Christian Piatt is an author, blogger at Patheos and founder/cohost of the Homebrewed CultureCast podcast, where he focuses on the intersection of faith and popular culture. His latest book, “Leaving A-holiness Behind,” is available now, and his next book, “Surviving the Bible: A Devotional for the Church Year 2018,” will be available November 1, 2017.
Posts By This Author
Indentured Servitude: Why Student Loans Won’t Go Away
There have been lots of news stories lately about student loan forgiveness and the like, and as the holder of serious five-figure graduate student loans, you’d think I’d follow the discussion closely.
But to be honest, I haven’t paid much attention for one, possibly cynical, reason; the systems isn’t going to change.
I joke sometimes that my dream is to pay off my student loans before I retire, but to be honest, that probably won’t happen. It wouldn’t surprise me if I have them with me the rest of my life.
I know, typical twenty-first-century young adult nihilism, right? Maybe. But my monthly payments are already the second largest bill we have next to our mortgage. Still, the payback time line spans many, many decades. I’d like to believe that those in power have the necessary motivation to change things, but here’s why I hold little, if any, hope they ever will.
Missional Church: A Paper Revolution
It started with a few pieces of construction paper.
If you’ve been following my blog at all over the past few months, you know that Amy and I recently moved our family from Southern Colorado, where we planted a church eight years ago, to Portland, Oregon. Though we’re still doing ministry, it’s a completely different kind of work. Now we’re at a 133-year-old church in the heart of the city. The facility is incredible and the history of the church spans generations. But with that comes a good deal more administrative work than either of us is used to.
We found a preschool for Zoe right away. In fact, the first day she told us that we needed to leave and let her do her school thing. She’s the kind of kid who blooms wherever she’s planted. Mattias, our eight-year-old son, is a little more complicated. Aside from him having Asperger’s, the schools here don’t get out for a couple of weeks yet. This means not only that he has no other kids his age to play with, but also that the typical summer activities we could enroll him in don’t start until mid-June. The result: he gets to spend some pretty long days with us at the church.
Most times, he makes the best of it. He’s figured out how to navigate the labyrinthine halls by scooter, and he has plowed through more cartoons on the iPad than is healthy, I’m sure. But we have to work and we have no other options for him. So far, we’ve all managed.
But yesterday afternoon, he’d had enough. He looked up from his chair on the other side of Amy’s desk with tears filling his eyes. “Mom,” he said quietly, “I’m so bored.” There are plenty of adjectives that describe Mattias, but quiet isn’t one of them. So you know when his voice reduces to a whisper, he is really being sincere.
Amy came down and stuck her head around the corner into my office. “We’re going across the street to throw paper airplanes in the park, she said. “want to come?”
Image by Feng Yu/Shutterstock.
Rebel Nuns: When the Faithful Stop Obeying
It seems the Sisters of North America are calling the Vatican out. When criticized by Vatican officials for taking a position too far left of center on a number of social issues, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious responded by calling the Vatican’s criticisms unsubstantiated and flawed.
But the rhetoric didn’t stay at the topical level. LCWR president Theresa Kane said (according to a Huffington Post report), "It is a matter of the men in the Vatican still thinking they can control the women. ... They don’t realize that we have moved to another whole point of tremendous equality and mutuality. And that we have much to say about our future and what’s going on.”
The Catholic Church, and the Pope in particular, embrace a number of socially redeeming virtues; equality and mutuality between the genders are not two of them.
A Theology of America's Zombie Apocalypse
It seems that America is on the verge of a zombie apocalypse.
First, Ronald Poppo had most of his face eaten off by Rudy Eugene, and now, Alexander Kinyua reportedly killed his roommate, Kujoe Bonsafo Agyei-Kodie and then ate his heart and part of his brain.
Is it just coincidence that this spate of violent attacks comes when the county’s fascination with zombies is at its height, or is there a connection?
From movies to video games, Zombies are the big ticket these days. The undead top the media charts, gnawing and clawing their way into the forefront of our imaginations. Move over vampires; Zombies are the new black.
It’s hard to say if the pop culture popularity has influenced similar copycat killers, or if the zombie craze simply has made us more sensitive to similar real-life stories. Either way, both the fictional tales and actual news items may speak to something going on in our collective imaginations.
Biblical Add-Ons, Edits & Agendas: A Challenge to Literalism?
After reading my post about Randy Wolford, the snake-handling pastor, died from a venomous snakebite, fellow God's Politics blogger Tim Suttle sent me a link to his own post on the subject. Suttle’s angle was different, and I found it fascinating.
Basically, he contends that the verses in Mark that Wolford and others use to justify handling snakes as an act of worship (among other bizarre practices) should not ever have made it into the Bible to begin with. His article cites what he calls a “nerdy academic journal article” from Bible scholar Robert H. Stein. In it, Stein notes a few reasons why the text in Mark chapter 16 beyond verse 8 should never have been included in the Bible.
