fbpx

The (In)Authentic Jackass

0

I am authentic. I keep it real. I am honest and transparent. What you see is what you get. What could be jackassy about that?

The great side of being transparent and authentic is that there aren’t two different versions of me. At least, that’s the way it seems. I appear to be the same in private and in public. I tell you my flaws, I tell you my struggles, I tell you my insecurities and failures. I do it over coffee and from the stage.

But the jackass side of being authentic isn’t about honesty, it’s about how I use my authenticity. I use it to retain control. I hide behind it. I use it as a shield so that you can’t criticize me—I have already criticized myself.

The remarkable feat is that I can be authentic without ever being vulnerable, contrite, or repentant; and as the cherry on top, I can get quite indignant if you feel the need to point out something I’m doing wrong or attempt to hold me accountable. Cause after all, I always keep it 100.

It’s a weird form of pride, but it’s pride all the same.

Sometimes people begin criticisms with phrases like, “no offense.” When someone says those words, prepare to be ridiculously offended. When I share something authentic, it is like me beginning a sentence with “no offense.” It sounds like I’m about to be genuine, but really I’m often protecting myself from true vulnerability.

Vulnerability is messy. Vulnerability is Jesus weeping. Vulnerability is crying out to God to take this cup from me. Vulnerability is the stuff of real relationship, and real connection, and real love. There is no room for pride in true vulnerability, it’s humbling, scary, and ugly-cry-face type of humiliating. NOBODY SEES THAT SIDE OF ME!

There is an odd superiority that can come from “keeping it real.” It’s like a get out of jail free card. I admit some of my sin, and then you know I’m human too. But there is something about it that leaves the listener unsatisfied.

If I shouted in a coffee shop that I had cancer, I don’t cease to have cancer. If I tell a bunch of guys that I struggle with porn, that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with porn any more. If a serial killer told everyone he was murdering people, that doesn’t excuse him from killing. If I express that I’m insecure, it doesn’t remove the dysfunction that my insecurity vomits on other people.

So my authenticity is jackassery because it keeps others at arm’s length, where they are unwelcome to speak truthfully and honestly into my life because I already did. But it is also jackassery because I equate vague confession with contrition.

“I hide behind being authentic, but I am actually very insecure. Maybe the ugliest part of all is that I turn around and judge you for being inauthentic.”

I hide behind being authentic, but I am actually very insecure. Maybe the ugliest part of all is that I turn around and judge you for being inauthentic.

It’s all pretty ugly. But it is real.

Jesus said he was the light of the world and that to be his disciple is to walk in the light of authenticity and transparency and exposure just like he did. It’s no wonder, then, that one of his best friends—the very man who recorded those words—also wrote this in his private letter to the early church: “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn 1:7).

What that meant was not simply that we needed to live “out loud” and not in hiding or with masks on, but also that the point of that exposure was to address the disease that the light shone upon. It’s not enough simply to talk about it: let the light reveal it and then allow that same source of light to purify it. Transparency and authenticity are not a means to an excuse, they are a process of rescue.

Walking in light is like rolling out of bed without brushing your teeth, doing your hair, or putting on deodorant. It’s about being seen, being really seen; it’s pretty humiliating.

Jesus hung nearly naked on a cross. Jesus was a man of sorrows. Jesus sobbed at his friend’s tomb, and sweated drops of blood. Jesus wasn’t afraid of humiliation, because Jesus wasn’t feigning authenticity, he was the real deal.

I want to be the real deal.

“We should be as transparent as possible, but when we use authenticity as a shield to push people away and demand that they leave us alone and don’t hold us accountable for our sin, we’re acting like jackasses.”

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be as transparent as possible, I think we should. I’m simply saying that when we use authenticity as a shield to push people away and demand that they leave us alone and don’t hold us accountable for our sin, we might be acting like a jackass.

Books by Lance Hahn:

Lance Hahn is a pastor and author. In his two published works (How to Live in Fear and The Master’s Mind), Lance leads with transparent and vulnerability about his struggles with anxiety. He shares how God has reshaped and transformed him through the process. Check them out!

Jesus Was Conservative (but not in the ways you’d think)

1

This is part two to last week’s post: Jesus was a liberal.

This is a more difficult post to write because it’s so on the nose. Many people instantaneously associate Christianity with CONSERVATIVE values and traditional morals.

Conservative is rarely used as an insult in the church. Evangelicals and fundamentalists often wear it as a badge of honor. When liberals want to be demeaning, they tend to use more offensive words like fascist, implying that conservatives are imperialistic and controlling dictators. Heartless and archaic can be used as synonyms for conservative as well, implying that conservatives lack compassion for others and are stuck in the past.

So, was Jesus conservative? Let’s define terms and see exactly what fits and what doesn’t.

Did Jesus hold traditional values?

conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective 1. holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

As we established in the previous post, in terms of religious reform, Jesus was the opposite of conservative. He was literally “the progression” creation had been waiting for—for generations.

But that doesn’t mean that Jesus started a NEW religion. He was actually quite ancient in his teachings. He was very clear to say that he didn’t come to abandon the law, but to fulfill it.

When asked what the greatest commandments are, he didn’t throw everyone for a loop by inventing some new fangled phrasing. He quoted the shema, the traditional Hebrew phrase:

Love God with all your heart soul, mind, and strength.

