Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page


In Uncategorized on January 30, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Submitted By: Slowfo

Consider it retracted. Most all of it. Nearly everything that I used to be such a strong proponent for….I take it back. When I look at the mega-church movement and see all of the money, sappy worship songs, cheesy efforts to mask their disconnectedness, money, emotional manipulation, marketing, money, hipster hairdos, giant LED screens, horrible sermon series ideas (yes, North Point Church in Springfield, MO – you, and your Whoopee Cushion Life series….I’m pointing at you…oh, and your That’s What She Said series should probably be thrown in too), and once again, money that is thrown at trying to “reach people with the gospel,” well, I take it all back….because I used to be one of those people who promoted the mass marketing efforts from mega churches. Now that I’m in my fifth year in my full-time ministry hiatus, I realize what I’ve done and what is being done to the message of Jesus. It’s being twisted into whatever will put more butts in seats so that the church corporation will continue to grow and ministers can make more money to keep their jobs.

I look back to two memories in particular (and I worked at two different mega churches – one probably more healthy than the other but they both had their issues). I remember being in what I’ll refer to as Creative Worship Team meetings where we would start with creative sermon ideas and then retroactively try to fit the words of the Bible into our man-made marketing image. I remember several times where, if it was a stretch to make the scripture fit, we would just look at each other and say, “Well, we’ll just spin it a little.” Another time, we would meet weekly with the sole intent on creating a “moment” – an emotionally charged, manipulative moment to put people in the “right frame of mind to make a decision for Christ.”  Sounds like a cult to me. At least, now that I’ve been out of the day-to-day ministry and in a FOR-PROFIT business, I realize that emotional manipulation and throwing lots of marketing dollars at our people was a way to keep the church from actually going out and getting our hands dirty in the very real and messy problems and issues that our congregants were dealing with.

I’ll probably share more about all of the money that was spent in another blog entry….but, I just wanted to throw it out there…that I take it all back. A spin doctor for Jesus is not what I think He is calling any of us to be.


pursuing holiness and wholeness together

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm

the friday before last i was snowed out of work and stayed home with a sick lydian. around mid-day after the snow had stopped and the winds had picked up i was almost physically arrested by the sight of wind-blown dry snow streaking towards cabot and glinting in the sun. that was one of the first times in my life a sight brought a recitation of the psalms to my lips – “wash me Lord and i will be white as snow” – and a deep longing for holiness into my heart.

holiness, the hope of being set apart for God’s righteousness and justice, has always been somewhat of a puzzle to me. i was reminded of this yesterday when one of my closest colleagues – with whom i work on a number of vital, deeply life-affirming initiatives – asked me if i had been one of the christian kids protesting at the abortion clinics.

i had been. i talked about my experience, carefully foregoing a description of the gruesome protest poster i preferred, and it brought back a deluge of memories good (learning to pray the rosary with catholics), bad (kicking mud all over a particularly unkind counter protestor; being physically threatened by a jeep that jumped the curb and crunched our signs), and indifferent (namely, puzzling through how i can hold onto a life-affirming perspective on women’s reproduction without mirroring the absolutist perspectives of my youth).

my friend was on the other side. she told me that she worked at the planned parenthood sites where women were usually seeking prophylactics or addressing women’s health needs not related to abortion. we briefly talked about our current perspectives on the issue and, though we had differences, the conversation was amicable and marked with trust for the each other’s intentions.

i don’t really know what holiness is nor can i describe it in any complete or comprehensive manner. however, as i reflect on that conversation i realize that in my youth i thought of holiness as a characteristic that set one apart from and in opposition to the other. when we were holding the strip of public property outside of the clinic, we thought we were absolutely right to protect the lives of the unborn and those on the other side were absolutely complicit in the act of murder.

now i realize that my absolutism was rife with naiveté and i am thankful for the opportunity to struggle, strive and work beside a woman who i once would have considered my enemy to pursue the wholeness, health and vitality of others.  different perspectives on significant issues like abortion do not need to be denied in order to pursue justice, mercy, wholeness, and perhaps even holiness in community and solidarity with one another.

Why I Hate the Steelers

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Submitted By: Kevin Smith Clark

O Pittsburgh, O convergence of rivers three

O black and gold, O terrible towel

How do I hate thee?

