly, the administrators at the school accepted the revised document and never mentioned his changes.
Posted by Christian Piatt 47 weeks 1 day ago
I’m a big fan of the TV show Mad Men, which takes place in the midst of the Madison Avenue advertising agencies back in the ’60s and ’70s. Sure, I enjoy the drama and the “cool factor” of Don Draper and his cavalier ad team. But for me, the most fascinating part is all of the cultural norms of the time that seem fairly shocking now, only a few decades later.Of course, there’s all the drinking and smoking in the office, but beyond that, the way that non-Anglo employees and the women in the workplace are treated would today be grounds for a lawsuit, if not public shaming for such brazen chauvinism. The thing that’s hard to remember is that, although we see such behavior as morally offensive today, it was simply normal back then. 
Posted by Christian Piatt 47 weeks 2 days ago
Growing up in Texas, fairly close to New Orleans, I knew all about Mardi Gras. It was a big deal in the South, replete with combinations of debaucherous consumption and self-exposure. What I didn’t understand, being the good evangelical Protestant that I was at the time, was that it actually was the celebration preceding the liturgical period of Lent.It was only once I framed the excesses of Mardi Gras with the self-discipline and austerity of Lent that it began to make much sense. Not that the gratuitous self-abuse was then justified, but at least it made more sense, given the things everyone was supposed to give up during the weeks to come.This got me thinking about how we approach New Year’s Eve, and framing it, too, by what we expect and anticipate from New Year’s Day. Yes, the celebrations of New Year’s Eve are, in some ways, just an excuse to indulge ourselves in excessive partying, but they also stand in contrast against the hopes we hold for the following day.
Posted by Christian Piatt 48 weeks 3 days ago
We’ve created a Christmas monster: a grotesque assemblage of pagan, Christian and capitalist symbolism into something that resembles something we’re both attracted to and repulsed by at the same time. We’re fueled by an admixture of both guilt and greed, while the domestic economy pins its annual hopes on our propensity for spending far more than we have or want to spend.All in the name of baby Jesus.It seems that we have no means of escaping the vortex of materialism, partly because whoever is the first not to buy gifts is the cheap jerk who throws the whole transactional nature of gift-giving out of whack. But one Christmas, a few years back, my wife, Amy, and I had finally reached our limit. We were in the midst of our Financial Peace budget slim-down and Christmas spending was an obvious target.
Posted by Christian Piatt 48 weeks 4 days ago
I have followed, with great interest, as my friend, Ian Ebright, ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for, and then completed, his short film on American drones called “From the Sky.” It’s a sensitive and nuanced treatment of those on the receiving en of our hi-tech military aggression.This, combined with all I’ve read at Sojourners and in Time magazine, among other places about these low-risk (to us), high-efficiency (for us) killing machines, helped solidify in my mind a fairly resolute sentiment: Drones are bad.And then I read, with great interest, my most recent issue of Popular Science, which details the physics and engineering behind these new insect-size drone bots, which replicated insect flight for the first time in the machine world. These highly nimble and portable gadgets are already being used for everything from reconnaissance and recovery on disaster sites to pollinating crops in areas where the indigenous bee population has been decimated.So, of course, these exciting new breakthroughs left me with only one resolute sentiment: Drones are awesome!
Posted by Christian Piatt 49 weeks 1 day ago
I was encouraged by the findings of U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon on Monday who granted an injunction to plaintiffs Larry Klayman and Charles Strange that will temporarily stop the National Security Agency from continuing their data-gathering program that mines information from our mobile phone calls.The injunction was issued because the judge believes that Klayman and Strange likely will win their lawsuit against the federal government, claiming that the phone record collection practice is an unconstitutional violation of personal privacy.The whole storyline is made that much more dramatic since the otherwise secret program was leaked to the public by former NSA contract Edward Snowden, who is now on the run, seeking asylum in exchange for shared intelligence. And while some perceive Snowden as a hero of individual liberty, others vilify him as an enemy of the United States, much like any other terrorist. Interestingly, people’s opinions about the NSA — and, frankly, the Obama administration and the government as a whole — diverge in similar ways.
Posted by Christian Piatt 50 weeks 1 day ago
I love Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace coursework. It put our family on stable financial footing years ago, and Amy and I never fight about financial matters any more. We find plenty of other things to fight about, but that’s a different post, I suppose.Ramsey has come under fire recently for a list of “Rich People Habits” he posted on his blog. The list was compiled by Tom Corley at a site called RichHabitsInstitute.com, which is intended to track what people of means do differently in daily life than the rest of us (aside from brush their teeth with platinum-bristled brushes, since that one’s a given).On the one hand, I’ll agree that observing a cohort of people you want to emulate and learning from their habits makes a lot of sense, but I can see why Ramsey and Corley have caught so much heat for comparing habits of “poor people” with those of the wealthy.There are two problems that I see. First, though Ramsey tends to be an advocate for the poor with regard to pushing back against usury lending and the like, he draws many false correlations between the habits listed below and the fact that folks who practice them are in poverty. In fact, in a recent defense of the post, Ramsey reiterated this point, writing, “This list simply says your choices cause results. You reap what you sow.”The other concern the list raises for me is that it appears to be blind to the inherent privilege linked to the habits, as if all people had equal access to such practices and resources. Not so, Dave. Below I’ve shared several of the 20 habits on the original list (which can be found here), followed by my thoughts on where they fall short.