There was almost nothing traditional about the methods Jesus used for ministry or his support for the existing religious institution, but there was something incredibly traditional, time-tested, and foundational about his purpose. He wasn’t around to teach something new, he was around to remind his followers of something very very old, to fulfill promises that were very very old. He fought for something that had gotten lost along the way. In this way, I’m proud to be conservative like Jesus.

For heaven’s sake, let us “love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and let’s “love our neighbors as ourselves.”

Was Jesus Conventional in his Dress?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective: (of dress or taste) 2. sober and conventional: a conservative suit.

Was Jesus conservative in dress? Who knows. This one is stupid. John the Baptist certainly wasn’t, he was just a few locusts away from homeless.

Was Jesus Financially Conservative?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv |adjective: (of an estimate) 3. purposely low for the sake of caution: “the film was not cheap—$30,000 is a conservative estimate.

No. He wasn’t.

Remember the parable of the talents? Jesus strongly cautions against burying our money for fear of loosing it. He wants a healthy return. Now to be fair, Jesus is using a fiscal parable to illustrate a spiritual reality, but the concept is the same. Jesus doesn’t tend to be cautious when it comes to the use of our material resources, our talents, or our time. He’s looking for investments that multiply, which inherently requires risk.

When specifically talking about money, he challenges his followers not to build bigger and bigger barns to store up wealth on earth. By contrast, storing up wealth is sort of the mantra of a conservative.

On top of this, he has the “sell all” and “leave behind” clauses in the gospels. Those are not cautious approaches. So my take here: Jesus was not fiscally conservative. He would be an FPU drop out.

Was Jesus politically conservative?
conservative | kənˈsərvədiv | adjective: 4. (Conservative) relating to the Conservative Party of Great Britain or a similar party in another country.

No. In the last post we discussed that Jesus did not seem interested in political debate. If Jesus was going to engage in politics in our time, I’m nearly certain he wouldn’t just choose to be a republican or democrat. His citizenship is in heaven. His kingship is over all.

Remember, Jesus isn’t a US citizen, he couldn’t vote. When he does return, he’s coming illegally anyway, ain’t no immigration lines guarding the heavenlies.

Words Don’t Mean, People Do

Look, the reality is that nobody is going to the dictionary before they use these terms. When somebody is accusing someone of being too liberal or too conservative, they have something specific in their mind they are addressing. But in our fight for dignity, understanding, and unity, wherever it can be preserved, it might be good to be a little more nuanced in our speech.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be asking: Are you liberal or conservative? The better question is: In what ways does the gospel demand me to be liberal? What does the gospel demand I conserve?”

Maybe it could be healthy for us to realize that, like Jesus, we are all a little liberal and all a little conservative. It simply depends what is being discussed and who we are comparing ourselves to.

Maybe we shouldn’t be asking: Are you liberal or conservative?

The better question is: In what ways does the gospel demand me to be liberal? What does the gospel demand I conserve?

Baby Cursing & the Downfall of Christianity

4

If you’re sensitive to such things, you’ll notice we’re using a few slightly off-color words and phrases on this site. We’re guessing that for most of our readers, that’ll be a big yawn. If that’s you, carry on. But as pastors, we’re also pretty sure any type of cursing will offend some readers. If that’s you, we’re sorry. We’re not specifically trying to offend you. But we do want to invite you to think about it a little bit.

Will relaxed standards on curse words be the downfall of Christianity?

Sometimes that’s how it’s made to seem. But we disagree. Christianity is facing some pretty big undermining forces, but we don’t think those come in the form of four letter words.

Actually, we’re pretty convinced that the downfall of Christianity is more likely to be all the religious crap we can’t seem to separate from the gospel.

Let me explain.

A decade ago, I read an interview with Bono in Rolling Stone that was filled with F-bombs and Jesus. When I read that article I was inspired by Bono’s thoughts on God, but I was frustrated by the juxtaposition of the F-bombs and Jesus. The two felt mutually exclusive. I even thought to myself, “I wonder if Bono is truly saved?” No joke. I can be such a jackass.



Is cursing a sign of damnation? Is it a sign of liberalism? Do those two things amount to the same thing? Let me quickly say several things that seem clear to me at this point in my life. 



“The things that get me wrapped around the axle are not the things that did it for Jesus. Let’s all chill out a bit and resist the urge to be more biblical than the Bible.”

1. We need to lighten up. It’s not that following Jesus isn’t the most serious thing in the world. It is. At least it is for me. It’s just that the things that can get me really wrapped around the axle are not the things that got Jesus wrapped around the axle. Therein lies the problem. Jesus never asked us to police other people’s words to ensure they would play on Christian radio. Look, Paul said, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking (Eph. 5:4),” but he also used the impolite word for “excrement, manure” in Philippians 3:8. If you’re speaking Greek the word is “skubalon,” but if you’re speaking English, it’s four letters long and rhymes with hit. So chill out a little bit and resist the urge to be more biblical than the Bible.

2. We need to work on our em-pha-sis. When something is really really really horrible, sometimes we need to EMPHASIZE IT with a strong word (like Paul did)! People can be real jackasses, even in the name of Jesus! That sucks. 



3. We need to undermine religious hypocrisy. This gets a whole chapter in Matthew 23. It’s a big deal. I sometimes think these baby curse words, I even whisper them to my wife and “safe” friends. So why not just say it aloud?