Let me tell my ways

1.  The Fan-base. This breaks down into three categories: (1) those who existed before 2004, (2) The late adopters 2004-present (3) my brother-in-law, who is exempt, not because he’s family, but because he’s not a turd about it.  I’d like to focus on group 2. Most readers of this blog won’t appreciate this for geographical reasons, but I live in NW Ohio.  Here are the following NFL teams CLOSER to my front door than the Steelers: the Bears, Colts, Browns, Bengals, and Lions.  Yet, all these “free agent” Steelers fans seem to emerge right around the time they conveniently went 15-1 in 2004.  This was all hidden under the guise of “Oh, it’s because Roethlisberger is from Findlay” (an hour away).  If that’s the case, where are all the Raiders and Packers fans since Charles Woodson is from Fremont (again, an hour away)?  Did I mention he has a Heisman Trophy?  Oh, that’s right, that’s because the Packers and Raiders weren’t any good in 2003-2006.  Bottom line: people like fast food, they want their successful teams NOW.  I even know people who were Browns fans and are now Steelers fans…which I call Sports Adultery (ask Gentry the conditions he’d ever cheer for the Cubs…and that includes if they were playing the Al-Qaeda All-Stars).  So, it was awfully convenient to see/hear these people waving the black and gold after XL and XLIII.

2.  Autoproctology. Yes, I’m sick of seeing this team pull something out of their black and gold hind-quarters.  I’ll go to my grave defending the following: (1) Darrell Jackson did not “push off” in his TD reception in XL that would’ve given the Seahawks a 7-0 lead, (2) Roethlisberger DID fumble the ball before he broke the plain in XL (3) James Harrison was DOWN before he crossed the goal in XLIII.  The magically placed fumbles that can be retuned for TDs, the convenient penalties…no other team gets these kinds of breaks, yet nobody seems to call it what it is: LUCK.

3.  It’s not Roethlisberger, it’s the system. Put him on the Panthers and see what he does.  He’s Matt Schaub anywhere else…good, not great.  Big plays, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.  For the naysayers out there, Charlie Batch, the pride of Eastern Michigan University, former LION quarterback, went 3-1 with this system to start the season.  Now, give Colt McCoy or Matt Stafford those weapons…Wallace, Mendenhall, Ward, Heath Miller.  Give them that defense.  See what happens.  I’m sick of this crap.  Kurt Warner took different teams to the Super Bowl, and Joe Montana won playoff games with the Chiefs.

4.  It’s Good for Business.  I’ve been stewing on this one for a few years now…and I’ll never be able to prove it, but I think there’s a gentleman’s agreement between the League and the officials.  If they’re in the SB, the calls seem to go their way…consistently (cf. the Super Bowl arguments in #2)…because, let’s be honest: “Ladies and gentlemen, your Super Bowl champion Arizona Cardinals” doesn’t have the glitz and glamour as “the Steelers”…it doesn’t sell as much merch (especially to our focus group in #1), so it’s just not quite what the “shield” wants to promote.  Some may want to point out SBXXX, but that was against the Cowboys, the darlings of the league at that time (some might argue one bad quarter away from winning 4 in a row).  At least this one’s against the Packers, so that could level the playing field, since both are iconic, have rabid fan bases, and merch snatchers.

5.  The Rivalry. This is #5 on the list, but it’s #1 for me.  I’m a Browns fan, so for no reason, do I ever cheer for Pittsburgh…unless they’re being cast back into the fires of Mt. Doom from whence they were made (only there can they be unmade).  I’ve heard some say, “Well, you should cheer for the AFC, or the North Division.”  Find me the Bears fans cheering for Green Bay because they’re from the NFC North.  Anyone who makes this statement doesn’t understand how rivalries work…you DON’T CHEER FOR YOUR RIVAL.  I’m even disgusted there’s a Ryan Clark on the Steelers (for those who don’t know: my 3 year-old is Ryan Clark).  I grimace when I see that stupid flag, stupid logo, stupid jersey, stupid #7 or #43, Troy Polamalu’s Head and Shoulders commercials, Ben’s backwards hat, Heinz ketchup, and so on.  I shake my fist at our local sporting goods store with the sign out front reading: “Get Your Steelers Gear Here” (again for the late adopters, because the real fans already have Bradshaw or Bettis jerseys).  That’s why when MY Ryan Clark says, “Who are the Steelers?” I say, “The bad guys,” and he understands.