First, there have been older copies of the manuscripts from which Mark was produced that stop at Mark 16:8. In addition, there’s the historical agreement among scholars that scribes (the guys who copied the texts by hand) did have a propensity for adding to the documents they copied but seldom, if ever, deleted anything. There’s also the fact that ancient scholars whose commentaries on Mark have been found do not mention these verses at all, as well as the agreement among many Biblical scholars that the tone of those verse suggests a different author wrote them.
Church Sign Epic Fails: Volume XVI
Sweet 16 and never been theologically on point.
Got some good ones this week. Enjoy.
Snake Handling, Stigmata and Testing God
A recent piece on the Huffington Post's Religion page described the death of Pastor Mark Wolford, a Christian minister known for handling venomous snakes during his worship services to demonstrate the power of his faith. The stunt went south, however, after he was bitten on the thigh during worship and died at a hospital not long after.
The practice, though rare, is employed in a handful of Christian congregations in response to a literal interpretation of verses 17 and 18 in the 16th chapter of Mark:
And these signs will follow those who believe. In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.
There are several dangers this story raises, not the least of which, of course, is death by venomous snake bite. Such communities require public displays of faith that are meant to test the resolve of the faithful. And such practices are not restricted to backwoods protestant churches; some Catholics (and others) are enamored with the phenomenon on stigmata, where people exhibit physical signs of crucifixion, such as wounds on their hands or feet.
There’s the more obvious danger of putting someone in harm’s way by expecting them to perform a dangerous act to prove their faith. But there’s also the undercurrent of religious one-upsmanship, wherein folks are forever striving to be more daring, graphic or otherwise attention-grabbing. In addition to the potential physical danger, there’s the risk of pressing people to be deceptive in their faith practices, simply to enjoy the validation or admiration they seek, and which is held in such high esteem in these particular circles.
Did Pastor Charles Worley Break the Law?
Most people with some sense of universal human dignity have found the screed Pastor Charles Worley issued against the GLBT community from the pulpit recently repugnant. As a Christian who tires of being lumped together with such hateful, violent voices cloaking themselves within the protection of their faith, I can say with confidence that there is nothing about Worley’s rhetoric that is Christian, as I understand it.
But some believe he did more than just smear the image of the Christian faith and denigrate an entire cross-section of the population; some suggest he actually broke the law from the pulpit.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State‘s Barry W. Lynn submitted a letter to the Internal Revenue Service arguing that Worley violated his church’s 501(c)3 nonprofit status by interfering in an election while speaking on behalf of his church.
I'm a Fraud (and So Are You)
I’m coming to terms with the realization that I’m a big, fat fake. But at least I’m in good company.
Amy’s birthday was last Sunday. We had just arrived in Portland, so we went to a fancy-pants restaurant, situated several hundred feet above the skyline, with a view of the entire surrounding city, the Willamette River and Mount Hood. We shared a bottle of wine, enjoyed outstanding service and indulged on gourmet food to celebrate her ever-growing tenure as an occupant of our planet.
The bill for the night was nearly enough to cover groceries for our family for up to two weeks.
We could manage it; we knew it was pricey before we got there. And it was fairly easy to justify too. We were making memories. It was an other step in the courtship, helping us fall in love with our new city. We had worked hard over the past eight years, establishing a church in Colorado, struggling to pay bills at times, and we’re now enjoying some material fruits of our labor.
Seriously, how does anyone really justify spending that kind of money on one meal? After all, from our vantage point on the 30th floor, I could see scads of people below, standing on street corners, tucked in under sleeping bags and beneath cardboard boxes, walking wearily from one job to the next, hoping to pull together enough to make rent.
Church Sign Epic Fails, Volume XIV
Yes, kids, it’s that time again already. Seems it was only seven days ago when we posted our last batch of weekly church sign epic fails, and here we are again.
So let’s get to it: your weekly infusion of bad church signs.
Now that's my kinda Jesus (except you'd think the Messiah would go Microbrew, yes?)
Hating the Invisible Man (Day Seventeen)
We finally made it to the Oregon Coast yesterday. I took some pictures in the redwood forest that I’ll share soon, but this post isn’t about that.
We got in before dinner and were happy to learn that we had a hotel room with an ocean view. Not only that, but it actually is right on the beach. So of course, we decided to sleep with the windows open.
It’s one thing to fall asleep to the nature sounds on my iPad; it’s entirely another to drift into an alpha state to the real thing.
And then came the noise. It was this periodic buzzing/honking/humming that started sometime in the middle of the night. It sounded like someone snoring through the wall in the next room. Seriously? I drive two thousand miles to sleep next to the ocean and you’re going to keep me awake snoring?
Preparing a Home (Day Fifteen)
A home is only a home if it’s lived in. Likewise, a life is only full if it’s broken open and shared. And just like we wouldn’t invite guests over without tidying up, planning a meal and getting ready to accommodate them, part of our own personal spiritual practice must be with the ultimate goal of being vulnerable to others, of loving them recklessly, but with the preparation that affords us the capacity to do so over and over again.