4. Sin is ugly, so why are we holding back? Every time I take a posture of superiority to others, and heaven forbid God, it is really ugly. So we’ve decided to use words like jackass as confessions and laments. If you prefer “mean” or “Pharisee,” no problem. But say them in ALL CAPS. It’s good to denounce hypocrisy and the moralism that blinds us to our need for Jesus. We think it’s better to call out jackassery and religious poop. Either way, we want to get rid of everything that keeps us distracted from Jesus.

5. We need to accept tension. If you don’t know what you think about all this quite yet, that’s a wonderful thing. You are wrestling. Proper wrestling will cause you to ask, seek, knock, and find. Too often, Christians seem to come across as sure about everything. I do. That’s the worst place to be. The place farthest from Jesus. Jesus created a lot of tension, chiefly among the religious. My hope is that if you spend time getting to know us, you will find that we have a DEEP DEEP LOVE FOR JESUS! AND a deep disgust for the religious cultural undertones that undermine God’s work.



I also want to note that we’re not about virtue signaling here. (That’s pretentious speak for: I don’t think I’m better than you because I do some “baby” cursing.) If you read more on this site, I hope you find this to be a place of confession, humility, and freedom. The only rule is that we fight hard against judgment and superiority. We want to be honest and direct. It may be a bit crass from time to time, but humility is a primo value here.


We just want the main things to be the main things. JESUS. We want to love ALL people well, from prodigals to Pharisees. We want the church to be unified—not in theory, but in HEART and SPIRIT. And we would love to kill a little jackassary (ours chiefly) and burn a giant pile of religious poop on the internet’s doorstep. Hopefully, what you will find remaining is LOVE, JOY, PEACE, KINDNESS, and JESUS. 



C.S. Lewis’ Cure for Our Partisan Venom

1

I can tell you right now this is going to be the best post I’ve ever written. Because most of this article comes directly from C.S. Lewis. What follows is from Lewis’ famous preface to the 4th Century church father Athanasius’ book On the Incarnation. That, plus a few words of my own clumsily explaining why Lewis’ words here could cure our hyper-partisan and heavily-jackassed culture.

“Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook… Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides are usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions… None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books… The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes… Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”

See what I mean? Classic C.S.! Here we are, Clive says, fighting against each other, and assuming that we couldn’t be further apart in our positions. But when given a chance to compare our “polar opposite” positions to an old book, we find that our “opposites” don’t look as far apart by comparison.

C.S. Lewis said we only increase our blindness by reading modern books. Also read old books, he said: “They made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes…”

So what’s the point? That reading books from a different age allows us to see with different eyes. Sure, those “different eyes” are as flawed as our own, but they’re still different. As Lewis says, “They made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.”

Do you see a connection here to the sources of our information? Read 100 Fox News articles and while they’ll differ from each other, they’ll all share many assumptions. Most of them the President will praise and a few he’ll ridicule, but they’re all within a certain stream. If you switch over to CNN, you’ll hear just as many errors. But they’ll be different errors. And they’ll differ from each other but they’ll share common assumptions. You can go a certain length toward healing the wound of one bias by viewing it light of another bias. And it’s exactly here that Clive Staples’ advice would be good to heed. This effect is multiplied when you read material from different cultures and different centuries. All full of mistakes, but the non-overlap of the mistakes helps us get a clearer picture.

Then Lewis says something even more fascinating:

“We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the division of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity… That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age. It is not enough, but it is more than you had thought till then.”

This is the surprising discovery of choosing to leave our echo chambers: we have more in common than we would dare to guess! And it’s small of us to insist that our differences are insurmountable.

And now for my favorite part. Good old C. describes the friendly fire you’ll receive from people in the echo chamber once you start seeing the essential unity we share (he knew this well):

“Once you are well soaked in it [the unity across the ages], if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience. You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a Pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth. For you have now got on to the great level viaduct which crosses the ages and which looks so high from the valley, so low from the mountains, so narrow compared with the swamps, and so broad compared with the sheep-tracks.”

Do we all know it’s a good thing to exit our echo chambers and listen to what other voices are telling us? I hope we do. But one thing you can count on: Talk about a Fox News article in front of your CNN friends and you’re in trouble. Quote Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in front of a Republican and you’d better brace yourself. Mention Richard Rohr to an Evangelical and prepare for a Reformation-centric lecture. Bring up Rob Bell to almost anyone and get ready for an eye roll.

We’re so partisan on so many fronts that we’ve lost the ability to listen to other voices. You have to agree with me that we’re all extremely biased. Right? We are encamped, but there are people traveling all around. Listening doesn’t require the abandonment of convictions. Loving doesn’t mean compromise.

We need to listen to, spend time with, and mutually love and serve people who are different than us. And to Lewis’ specific point, we could all stand to learn from those who came centuries before us. Our differences are more petty, more quixotic, than our small perspectives can imagine.

Read “Love Over Fear”!

0

I was introduced to Dan White Jr. through one of his tweets:

“Reflecting on pastoring for 20 yrs:

With a therapist, I cataloged all the folks that have ghosted me (almost 100 over the years).

Spent time in their homes, baptized their kids, cried with them in pain, counseled them through crisis. Then vamoosh they’re gone. It’s a weird job.”

I read that and instantly knew that Dan White Jr. and I have a lot in common. I too have been in ministry nearly 20 years. I too have been ghosted by countless friends. I too need to talk to a therapist about it.

If you like Jackass Theology, you will devour Love Over Fear. Dan’s latest book, just released by Moody yesterday, confronts the epic problem of polarization in our culture.