For the sake of my sanity, blood pressure, and time management, I’ve decided to boycott XLV, because I’d rather miss seeing Green Bay pull an upset, than witness the only thing grosser than a Biggest Loser weigh-in.

For what it’s worth, the Packers are the FAVORITES to win, and we all know the Steelers love to be the underdog (please refer to #4)…see what I mean?

Caveat: the following is based purely on emotion.  If you’re here to point out my ad hominem attacks, syllogistic flaws, apples-to-oranges comparisons, you are wasting your time…and mine.  Approximately 0.0005% of all sports arguments are based in logic.  You want logic, go play chess (or make an album, for you Mac nerds out there).

The Apparent Pragmatism of Polarities

In Uncategorized on January 23, 2011 at 3:57 pm

I’m confident it surprises no one that I am profoundly uncomfortable with absolutism or fundamentalism of almost every stripe.

As a Christian who believes that Jesus was fully God and man and who confesses that God is both one and three, I am profoundly uncomfortable with theological approaches like strict Calvinism, which often seems to elevate the transcendence of God as the expense of his immanence and has a developed a hermeneutic which tends to turn non-essentials of the faith – such as the role of women in ministry or the eternal timing of election – into litmus tests of one’s fidelity to Jesus and inclusion in the faith. Similarly, I am not on the same page as extremely progressive Christians who often appear to embrace Jesus as one guru among many and in so doing reduce their focus on the wholly unique transformation that is available to communities and individuals through both the completed work of Jesus (i.e., his life, death, burial, resurrection and Kingdom reign) as well as the practice of picking up our cross, suffering beside Jesus and delighting in the in-breaking and unfolding of God’s Kingdom.

I’ve also drafted a paragraph about how similar polarities play out within the disability advocacy and social services field, but I’ll spare you.

In my experience, surrendering to polarities always seems intellectually dishonest and feels incredibly inauthentic. And yet it often appears that those who embrace and promote the polarities, such as Mark Driscoll and the Acts 29 church planting movement or, in another era, Harry Emerson Fosdick of Riverside Church in NYC, are the ones who are able to develop distinctive voices and, in some instances, take real strides towards inspiring social and personal change.

I’ve known enough accomplished or aspiring leaders to realize that these individuals are often much more nuanced in person than they ever appear to be or are willing to openly admit to in midst of fulfilling their professional duties. I have also seen these people use the polarities like a well hewn tools to accomplish their organizational and personal goals or, in some instances, protect their income and/or position of power.

I’ve also personally realized, time and again, that refusing to embrace, wield, or at least profess the polarities leaves one outside of the power structure and, usually, an object of suspicion. So, I’m starting to wonder if the pragmatic use of polarities is a necessary practice for maturing leaders. Perhaps my commitment to living in the tension between polarities and my passion for authenticity – an emotional quality which I have sometimes elevated almost to the level of an absolute – are marks of an adolescent leader who needs to emerge.

I don’t know. Your armchair analysis is welcome.

extant links to evangelical culture

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2011 at 8:17 pm

a few days ago andrew peterson (@andrewpeterson) shared a teaser trailer for an upcoming movie based on  the life of  rich mullins and added the simple tag: “pleaseletitbegoodpleaseletitbegood.”

since i am a sucker for all things rich, i quickly watched the trailer and was almost immediately filled with  dread. the clip – which the director says is comprised of research clips, though that hoky shot of the bare feet  makes one wonder – almost drips with sentimentality. look there’s a paint peeled, character infused wood  frame building frame  house on the bare, virile plains. there is the requisite quotation from brennan  manning. oh my, is that the pure,  resonant tone of a hammered dulcimer i hear?

although the clip raises serious questions about the film project – like why should we let a lifeway shopper instead of a talented, experienced indy director of indeterminate piety offer a fresh perspective on this story – it also exposes my extant visceral attachment to rich.

i’m not going to claim to be a rich lifer. i didn’t know a damn thing about the man when he died on a highway outside of peoria a few days short of playing a show at lincoln christian college that i probably wouldn’t have attended. the only connection i had with him up to that point was the song awesome God, which i didn’t like then and i don’t like now.

