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
Church Sign Epic Fails, Birthday Edition
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???
Is the Future of Church in Fantasy Faith Leagues?
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.
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.
Is Democratic Optimism Grounded in Reality?
I’m a fan of TIME Magazine. It offers concise, intelligent summaries and opinions on the news that help keep me up with current events. They had an interesting article in the last few weeks about the factors that seem to affect a political party’s election results in the upcoming cycle. From their findings, it’s the party perceived to be most optimistic about the nation’s future that tends to come out on top. A fascinating bit of psychology, if not necessarily scientifically rigorous in its conclusions.
And then, in the most recent issue, there’s a pages-long piece by Bill Clinton called “The Case for Optimism,” which outlined five reasons to look ahead with hope toward our collective future. Coincidence? Maybe. But the timing of the two pieces, particularly only weeks out from a presidential election, seems more than a little bit opportunistic.
Call me cynical, but never let it be said that I’m above holding the Democrats’ feet to the fire when they pander. Yes, both parties do it, but it seems to me it’s most effective when it’s a little less in-your-face about it. President Obama rode a tide of optimism into the White House four years ago, only to watch his support erode after the reality didn’t live up to the speeches in many cases. But we wanted to hear it, and it worked. So it’s no surprise they’re giving it another go-round.
But are there grounds for such high hopes?
New “Hellbound?” Movie Explores, Challenges Christian Doctrine of Hell
I first heard about the movie “Hellbound?” (coming out this fall) at Wild Goose Festival. They were offering an advance screening of the movie, and although I was just passing by the tent at the time, the subject matter stopped me where I was. A thoughtful, well-researched, accessible discussion about the history, purpose, and prospects of hell in Christian theology?
The film opens with reflections on September 11th, including a 10-year anniversary memorial event at the site. And as would be expected, the infamous picketers from Westboro Baptist Church were there, complete with signs bearing slogans like “Thank God for 9/11″ and, of course, “God Hates Fags.” The movie progresses to, let’s say, more educated points of view, focusing more on the front end on those who advocate for a real hell that is populated with innumerable souls experiencing eternal conscious torment.
But then the movie breaks off from the oft-quoted pro-hell camp and considers the social and historical backdrop for hell, as well as extensive screen time for the doubters and skeptics about the reality of such a place. Folks offering counters to the “traditional” evangelical view of hell include Brian McLaren, Frank Schaeffer, and an Eastern Orthodox priest, all offering fascinating tidbits meant to expand our understanding of where this modern-day understanding of hell even came from, let alone whether we claim a God who would send people there.
Did Jesus Get Married and Have Children?
It’s amazing what a difference six words can make in our understanding of a figure as central as Jesus to the lives and faith of so many. Even historians and others who don’t claim Christianity personally are intrigued by the scrap of text recently discovered to contain, in Coptic, the sentence fragment: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”
Was this Jesus of Nazareth? is it authentic? Did the author have an original source to pull from, or simply word-of-mouth legend? After all, this writing seems to be several hundred years newer than the synoptic gospels. Perhaps Jesus was speaking in parable, as he often did, or maybe the “wife” was the Church, which often is referred to as “the bride of Christ.” Who knows? It’s likely we never will, but the buzz that this find creates is more interesting to me than the source of the scripture itself.
Why do we care so much if Jesus had a wife and kids or not? Why does it seem to matter if he died without ever having sex?
Ambassador Stevens’ Death: Tragic, Hopeful, Ironic
I’ve been reflecting on the recent events in Libya involving the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, and every time, I arrive at a different feeling about it all.
There’s the obvious tragedy of a life unnecessarily lost. By all accounts, Stevens was a humble, passionate man who had invested his life in the betterment of the infrastructure for the Libyan people. He was not, as some dignitaries or diplomats tend to be, resting on his credentials in an easy gig, waiting for retirement. He was living out what he believed in a terribly volatile corner of the world.
Is the Dalai Lama Calling for the End of Religion?
My friend, Doug, is not what I’d call a religious person. He grew up in church but has since taken to a combination of practicing martial arts, yoga, and independent study, primarily of Buddhist philosophy. In a lot of ways, his journey is a familiar one for younger adults today (he and I are both 40 so we don’t really qualify as “young” adults anymore).
Doug is, like I am, an intellectually curious guy. He follows my work pretty closely, and he is certainly open to other points of view, even if they’re not ones he embraces for his own life. Sometime we share ideas back and forth, but this quote from the Dalai Lama that he sent me recently really got my attention:
"All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether."
'Innocence of Muslims' Video Suggests a Fetish for Armageddon
I finally sat down and watched the entire 11-plus minute video, Innocence of Muslims, which is at the heart of the recent outrage in Islamic countries in Yemen and north Africa. Suffice it to say, I lost a healthy share of brain cells in the process. The narrative – if you can call it that – is incoherent throughout, the sound is barely audible in places and the overall production values make the Annoying Orange series look like Scorsese.