I’ve noticed after doing ministry in the same place for many years that some people leave the church because it isn’t meeting their families needs. Many leave the church because they have not figured out how to be comfortable with people who are different than them. Conservatives can’t coexist with liberals. Young can’t coexist with old. MacArthurites can’t coexist with Rob Bellions. Rich can’t coexist with poor. It seems that everyone thinks the solution is to find a community of people that feels what they feel and practices exactly the way they do.

We live in a diverse world. A world with countless ethnicities and subcultures. Latino, black, white, gay, straight, suburban, urban, male, female, and questioning. The diversity is both an opportunity and threat. It is an opportunity to experience the elasticity of the Gospel, and see how the good news truly can be for everyone. The threat, as Dan puts it, is FEAR.

FEAR is powerful. Fear is at the root of nearly all sin. Adam and Eve feared missing out, so they ate of the tree. Cain murdered his brother because he feared the comparison Abel represented. The news and social media peddle fear like Crackerjack at a Giants game.

Fear demands an object. Do you fear snakes? Do you fear financial scarcity? Do you fear for your kids’ safety? Do you fear the impact of LGBTQ on politics? Do you fear a socialist agenda? Do you fear abuse of power? Do you fear having a bigot in the White House?

The only healthy source of fear, biblically speaking, is fear of God.

Fear can not simply linger as an abstract feeling for long. It must find a home in something tangible, someone or something or some event to blame. Fear is always searching for someone to blame. It’s this transfer, when human beings become the object of our fears, the reason for our concerns, that destroys our chances for peace, dignity, and love. Sadly, the person, people group, or villain we attach our fears to often carries far less responsibility than we imagine for our unsettled spirit, and their demise is absolutely impotent in resolving our inner anxiety. That’s the jackass part of it all. Blaming people for our fear.

White flight happened in neighborhoods when the simple presence of African Americans in the community enflamed fear of property devaluation. The “right” fears the agenda of the “left” and therefore they must find an embodiment for that fear: the stupid pundits of CNN, Obama, the LGBTQ agenda, or Colin Kaepernick. The “left” fears the agenda of the “right” and therefore they must find an embodiment of that fear: big business, Ann Coulter, abuse of power, the hatred of the religious right, or Trump’s 2020 campaign. The point is that fear has a difficult time remaining abstract. So our fear divides America, it divides families, and it divides churches.

The only healthy place for our fear is fear of God.

As Dan White Jr. brilliantly describes in his book, LOVE—which we all long for and all acknowledge is superior to fear—has the ability to overcome fear. But in order for fear to be overcome, it must be placed in the only appropriate object: God!

Dan’s book is desperately needed in our time. The entire second half of the book is devoted to practical ways we aid in love overcoming fear in our own lives. Read it! Check out his website. My prayer is that LOVE OVER FEAR becomes not just a book, but a movement.

Rachel Held Evans & the Fight Against Jackassery

0

Most of you know that Rachel Held Evans died late last week. Tragedy is not a strong enough word. If you’re not familiar with Rachel and her work, just go to Twitter and search for #becauseofRHE. It’ll tell you everything you need to know. Actually, that’s really all you need to know, you don’t need to waste your time reading this post. I’m not qualified to say anything about what her life and work meant. I’ve read one of her books (I started a second today), several of her blog posts, and I’ve followed her on Twitter for several years. That’s it. But I’ve seen enough to know that aside from the fact that we’re all jackasses, Rachel Held Evans was about as un-jackass as they come. And so much of her ministry was devoted to fighting jackassery. We have a lot to learn from what she spent her short life embodying.

Rachel took a lot of crap on Twitter. A LOT. She brought it on herself, but not at all in the way we usually use that phrase. I just mean that she was not afraid to make herself a target for angry, hateful people. In my experience, gracious, patient, loving people don’t intentionally step into intense conflict. Rachel was unique in that as far as I can tell. Brian Zahnd said it well when he tweeted, “It’s going to be weird coming to Twitter and not see[ing] what bear Rachel Held Evans is poking next” (@BrianZahnd). He meant that with so much respect. The day she passed he had tweeted, “Christianity has a long history of vigorous debate. But at the end of the day we belong to the body of Christ. Rachel Held Evans was an important interlocutor in our ongoing debate. Today she finished her race.”

There are exactly zero people with whom I agree on everything (which I’m sure is a type of jackass—I’ll have to start writing that post!). Rachel was one of the all people with whom I had disagreements. But I learned a lot from her writing; I was constantly challenged to think and rethink. And my grief at the loss of Rachel and my massive admiration for her are bigger than the way she made me think. I think I’ve been most inspired by the way she loved in the midst of debate.

I’ve seen Rachel take on some of the biggest bullies on Twitter. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been to stand up to people who called her horrible things and used Bible verses to shout hate at her. And these are people with thousands of followers eager to do the same. Yet she set what God put on her heart in a gracious but firm way and didn’t allow herself to be pushed around. In doing this, she earned the respect of people across the theological spectrum. For example, she would push back on Russell Moore from time to time (btw, NOT one of the bullies I just mentioned), but the interactions were constructive. After her death, one of his expressions of respect for Rachel was, “Let’s not conform to the pattern of this vicious social—Darwinian age. Let’s kindle kindness, even (especially!) for those outside our tribal silos” (@drmoore). Beth Moore (another conservative Moore), tweeted out, “Thinking what it was about @rachelheldevans that could cause many on other sides of issues to take their hats off to her in her death. People are run rife with grief for her babies, yes. But also I think part of it is that, in an era of gross hypocrisy, she was alarmingly honest” (@BethMooreLPM).

