Archive for July, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Waiting is the Hardest Part: The Tree of Life

In Uncategorized on July 30, 2011 at 12:01 pm
Submitted By: Kevin Smith Clark
Three years.  Have you ever waited for something for three years?  We may wait five days for an Amazon order or nine months for a baby.  But in an age of Google, Skype, and “Have it Your Way,” who waits for anything?  But I remember reading it on the IMDB…The Tree of Life (2008) in production.  Terrence Malick, cinema’s most infamous recluse, the Salinger of Celluloid, the mind behind The Thin Red Line and one of my favorites, Days of Heaven, was at it again.  What was The Tree of Life?  “Who cares,” I thought, “it’s Malick, ergo, it’s going to be worth the wait.”  And because it was Malick, the wait was grueling.  2009 passed.  So did 2010.  No Tree of Life.  I kept checking in on it…I would wait for it.  Finally, it premiered at Cannes.  It won the Palme d’Or, the festival’s top prize.  It would premier in New York and LA in late May, and would go wide in early July.  I began to count the days, yet in the back of my mind, the realist said, “this won’t play Toledo…if you want Transformers 3 in any available format, including viewmaster, it’s yours.  But you’re foolish to think this will come your way.”

It didn’t.  It never showed.  Not even in Perrysburg, the alleged high-brow section of NWOhio.  So, I had to take to matters into my own hands…there was one last hope:  Ann Arbor.  Drive an hour plus to watch a film?  That’s silly.  Is it any sillier than driving six hours for a concert, or flying cross-country to see U2?  I’ve done both of those…this trip will be way cheaper.  Oh, Ann Arbor…like Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

So, last Thursday, I made my way up US 23 with two friends to see Malick’s latest offering.  When watching Malick, it’s important to watch with people you trust…people that won’t fidget in their seats, breathe heavy sighs of disdain, or stand up and walk out.  People who are patient.  The lights dimmed, and three years of waiting was over…

I won’t go into great detail about The Tree of Life, for I feel it is something to be experienced, not described.  It does involve a family in 1950s Texas, but like most Malick films (1973’s Badlands the exception), plot isn’t important.  It’s the moments that are important.  Isn’t that how we mostly live, in the moment?  We don’t say, “I’m in act two of my life,” or I’ve never heard anyone in their last days say, “well, here’s the denouement of my story.”  I will say this: if you’re raising children, had parents who grew up in the 1950s (like mine), dealt with immeasurable grief, asked tough questions of God or even demanded answers from Him, you should experience this.

The Tree of Life has drawn comparisons to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps because special effects guru Douglas Trumbull worked on both, and the way both directors use of classical music permeate each story.  I would contend The Tree of Life is warmer, more personable than Kubrick’s cold treatment of mankind (which is Kubrickian in nature), and easier to sit through (despite having almost identical running times).  Or maybe because, like 2001, this will polarize audiences.  You either love or hate…there is no “ah, it was alright.”

Over the past few years, I’ve become a big fan of what I call “Slow Burners.”  This can apply to any piece of art (film, music, etc.) that you don’t quite get initially, but you also can’t get it out of your head (for good reasons, not because it’s “Born This Way”).  And the more you listen, watch it, the better it gets.  You have to cook it for a long, long time.  Malick only makes slow burners…beautiful, deliberately-paced, Texas-sized, well-seasoned brisket-style slow burners.  I don’t lay awake in bed chewing on Bridesmaids or Deathly Hallows Part 2 (though I enjoyed both).  But The Tree of Life saturated my soul, left me unsettled (again, in a good way), and had me going back to “check the grill.”  I look forward to a second meal.*

The morning after my trip to Ann Arbor, I found myself sitting at the laptop, and for some strange reason, I searched the movie times in my area.  There it was: Levis Commons Theaters, Perrysburg, The Tree of Life showtimes…two weeks late.  But I’ll take experience over convenience.