That said, there’s plenty to anger Muslims in this clip, or anyone who values religious tolerance, plural coexistence, or even basic respect for human nature.
Where Is God in 9/11?
I was home sick on Sept. 11, 2001. Amy had left for her grad school classes, so I was a little bit annoyed when she burst back in and woke me up.
“Turn on the TV,” she said. “Something bad is happening. Really bad.”
While watching the replayed video of the plane colliding with the first tower, the second tower attack came. And then there were the reports of similar attacks at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. At that moment, we had no idea when the bad news would stop coming. My first thought was for those loved ones I have in bigger cities, praying that they would not find themselves in harm’s way.
We watched the reports in silence for a few hours, trying to sort out what had just happened. Of course, there were no certainties about the attacks being over, but by now all planes had been grounded, and the American military was on high alert.
“I’m not sure how much more of this I can watch,” I told Amy, realizing it was nearly noon, and I was still sitting on the couch in my underwear. “We should try and do something.”
“Everything is closed,” she said. “Churches will probably have prayer services later, but not until tonight.” The zoo was the only thing we could find that was still operating, so we decided to go spend some time among some less self-destructive animal species. We settled by the gorilla habitat, where one lazy silverback leaned against the other side of the glass, just inches away from us. Though they usually tend to turn their backs to human observers, he was staring right at us. He seemed to be just on the verge of speaking:
What the hell is the matter with you people?
Identity Theft: When Politicians Hijack Jesus’ Name
Gotta say I’m a big fan of this church sign at my father-in-law’s church.
It’s time to STOP:
- Using faith, Jesus, and the Bible as a political platform;
- Cherry-picking from the Gospel based on what polls well;
- Claiming Jesus would be so myopic to identify with either of our major political parties;
Bromosapien: The Evolution of the Postmodern Male (Part 2)
A few examples of how clueless I am about male identity, and how mixed-up the gender roles are becoming, just in my own family:
I’ve never killed anything, at least on purpose. The only time I ever shot a gun was when my dad took me to the range and handed over his Ruger for a few rounds. I hated it. The noise was deafening, and the recoil scared the shit out of me.
I own a pathetic amount of tools for a man in his late thirties who has owned two homes. By my age, my dad and grandparents had staked their claim on the garage as exclusively male territory by covering every wall and bit of floor space with table saws, drills, vices and every wrench – standard and metric – anyone could ever need. I have more guitars than screwdrivers, and it was only a few years ago that I finally got straight in my head what the difference between channel locks and regular pliers is.
I like potpourri; my wife digs the nickel defense.
I changed more diapers in the first month of my son’s life than my dad ever did on me. I take care of the kids when Amy goes to meetings in the evenings, and I work from home every day.
I cry every time I watch Extreme Home Makeover. Amy records every episode of Real Sports on HBO. Oh, and I always cry when I watch that, too.
Damn you, Bryant Gumbel.
Bromosapien: Evolution of the Postmodern Male (part 1)
[Note from the author: Yesterday I wrote about part of the discussion that took place around our Wild Goose Festival panel on masculinity and male identity. A few folks asked about the story I told during the panel, so I thought I’d share it here. It’s a bit long, so I’ll offer it in two parts, with part two coming tomorrow.]
Every guy has that one car they either always wanted or got and for which they will always have an irrational love. Mine was a 1966 Mustang.
I first saw it sitting with the “for sale” sign in the parking lot of the apartment complex where I had a summer job, cleaning out trashed, vacant units. They wanted $3,200 for it, but they took $2,700, which was almost every penny I’d earned for a whole summer’s work. The guy who sold it to me, a bartender with a mullet and a fine collection of sleeveless T-shirts, assured me that I would love that car more than life itself.
He was right, but as I mentioned, it was a completely irrational love. I spent more time underneath that car than I did in it for more than a year, replacing seals, radiators, starters, alternators and a host of other barely-functioning parts I only learned existed as they broke. But when it worked, man, I was transported, both literally and figuratively.
The mustang gave me more confidence too. I asked a girl out I had wanted to hook up with for some months, and after checking out the ride, she readily agreed. I took her to a concert, and on the way home, her smile broadened as she ran her hand seductively across the burgundy interior.
“This is a really sweet car,” she cast a feline glance my way. Every manly fiber in my being puffed up, taking in the intoxicating elixir of car exhaust and her perfume. Life was good.
Five minutes later, while cruising down the highway, I threw a rod. We sat in the parking lot of a gas station for about forty-five minutes until my mom got there to take us both home.
I said the love was irrational.
White Man: 'We Built This Country.' Really?
The Wild Goose Festival was awesome as expected this weekend in Corvalis, Ore. About 1,000 folks gathered for the first-ever west coast version of the event started in North Carolina. There were artists, theologians, pastors, hippies, activists, poets, and any number of other curious observers, navigating the landscape to better understand where this movement might be headed.