however, in the glare that flared after his death, i couldn’t help but be intrigued by the man. outside of the circumstantial connections – he was expelled from a bible college in my christian church, church of Christ tradition; he had been transfixed and transformed by the hippieish brother son and sister moon – i was struck by rich’s counter-cultural approach to money, evangelical norms (confession 1: i also smoked like a chimney at the time and wish i could still. confession 2: rich cussed like a sailor and i, i’m working on it.) and his commitment to the poor. as the years have gone by rich’s life has served as a constant reminder to me that direct, contrarian people committed to the way of Jesus have a place in the church and, even more importantly, a vital mission to the world.

i’ve often, somewhat jokingly, described the emergent conversation as a collective of disaffected evangelicals who don’t give a shit about sustaining the evangelical subculture. while in many instances that description might ring true, i cannot deny that there is a small group of, admittedly somewhat ill-fitting, evangelicals like rich mullins and philip yancey, who fired my young faith and have continued to strengthen me along the way.

i’m tempted to conclude in a cliche way by saying something like “so thank you rich for giving me the hope to carry on.” but pablum like that is beneath me, so i won’t.

do you have extant links to the evangelical subculture? if so, do tell.

We Few…We Happy Few…We Pachyderms.

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2011 at 1:34 am

Contributed By: Kevin Smith Clark

“Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” – U2, “Acrobat”

The Ricky Gervais Golden Globe outrage has given me a tinge of a headache.  Somebody please explain to me exactly what was wrong about his brilliantly executed jokes throughout an otherwise forgetful ceremony.  Did I miss something?  Was The Tourist not awful?  Peter Travers named it the worst film of 2010…that’s saying something, given we got a second Sex and the City, a seventh Saw, and Grown Ups.  Did Robert Downey Jr. not have a troubled past?  Is there not a shred of truth in the Hugh Hefner engagement joke?  Were these in bad taste, or is it under a larger microscope because it was a network broadcast?

My take: none of the above.  Instead, I would propose that after almost 250 years, (1) we still don’t “get” the British and (2) we continually get our collective panties in a bunch over the dumbest stuff.  “He made fun of my movie.”  Get over it…you made $10 million to speak with a terrible British accent.  Most people make less than a percentage of a percent of that and get canned over one misstep.  I will say kudos to Steve Carell, who rolled with the punches about “The Office”…clearly a guy who not only understood the awards show and Gervais’ jokes were semi-Comedy Central roast-like, but joked along with Gervais.

Let’s bring this down to our level…meaning, we’re not all actors, we’re not up for awards or trophies (not even The Shiva or The Sacko).  But we either know, are related to, or are these people.  Got offended at work? Quit.  Spouse not kissing your tail?  Leave.  You deserve nothing less than your own awards ceremony, where every thing you do is Citizen Kane (or apparently The Social Network), where nothing can be analyzed or critiqued, or heaven forbid, joked about.  Seen any of this behavior lately?  Modeled any of it?

Did any of you have to take the DiSC Inventory, which is an analysis of your personality?  Let me tell you about mine.  I’m what they call a high ”i” which should be renamed “Highest i” because mine was literally off the charts.  It looked like Everest had been dropped into central Illinois.  What does this mean?  Amongst other things, it means I thrive off of compliments, praise, and overall good cheer.  It also means I have an awful time dealing with conflict, critique, and anything with a hint of negativity directed towards me, because I immediately tend to equate it with failure.  I took that test in 1999, and while I still struggle with it occasionally, I’ve learned how to exercise self-control, not shut down when receiving correction, or even rebuke.  I’ve been at my current ministry almost five years, and if I would’ve gotten some of the “zingers” I received in 2010 in my first 12 months here, I’d have split (or had a meltdown).  I have (as do you) ZERO control over what someone thinks, does, or says regarding me.  I do, however, have 100% control over how I respond to such things (as do you).  So, in all grace and love, but truthfully…let it go.

“Better to have self-control than to conquer a city.” – Proverbs 17:32b (NLT)


hello again.