That’s part of what this trip is doing for me, I think. It’s funny that we actually left our entire house in Colorado behind, taking only what we could stuff in our little Prius. All of the stuff will catch up eventually, but this time for me has been about preparing a different kind of home.
Hipsters, Hippies and a Moroccan Mother's Day (Day Thirteen)
No great theological revelations today. No tear-jerking finale. No big mortal lesson. Just another step in a journey of a lifetime. ...
We’ve been in San Francisco the last couple of days, which is one of my favorite cities in the world. Driving here definitely hikes my blood pressure, but the sights, culture and food makes up for it.
Mostly we’ve continued to walk as much as possible. We’ve covered several miles every day, but my feet are evidence of the change of routine. Several blisters have emerged where there should just be calluses, and my plantar fasciitis decided to rejoin me in my heels after a brief, but welcome, sabbatical.
This Is My Body (Day Ten)
I hear people “brag” on a fairly regular basis about how little sleep they get, how many hours on end they work or how poorly they eat because of the demands of their schedules. Sorry, but this is not something to be proud of; it’s a sickness.
It’s no wonder, then, that on the rare occasion we actually slow down long enough to pray, worship, reflect or simply be in the moment, we have no idea how to do it. I watch people in church, and it’s clear from the body language that we don’t know how to slow down. I had a friend back in Texas who was so bad about overworking himself that he’d get sick every single time he took a vacation.
Some might argue this is a case for not taking time off in the first place, but that’s ignorant. Just because we can hold off the effects of frantic, disembodied living by pushing harder doesn’t mean we ever outrun the consequences.
Taken further, I think that such living is un-Biblical.
Don’t Think Too Hard; You’ll Kill God (Day Nine)
Amy is incredibly intuitive, and she enjoys a faith that I find sort of mysterious. This extends beyond God to faith in other people too: another quality I tend to lack. When I met her, she was already serving in ministry, while I hadn’t darkened the door of a church in a decade. I got in trouble in church in the first place for doubting and questioning, which seemed to rub up against the more intuitive faith of those in my church at the time.
The message I got was that critical thought and faith simply didn’t mix. But in the more “progressive” mainline churches, I found a space in which such challenging questions were welcome. Small wonder, I guess, that some folks view such denominations and churches as fomenting atheism beneath the cloak of Christianity.
To the Edge of the Earth (Day Eight)
We just passed through Death Valley (insert 23rd Psalm joke here) and we’re about 100 miles from the edge of the world, also known as Los Angeles.
As my mind wandered while scanning the dunes and scrub brush, I started thinking back to the stories about my dad when he left home. As soon as he was old enough, he headed west with his mind full of images of the California orange groves. Coming from a small town outside of St. Louis, California might as well have been a world away, but he was resolved to get there, despite no plans for when he got there.
The whole point was just to get there. That, and to get away from his life in the Midwest. California still represented an escape from the mundane, a mecca of second chances, an eden of new beginnings…
Boy with a Broken Heart is Born (Day Six)
I wrote a story a while back about a family in our church back in Pueblo whose baby was due just after we left town. Early in the pregnancy, doctors diagnosed little Avery with HLHS, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. There was a good chance he’d need surgery in utero or immediately after being born, and there was a formidable chance that he wouldn’t survive the procedure. There was also, of course, a higher than normal risk to Lyndsay, the mother, too.
It was hopeful watching the church family rally around the Vigils, praying for them, bringing them meals, visiting and doing what they could to offer support in what I’m sure felt like a time of emotional free-fall. It was also weird to know that, when Avery actually came, we wouldn’t be there.
Avery's first day as an oxygen-breathing member of the human race.
That day was today.
A Hundred Hidden Kisses (Day Five)
We headed west toward Las Vegas this morning; chasing daylight toward the coast, leaving the kids in the care of grandma and grandpa.
I’ll give you one guess to figure out which one of us had a harder time leaving.
Personally, I know they’re safe at the farm, and they’ll have a lot more fun there than they would with us, driving a couple thousand miles over the next two weeks. Of course I’ll miss them, but I’ve also been looking forward to some “grown-up” time for a while. More specifically, this trip is not something most people ever get to do, let alone parents of two young kids.
And before we get to Portland and take our positions in the Big Kid Church, this is our chance to be a little bit irresponsible and childish. We can stay up late if we want. I can eat 12 Slim Jims for lunch if the mood strikes— though to be honest, the white stuff you squeeze out of those things turned me off of Slim Jims decades ago.
But I could if I wanted.
Life on the Farm: A Photo Essay (Day Four)
Amy’s mom, Suzie, and stepfather, Russ, live on a 12-acre apple orchard nestled against the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico. Instead of describing it, I decided to show it.
Clowns, Bad Haircuts and Dreams of Disaster (Day Three)
We’ve invested eight years of our lives into this community called Milagro Christian Church (Spanish for “Miracle”). As we have said many times before, it has our DNA throughout it. Our story is Milagro’s story. Our struggles and breakthroughs have been Milagro’s struggles and breakthroughs.
And now the paths are diverging, and although it’s exciting and necessary, there’s a part of it that really sucks.