I offered a workshop on Saturday with Brian Ammons and Bruce Reyes Chow on masculinity and male identity. Folks gathered in the small animal arena on the fairgrounds where the event was held to hear about, and respond to, male identity from three fairly distinct perspectives. It was a rich conversation and pretty fun, at least until one question came toward the end, from a guy in the back row.
I suppose we should have seen it coming, but we had gotten a little too comfortable. The following is a paraphrase of what he said, but the essence is the same.
Lance Armstrong and the Way of Fallen Idols
The Lance Armstrong news is still fresh on people’s minds, but based on the news and Internet chatter I’ve seen, this is being met with a more somber response than, say, Barry Bonds or Mack Mcgwire. In the case of the latter two athletes (along with many others), it seems that the public has revelled in some degree of Schadenfreude as they witness someone being pulled from their high pedestal, back down to dwell among us common folk.
Yes, we have a strange bloodlust for tearing down those we’ve chosen previously to build up as icons or role models, and Armstrong’s grave-dancers surely will come out of the shadows in time, but is there something different about him? Do we have more of a reason to mourn his precipitous decline, as opposed to others who have preceded him?
SNAP / Food Stamp Challenge, Day 4: Piatt FAIL
I don’t mind failing as much as I do admitting I’ve failed. And technically, we haven’t blown the SNAP Challenge just yet, but I know for a fact we will by the end of the week.
I went to the store last night for another loaf of bread and a frozen pizza for dinner, which I had promised my kids if they’d make it to mid-week without freaking out. This brought us down to eighteen bucks and change left in the till, which theoretically was going to be enough to fill in the gaps for other items we’d need to do our meals through the weekend.
And then reality hit.
SNAP / Food Stamp Challenge, Day 3: Slip-Ups
Maybe the serpent in the Garden of Eden story actually was a cute little girl in pigtails. Sure would have been more persuasive than some stupid talking snake.
Explaining to kids who have grown up their entire lives with such privilege is almost like trying to translate a foreign language for them. No, not everyone just goes in and grabs whatever they feel like from the fridge or the shelves. They don’t order in when they’re too tired or lazy to cook, and they don’t mark every mundane occurrence in their lives with a celebratory dinner out. It’s normal to them, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal.
SNAP / Food Stamp Challenge, Day 2: The Shelf
I’m not making friends among my family members with this challenge.
Because it was my idea to do this for a week (living on the equivalent budget of food stamps for seven days), everyone ends up coming to me to “check on the rules.” Basically, this means they ask me about ways they might work around the limitations of the challenge, and then get mad at me when I don’t give them a way out.
Yesterday ended up being a mixed bag. My wife, Amy, and I had to go to the other side of town for some errands, and it didn’t occur to either of us that we’d be gone over lunch time. Fortunately, one of the errands was at an Ikea, a giant housewares store that’s known for it’s affordable cafeteria-style meals, so we made it work. But even with their reduced-rate prices, we spent more than $9 for both of us and little Zoe to eat.
“Man,” I said, looking at my empty bowl, previously filled with pasta and Swedish meatballs, “that was way less than we usually spend going out, but it was still almost double what we have in the budget for one meal.”
SNAP/ Food Stamp Challenge, Day 1: Broke vs. Poor
“So what are food stamps anyway?” my 8-year-old son, Mattias, asked as I drove him to his summer camp this morning. “Are they, like, stamps that you eat that taste like different foods?”
“Not exactly,” I said.
My family was less than thrilled when I presented the idea of living on the equivalent of what a family of four would receive on food stamps for a week. Actually, the program is now called “SNAP,” which stands for “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” and involves government-issued vouchers or debit cards, rather than the antiquated stamp method. But the result is the same; we have a lot less to spend on food this week than usual.
“But I don’t want to be poor,” Mattias moaned as I explained the challenge to him.
“We’re not poor,” I said, “but it’s important for us to know what it’s like to struggle to feed our family.”
“Because,” I paused, trying to figure out a way to explain privilege and compassion to a third-grader who was quite content to have all he has, and then some, “Jesus tells us to have a heart for the poor, but how can we really do that if we don’t know anything about what it’s like to live with less?”
“Hmm,” he wrinkled his brow, “I guess we can do it for a few days.”
Punk Protesters Sentenced to Two Years in Russian Jail
Perhaps I’ve missed something about Russian law, but it seems to me that it’s a conveniently trumped up charge to keep the women sequestered until (hopefully for the Putin Administration, at least) the attention blows over and the perpetually-distracted news cycle moves on. In short, I can’t imagine, at least from my cultural context, that such a sentence could be justified as anything less than government bullying.
As for the location of their “Punk Prayer” at the altar of a Russian Orthodox church, this state church has been in the pocket of the government for quite a long time, it turns out. In reading up a little more, the choice of such a church for their protest seems less shocking and more concertedly poignant, given the church’s complicity in promoting the agenda of the Powers that Be. Rather than standing up in the face of authority as an advocate for the poor and oppressed (arguably one of the principal responsibilities of a church), they have joined in the subjugation of human rights in Russia.