Shane Claiborne (@ShaneClaiborne) tweeted this quote from Rachel, and it seems an excellent summary of what she embodied for so many people from so many different traditions: “Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.” She kept people from making loud but lazy assertions and pushed us all to think more carefully and love more sacrificially.

So much of Rachel’s fight was for the dignity of marginalized people. She was tireless in fighting to see women, the LGBT community, and people of color empowered, treated with respect, given space for their voices to be heard, etc. To many people, Rachel became a sort of online pastor. She gave them so much love, encouragement, and truth through her public voice, but I’ve also heard so many stories of her reaching out personally to encourage and assist and strengthen. That’s a pastor in the truest sense, and it’s all the more impressive because she was able to do it through an online platform that most find impersonal and dehumanizing. She brought love and humanity to debates that had become dehumanized, to platforms that had become loveless, and to people who had been dismissed and mistreated their entire lives.

“Rachel Held Evans was a pastor in the truest sense, and it’s all the more impressive because she was a pastor through an online platform that most find impersonal and dehumanizing.”

Audrey Assad gave one of the most powerful statements I’ve read yet about Rachel’s impact: “I find myself praying and hoping that @rachelheldevans’ severest critics will read #becauseofRHE and see the garden she tended, the fruit it has borne, the way it has flowered in the world” (@audreyassad). I literally tear up at the thought of someone saying something like that about me when I’m gone. Her impact, ultimately, was “the garden she tended.” She was a generative person (in the rich sense of Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care concept). She was a culture maker (in the rich sense of Andy Crouch’s Culture Making concept). She loved persistently and modeled inspiring debate on important issues, even while aggressively loving the people affected by those debates. She’s an amazing model for me of what it looks like to fight jackassery. It’s tragic that she’s gone. We’ll all have to carry the work forward in as Rachel-like a manner as we can muster.

Christians Doing Satan’s Work

3

I don’t want to read anything more about Covid, and I’m sure you don’t either. I don’t have any insight on the best way to handle the virus or the timeframe for when we’ll regain some normalcy. There’s only one thing I know: It’s really hard to be a pastor during Covid. That’s not surprising because it’s hard to be a church member during Covid. And that’s not surprising because it’s hard to be a human during Covid.

As I look at the other churches around me, we’re all doing things differently. My church family is meeting in backyards around our area to talk through Scripture, encourage each other, and pray together. Other churches are meeting in their parking lots or under tents on their church property. Some churches are fully online right now. Some churches have chosen to continue meeting indoors. I don’t know of any churches that haven’t changed course a few times.

The bottom line is this: we’re all just doing our best. Believe it or not, the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically how to do a church service. (I know, right?!) We get some descriptions of what the first Christians did when they gathered, and some corrections of specific churches when they veered off course, but you simply cannot read through the New Testament and walk away saying, “Yes, the way my church gathers is the one and only biblical way to do it.” You seriously can’t. And yet, miraculously, so many seem to be doing that right now. To be honest, I have to fight that impulse in myself.

A famous pastor and his megachurch recently chose to defy California Governor Newsom’s ban on holding indoor church services, saying very clearly, “We cannot and will not acquiesce to a government-imposed moratorium on our weekly congregational worship or other regular corporate gatherings. Compliance would be disobedient to our Lord’s clear commands.” I personally find this so frustrating. The “moratorium” in California right now is on indoor gatherings. So which “clear command” of the Lord tells us that we must worship indoors?

But this is exactly the moment I need to stop myself. I don’t need to agree with this pastor. I think he and his team are doing the best they can to be faithful in their context. It’s so hard to be a pastor right now, they don’t need me telling them they’re doing it wrong. I’ve seen several videos make the rounds online with pastors literally yelling at other pastors for not opening their churches back up. That is so out of line! I could yell back that our church is still open, we just aren’t meeting indoors. I don’t need these guys yelling at me for not doing exactly what they’re doing. They don’t need me yelling back at them that they’re doing it wrong. Honestly, we need to stop telling each other what we’re doing wrong and instead focus on following Jesus in our unique cultural moment.

Early in the pandemic, I had to delete Twitter from my phone. I had anxiety as I read opinion after opinion (which is all social media gives us, by the way) about what the virus meant and how it should be responded to: If you keep meeting in person, you’re murdering people. If you stop meeting in person, you’re caving to government and disobeying Jesus. If you meet only online you’re impoverishing people’s spiritual lives because we’re made for human interaction. If you meet in person you’re compromising your church’s witness to the community and no one will ever love Jesus again. If you stop meeting in person your church has abandoned its mission to share the love of Jesus with the community.

“In the Bible, Satan is called ‘the accuser of the brothers and sisters.’ So when we accuse each other regarding how we’re doing church right now, it’s not the Lord’s work we’re doing.”

It’s stupid, it’s wrong, and perhaps most significantly, when we make these kinds of accusations at each other, it’s not the Lord’s work we’re doing. In Scripture, Satan is called “the accuser of the brothers and sisters” (Rev. 12:10). That’s literally Satan’s job. He accuses us of wrongdoing, of not being enough, of being unforgivable, of being unredeemable. And here we are, claiming the name of Jesus even as we step out in a complete lack of grace and accuse one another. As Paul warned us, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal. 5:15).