Posted by Christian Piatt 50 weeks 4 days ago
This week marks a year since the nearly incomprehensible school shootings in Newtown, Conn. Gaping holes in families, lives, and the greater community remain, as the question of why such a thing happened still lingers on everyone’s lips and in minds.Looking back for answers sometimes only serves to deepen the wounds, rather than help heal them. The shooter demonstrated serious mental illness. He played violent video games, including one called “School Shooting.” He catalogued similar events as they emerged in the news. He holed up in his room, garbage bags on the windows, until his mother helped him buy the gun.None of this offers us the peace we seek. What we want is an end to such terrible violence, and a relief from the lingering fear that haunts us while we know another incident is only a matter of time. As a parent of two school-age children, I was made painfully aware of the vulnerabilities in their schools as I’d drop them off, sending them, alone, into the building.
Posted by Christian Piatt 51 weeks 2 days ago
Lots of people like movies; Gareth Higgins loves movies. But the founding director of the Wild Goose Festival and long-time peace activist engages popular culture with a different eye than most of us. And he’s used that keen eye for deeper meaning to create his latest book.I asked Gareth about his new book on American film, his peace work, and what it’s like considering American culture both as an insider and as a non-native. Here’s what he had to say.
Posted by Christian Piatt 51 weeks 3 days ago
I always had very mixed feelings about Christmas as a kid. My dad — not a religious guy — went all out for this holiday, in the typical secular ways. He bought so many presents that it would end up being hard to make our way through the dining room, where we put the tree. We’d spend at least two weekends in November hanging lights and other swag outside, and the house resonated with Bing Crosby, Dean Marin and John Denver, all wishing us merry Christmas, over and over again.I came to hate decorating the house. All of that time spent on the roof could have been much better used playing with my friends and, of course, I never hung the lights correctly. I’d flop them along the wrong side of the roofline, only to be sent back to make it right. And suffice it to say that, although I love the Rat Pack singers in particular, hearing any carol more than 43 times in the course of three weeks can sour even the most ardent fans.Then there was the matter of the gifts. As I said, the piles of boxes were fairly obscene, which actually proved an embarrassment if we had other family visiting for Christmas. I was not a fan of being the center of attention, and opening my remaining presents while jealous cousins looked on made me just want to get it over and done with.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 2 days ago
Methodist minister Rev. Frank Schaefer (not to be confused with Frank Schaeffer) has come up against what some might call a conflict of interest in living out his call as a minister of the gospel. Some might even call his experience a crisis of faith, but for Schaefer and his son, Tim, the struggles they have faced in recent weeks and months have yielded beautifully unexpected blessings.Schaefer's troubles with the larger Methodist Church go back some six years to when he performed a wedding ceremony for Tim, who is gay. Although his son realized this would present Schaefer with a dilemma (the United Methodist Church does not allow their ministers to conduct same-sex marriages), he also knew that it would hurt his father deeply not to be asked to perform the ceremony, regardless of whom he was marrying.The wedding was performed in Mass., where same-sex marriages are legally recognized.Though it took some time, charges were brought against Schaffer within the denomination, and he has recently had his license for ministry suspended. He is now facing an ultimatum: either he has to renounce his support for the performance of same-sex marriages or he will be defrocked within a month.
Posted by Christian Piatt 1 year 1 week ago
The busier life gets, the more corners we cut. One of the first things to go for me is self-care. My wife, Amy, and I both work full time and we have two kids, so it’s fairly easy to get to the end of the day and realize we haven’t exercised, had enough water, eaten a balanced diet or even taken time to stretch. So we recently picked up a pair of these new “fitness bands” that so many people are fans of.The thing is, they don’t work out for you. They don’t make meals for you or force-feed you water. They really just help you stay aware of your progress in a day, on everything from steps taken to ounces of water taken in and calories consumed. There are even little “rewards” like buzzes and blinking lights when you reach your daily goals. It’s silly, I guess, but when I have it, I do a lot better for myself.Sometimes we need a little extra incentive to change our behavior for the better. It’s not that we don’t want to exercise or eat well, for the most part; we just get distracted and busy. And when we do, we make small compromises that add up to pretty significant negative effects if we’re not careful.