In Uncategorized on January 20, 2011 at 2:32 pm

theoretically i find blogs, articles and other long-form content much more interesting than facebook and a bit more interesting than twitter. however, it has been so long since i blogged that i had to reset my password before passing go. God give me the grace to bypass the expeditious for what i find more meaningful, beautiful and true.

quite a bit has happened since my last narcissistic exercise. i won’t bore you with the details here, but would like to let you know that i am transitioning out of my leadership role at the gathering in salem this month and over the past five months i have been participating in a social justice internship called leadboston.

transitioning out of the gathering has not been easy. everyone kellie and i have talked to – and i do mean everyone – has been overwhelmingly gracious about our decision to pull back from bi-vocational ministry and transition into a church community where we can continue to receive Word and Sacrament, encourage our children to grow in wisdom, stature and favor with both God and man, and plot our next move. we have benefited greatly from our time at the gathering and will look forward to continuing to serve as extended tribesmen by continuing to participate in the halloween mission, hosting the north shore emergent cohort at the gathering, etc.

the transition has been difficult because i am trying to cultivate a character that is marked as much by loyalty and commitment as it is by my contrarian bent. i have also been involved in leading or growing into leadership in christian communities ever since i got serious about the way of Jesus in 1996. i’ve never been a pew sitter and i am, i’ll admit it, a little terrified that choices like this are going to make me less of a preacher than a nonprofit middle manager. i have always been extremely reluctant to monetize my vocation, but, if i want to preach and participate in Word and Sacrament ministry on a regular basis, i’ll probably have to do that at some point in the years to come. we will see.

the leadboston experience that i mentioned previously has been very beneficial up to this point. leadboston is a cross-sector group of leaders that meets monthly to explore the need for and pursuit of social justice in boston. each month we have a topic like race and class in boston and we often meet onsite at innovative nonprofits like masschallenge, cultural institutions like the boston ballet or public facilities like the suffolk county house of corrections for the day.

yesterday we met at the latter location, took an extensive tour of the jail and wrapped the day up with a tour of the boston police department headquarters. i found it deeply affecting to visit the jail for a number of personal and social reasons. first, but for being a white, middle class guy with a bit of a calculating mind, i would have seen the inside of a jail before now. in my misspent youth i was charged for four misdemeanors that i committed but never was convicted for (and i’m not even counting the ridiculous charge of destroying public property by taking a piss on the side of a west virginia state highway) and, thanks to political connections, i was never even indicted for a fraternity prank turned felony that i was quite guilty of as well. my ability to bypass any real consequences for my illegal actions make me  feel particularly sensitive to the stories and needs of those – particularly young african-american and hispanic young men – who have had their careers and opportunities circumscribed by similar petty crimes.

second, as we walked through the jail, talked to the superintendent and his leadership staff – whose commitment to rehabilitation, clear compassion for the men and women under their care and quality of services was inspiring), met and crossed paths with the men and women inside – 80% of whom are african american or hispanic and 75% of which are incarcerated due to drug related crimes – i could not help but think about the apparently arbitrary way we determine which crimes are worthy of incarceration. for instance, there were hundreds of individuals in the suffolk county house of corrections because of heroin related crimes, but, apparently, precious few who were segregated from society due to their addiction to psychotropic perscription drugs that people of my class and race use, grow dependent upon and sometimes pop like they are candy. there were also a number of individuals who were being detained by immigrations and customs enforcement in preparation for their deportation, but there was not a special wing for the owners of the upper crust and other businesses who not only hire, but explicitly import undocumented immigrants in order to lower their bottom line. we also met and heard from an incarcerated woman who had been convicted of identity theft and related financial crimes, but i would bet all the money in my checking account (especially if it was my little personal account) that there was not a single mortgage broker who had lied about people’s income levels in order to secure another commission. later, at the boston police department, it quickly became clear that they are much more focused and effective at planning drug busts than they are at detecting the dishonest spreadsheets and guileless bank tactics that damn near collapsed our economy in 2008.

as a society we have incarceration rates that far surpass every other western country – including what we like to refer to as more “repressive” regimes like russia. i’m starting to suspect that exploring the crimes and the people that we consider worthy of incarceration can teach us a lot about our country.

those are some things i’m thinking about right now. i’m going to try and discipline myself to processing through some of these issues in this space rather than spending my time ridiculing utterly ignorant spectacles like american idle on facebook and twitter. thanks for hearing me out.

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