When I look around, I see a creativity in churches that I’ve never seen before. Losing this one approach to doing church that we all held to be sacred has led so many churches to innovate and try to find life amid new constraints. That’s a good thing! It’s not a virtue to step up and accuse other churches or other Christians. (I am, of course, talking here about preference issues like whether to meet indoors, outdoors, or online. When it comes to sin issues, abuse, etc., darkness must be named and brought to light and justice.)

The kingdom of God doesn’t look like hatred and strife and division and self-exaltation and political jockeying. This current cultural moment has given us yet another opportunity to be jackasses in the name of Jesus. But it’s also an opportunity for love, grace, and encouragement. So I want to fight the impulse to accuse and tear down and instead look at so many of my brothers and sisters who are simply doing their best and say, “Great job! Hang in there! You’re doing well, and I know God will continue to guide you.” May God use this time to shape his church into what he wants it to be for this time and for the times ahead.

Pastor Kanye & the Problem with Celebrity Conversions

8

Kanye West has been on a wild ride the last couple years. Most recently, he has been leading Sunday Services, where they basically sing songs to worship God interspersed with Kanye talking a lot about Jesus. He has even said that he will never again make “secular music.” Crazy, right?

But as you probably know (or can at least imagine), no one in the world knows what to make of this. For the gossip media outlets, Kanye’s just wild and unpredictable and therefore good for business. I sense the average Kanye fan standing back a bit to see what will come of it all. I see some in the Christian community excited about Kanye’s conversion and the new direction of his music. In my circles at least, I see more Christians skeptical or even derisive about “Pastor Kanye.” I personally see things that are really cool about what Kanye’s up to right now. I have mixed feelings overall: I actually wrote a book about the mistaken view of “secular vs. Christian music” that Kanye seemed to invoke, but I also love his enthusiasm to use his music for God’s glory.

Overall, I think this is yet another example of how tricky it is when celebrities convert. Bob Dylan famously became a Christian, and then eventually he leveled out. I have no idea what the implications of any of that are. But I do think we as Christians make this weird for celebrities. On the one hand, we talk as though having a celebrity become a Christian will lead to instant worldwide conversion. On the other hand, everyone policies their every statement and action, looking for reasons why they’re not a true Christian.

I first thought about this years ago. As I was stepping out of the back room onto the stage to lead the congregation in worship, my buddy said to me, “Don’t freak out, but Pamela Anderson is sitting in the front row.” I said what any worship leader would have said: “Yeah, right.”

I grabbed my guitar and stepped up to the microphone, and there she was, sitting directly in front of me. She seemed fully engaged in the music and the preaching, and as soon as the service ended she slipped out the side door.

This event didn’t have a huge impact on my life, but it made me wonder what church must be like for celebrities. Pamela made it through the service without being hassled, but I did notice that as she rushed out the door one of our pastors went sprinting after her. I’m sure he was just trying to give her a personal connection at the church, but I wonder if that seemed any different to her than the people who swarm her on her way out of other public places. I doubt it.

On another Sunday, I was running the soundboard when Leann Rimes walked in. She arrived early, found a seat in the middle of the Sanctuary, and graciously small-talked with the churchgoers who recognized her. Meanwhile in the sound booth, we whispered like Junior High girls about having a celebrity in front of us. We watched her reactions to the music and the sermon and speculated about the nature of her faith.

We likely agree that joining a community of faith is vital for anyone wanting to follow Jesus. But what would that look like for a major celebrity? Could they really just be part of the church family? We would all agree that celebrities are no better than the rest of us. Most celebrities would affirm this as well. But we don’t really believe it’s true. We get weird.

I once made awkward eye contact with Quentin Tarantino in a Starbucks. As we locked eyes, I saw the soul of a man who was trying hard to blend in, scanning the room to see which one of us would recognize him and call him out for attempting to buy coffee in public like a normal human being. I don’t know what he read in my eyes, but I didn’t out him. Instead, I pretended not to be watching him and walked across the room to discreetly tell a friend, “Don’t look now, but Quentin Tarantino is standing right behind you…”

I can’t imagine how a celebrity maintains normal relationships. Do people actually like me, or are they just trying to get something or look a certain way by hanging out with me? I would think you’d have a ton of acquaintances and very few actual friends. This would be tough in terms of church life.

“Kanye asked people to give him a little grace if he’s mispronouncing certain phrases: ‘I’m a new convert. I recently got saved.’ Maybe we could do that: give him a little grace. Be happy for him.”

I don’t have a solution for this, but this should give us more compassion for celebrities who are trying to follow Jesus. We get so disgusted when we hear that “so and so claims to be a Christian but isn’t part of a church.” We are bewildered when a celebrity who seems to love Jesus makes a statement that is theologically off base. You’d be pretty weird too if every person in every church made it difficult for you to connect with the body of Christ.

I don’t know what any of this means for Kanye West. My opinion doesn’t matter at all. But this poor guy seems to be trying to take his first steps at following Jesus and using his enormous platform to draw attention to Jesus. There’s a pastor who actually attended the same seminary I did that has been pastoring Kanye pretty directly, and he vouches for Kanye’s faith. I think that’s pretty cool. At a recent event, Kanye asked people to give him a little grace if he’s mispronouncing certain phrases: “I’m a new convert. I recently got saved.” Maybe we could do that: give him a little grace.

Seems like we should be happy for him. I know I don’t know better than the pastor who’s vouching for him. Seems like I can be excited about a lot of what I’m hearing about the Sunday Services. Also, my trust in Jesus doesn’t hinge on what Kanye says or does. I’m confident he doesn’t need to be policed by the council of evangelical public opinion. I also think it’s cool he seems to be finding life in Jesus, just as I do.

Joshua Harris: An Opportunity for Empathy

10
Author Joshua Harris influenced a whole generation of evangelical Christians with his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Now he has a new documentary, called I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye, about his new ideas on dating.

This last weekend, Joshua Harris posted this on Instagram:

“My heart is full of gratitude. I wish you could see all the messages people sent me after the announcement of my divorce. They are expressions of love though they are saddened or even strongly disapprove of the decision.

“I am learning that no group has the market cornered on grace. This week I’ve received grace from Christians, atheists, evangelicals, exvangelicals, straight people, LGBTQ people, and everyone in between. Of course there have also been strong words of rebuke from religious people. While not always pleasant, I know they are seeking to love me. (There have been spiteful, hateful comments that angered and hurt me.)

“The information that was left out of our announcement is that I have undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus. The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction,’ the biblical phrase is ‘falling away.’ By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practice faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now…

“To my Christian friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful. I believe with my sister Julian that, ‘All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’”

Joshua isn’t the first or last person whose soul-searching journey led them out of the faith. Sometimes when someone leaves it is obvious that they are doing it in a willful desire to justify sin (think Prodigal Son). Other times it is about the wearisome nature of the church and its subculture, the dissonant value systems between Christians and their Christ, or the deafening silence of God. In these moments I empathize with Josh’s struggle.

Empathy is an important word. In Romans 12, Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” That means empathetic living. Opening yourself up to feel what others feel is a tremendous way to love people.

Sympathy can have a tinge of superiority. I feel sorry for you because you are experiencing pain. Sympathy is not the same as empathy. Empathy says, I feel pain as you feel pain.

The important thing about feeling what others feel is recognizing that you CAN ACTUALLY feel what others feel, and you CAN feel it without condoning ALL of their behaviors or beliefs.

My kids constantly celebrate things and cry about things that are objectively stupid. But I love my kids so I celebrate their stick figure drawings with them and I show empathy for their imaginary bruises (sometimes). The truth is that loving my kids doesn’t mean that I need to think that all the things they celebrate and cry about are wonderful and accurate. It’s enough to see someone I love sad, or someone I love happy. The question is: Can I join them in their pain and joy?

I want to be clear. I do not know Joshua Harris personally, but I am sure that the last several years of his personal life and faith life have been filled with both tears and joy. Tears over the emotional and spiritual turmoil of coming to grips with what you truly believe. His divorce may be amicable, but that doesn’t mean there were not hours upon hours of hurt and pain involved in coming to this decision. Have you ever felt these type of emotions? Have you ever struggled in your relationships? Have you ever changed your mind on something you believed? Have you ever been scrutinized and/or attacked by strangers who don’t know you?

Objectively, these things suck. You don’t have to assume a person is sinless to acknowledge that these things suck and to weep with the one who weeps.

Can you weep with Josh? I’m not asking if you can weep about the fact that he is stepping away from his beliefs. Nor am I asking how his situation makes you feel about Christian leaders. I’m asking if you can weep over his pain. Don’t make this about you. This is about him and his wife and his kids. Can you be sad for him about the things that are painful for him?

And now I’m going to ask for more than most of my readers would probably consider: Josh said he feels awake, alive, and hopeful. Given everything he’s been experiencing, this may be the first time in a while he’s felt these things. Can you rejoice with him?

“Joshua Harris made a heavy announcement. Will we weep with him as he weeps AND rejoice with him as he rejoices? Or will we make this about our opinions and expectations and lose sight of the person in process?”

This one is probably much more difficult to wrap you head around. You may feel that celebrating with Josh is celebrating sin or celebrating walking away from Jesus. (Many readers are doing exactly that, this one is easy for many of you.) I want to be clear, I do not believe the Bible calls us to celebrate sin. So without celebrating sin, is it possible to rejoice in the journey that Joshua is on? Is it okay to be hopeful for him? Is it okay to celebrate some of the freedom he now feels from the religious expectation that has likely oppressed him his entire life? The freedom of finally being honest about what he believes and the state of his marriage? It is truly a soul-crushing endeavor to be living a lie. He must feel free in this moment. He seems excited. I am happy for him. Not happy that he “fell away;” happy that the burdens and expectations saddled upon him have been lifted and that possibilities for the future are wide open. I pray blessings upon Joshua Harris. I want good things for him.

To be clear, in my paradigm, that means I also pray that he comes to see that Jesus was not the source of his frustration: religion was. I pray he comes to know the easy and light burden of Christ in new ways. I pray God works all these things for his good. But that’s what I want for him. Empathy doesn’t start there. Empathy begins by listening and understanding him.

Preachers N Sneakers: Hypocrisy’s Newest Scandal

3

Farewell, Hip Mega-Church Pastors. Most excommunications happen over theology. Now it’s happening over shoes.

The newly minted Instagram account @preachersnsneakers has absolutely exploded over the last 3 weeks: from 0 to 45k followers (as of this moment). Fashionista has already written an article about it in their online mag.

The concept is simple. Take publicly available photos of celebrity pastors and look up the price tag of their shoes. Bam! Lightning in a bottle. The contagious and viral part of the equation is how freaking expensive some of these clothes are. If Rich Wilkerson’s $357 Adidas Yeezys sound expensive, what about Chad Veach’s $2,500 Jordan’s?

Indulgent luxury goods with church funds?! Farewell, Judah Smith, Chad Veach, Erwin McManus, Steven Furtick, and others!

I get it. When I first saw the prices in this Instagram account I threw up in my mouth a little bit. I seriously had no idea that shoes could even be that expensive! I looked at every single post, jaw dropped. But in an effort to fight for a little human dignity, let’s press pause and try for a moment to examine our own perspective. Let’s loosen the grip on our pitchforks just a smidge.

7 quick thoughts:

1) WE create celebrity pastors.

The only reason we know the names of these pastors to be outraged over their kicks is because we have been downloading their sermons and books and thereby making them famous. We make these people celebrities, then scorn them for acting like celebrities.

“The reason we even know who these pastors are so we can be outraged over the price of their shoes is because we have made them celebrities, then we scorn them for acting like it.”

2) They are not all the same.

Everyone on this Insta account may be wearing expensive shoes, but that doesn’t mean we should lump them all together. To be fair, there is a big difference between a $300 pair of shoes and a $2,500 pair of shoes. Some of these guys may be vain, money-loving charlatans, others may not be. But loving our neighbors as ourselves requires us to resist the pull to reduce someone else to a single caricature. We’re free to assume the worst, of course, but that’s not the path of human dignity. It’s the path of jackassery. (I know because I often go down that road.) Like the woman at the well who was ostracized by society and yet humanized by Jesus (John 4), all of these pastors have stories. Jesus would learn them. Will you?

3) We don’t always know where things come from.

Chad Veach replied to the Instagram call out by stating that these things were gifts. You don’t have to believe him, but as a pastor myself, I have been gifted many many things. It is a way that people say thank you. Two years ago a friend of mine shut down his high end men’s clothing store and gave me three bags full of clothes. I didn’t even know most of the brands. I still have no idea what they retail for. If someone snapped a picture of my jeans and told me they were $500, I would be shocked. Now, I’m not saying these guys don’t know what they are wearing, I’m just saying that it is true that sometimes people give their pastors things for free. I live in a beautiful house that I wouldn’t be able to afford, if it weren’t for the generosity of a brother in Christ who owns 50% of it. You could Zillow my house, get outraged over the value, and never know that I have a modest mortgage. No book deals, no scandalous transactions, no celebrity, simple generosity from someone who loves Jesus. We just don’t know.

5) The heart matters.

Wealth is not hypocritical. Success is not to be disdained. Men like Rick Warren, John Piper, and Francis Chan are examples of celebrity pastors who channel their wealth in ways that help others, guard against the perception of luxury, and protect themselves from the deceit of riches. I see a lot of wisdom in that. But in the end, the pastors featured on @sneakersnpreachers answer to God—not for the price tag on their shoes but for their hearts, faith, and service. Only God knows the heart. Great men of God have had money beyond measure and luxury to boot. Think of David or Solomon. Luxury alone does not signal hypocrisy. The heart does. It isn’t fair to judge these people for a single image, or even for a single vice.

6) “Expensive” is relative, and we all get spendy on something.

How much did that big vacation cost you? Do you really need the phone you’re holding in your hand? Does your car really need those upgrades? Couldn’t your house be smaller? Shouldn’t you be eating at home more often? Everyone spends money in ways others think are an absurd waste. I’ve seen broke-ass college students driving Mercedes-Benzes with leases that rival their rent. Just because nobody is scrutinizing your finances doesn’t mean you wouldn’t or don’t fall into the similar indulgences. So lighten up.

7) Everyone wants their pastor to be taken care of, but nobody wants their pastor to make more money than they do.

“I don’t know how much you think a pastor should make, but I’m pretty sure the real standard is ‘My pastor should not make more than me.'”

That’s just plain true. Everyone judges according to what they think is reasonable. Nothing that Americans spend money on is reasonable to the poor in a 3rd world country. Nothing that celebrities spend money on makes sense to the blue collar working class in Nebraska. It’s different worlds, different scales. I don’t know how much you think a pastor should make, but I’m pretty sure the real standard is “Just as long as my pastor doesn’t make more than me.” I’m not sure that’s fair.

My only pair of sneakers were a gift for my birthday 5 years ago: $120. I thought they were outrageously expensive. So I guess if shoe price is the measure of faithfulness, I’m doing pretty good, but don’t ask how much I spent on wood to build a treehouse for my kids.

Here’s the thing.

I freaking love @preachersnsneakers. It’s entertaining and mind-blowing to know that tennis shoes can be absurdly expensive. And I think accountability for those who say they follow Jesus is super important thing. Follow them, read along, have fun. But don’t let it turn you into a cynical jackass. Remember, the Bible’s message isn’t, “follow me and I will make you perfect.” It’s “follow me, and I will make you fishers men.” Even Peter denied Jesus after all, and also led thousands to Christ.

If you love preachernsneakers, hate mega church pastors, or are disillusioned with the church, then I leave you with one remaining thought: This is precisely why humans need Jesus. Sin abounds in the church and out of it!

Oh look…now there 66.3K followers on the instagram account. Religious hypocrisy sells!

If want to spread some human dignity. Please share this article!