*For those who are sick of the Hollywood formula, I highly recommend this article


Crazy Fear

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2011 at 2:00 am

Submitted By: Gentry

I was five years old, riding my big wheel towards the neighbor’s house – can’t remember their names but can remember the plastic walking paths that protected their shag carpet – when I was almost paralyzed by fear. Did I eat those fertilizer pellets or didn’t I? I didn’t remember eating the fertilizer, but I didn’t remember not eating them either. What I did remember was that my mother had told me not to eat the fertilizer because it was poison. I was terrified by my possible ingestion of the fertilizer in the same way I would later be terrified that I might, or might not have, taken my Grandmother’s medicine. Which, for the record, would also make me deathly ill.

I drunkenly struggled to sleep in a bunk slung from the ceiling. While part of me was trying to forget that every girl at the frat party had refused me, the other part was paralyzed by fear. Shit, I thought. If Jesus comes back tonight – and remember that preacher back home talked of a disappearing hitchhiker who reported that Gabriel’s lips were on the horn – then I’m screwed. Because of the night terrors as much as anything else, on many Sunday mornings I would get up, still half drunk, and go to church. Drinking four nights a week, studying my ass off for three, and stumbling through sermons wasn’t doing it for me so, against Slowfo’s better judgment, I went to Bible college. I said I wanted to attend for at least a year so that I could learn more about my faith. Maybe. Or maybe I was just terrified of condemnation I would incur if I continued my pursuit of becoming a lawyer with few ethical standards and an overactive, though easy to self-medicate, conscience.

I could go on.

Why do I over study biblical texts before preaching?

Why have I refused to consider paid ministry in a traditional church?

Why do I usually feel as though I’m offending God and/or violating some self-sanctioned, woefully fulfilled Nazarite vow every time I tip a drink?

Why does my heart fill with dread every time I see my ESV and realize that I am not constantly reading scripture and so placing myself in the intersection where I can be transformed by scriptural truth?

Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear. I’m beginning to realize how completely it has circumscribed my life.

Fear of God might be the beginning of wisdom, but I’m beginning to look and long for the perfect love that casts out fear. The servant can be useful and even held in high esteem. But at some level his role is shaped by his relationship to the master and his fear thereof.

Jesus was a servant, so I’m called to be a servant too. Yeah, I remember some of the farewell discourses in John 14-17 too. However, I also remember after that after the foot-washing, Jesus also calls his disciples friends.

At the time, the disciples were about to be so terrified by the cost and consequences of Jesus’ redemptive love that they would betray him. Yet Jesus still called them friends.

Later in John’s gospel, Peter the betrayer is brought to restoration through the question: Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?

By God’s grace, I long to echo Peter’s answer with a demonstrative YES! Lord you know that I love you. For that reason I will lean into the risk, sacrifice, thrill, suffering, unintended consequences and reward that lies ahead for the disciples who live in love.

By so doing, I hope to break the yoke that has constrained me since I was five years old.

Visionary? Entrepreneurial? Or just Greedy?

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Submitted By: Slowfo

In commercial real estate, I end up either working with coworkers or high level execs who consistently meeting make anywhere from $200,000 to $2,000,000 per year in steady income. Trust me, I’ve got nothing to brag about here as my income comes nowhere close to those numbers. Since I’m relatively new in the business though, it’s ingrained in all brokers that the guys who make that kind of money are “obviously doing it right.” In reality, the definition of “doing it right” is different for everyone. Not long ago, most would have probably said that Rupert Murdoch was “obviously doing it right” too. From an outsider’s perspective, good, entrepreneurial business men often just turn greedy and ego-centric…or more so than before and they are tempted to do more and more and bend the rules to increase their profits.

Does that also happen in the church? Maybe not for profits but maybe for putting butts in seats? If so, what does it look like? I sat in my church this morning and listened to a guest preacher start by sharing how he won the denomination’s 2010 Evangelism award. He boisterously shouted out his enthusiasm for having grown his church from 200 to 1600 with 800 new converts in between and name-dropped how blessed he’d been to have meetings with George Barna (well-known Christian author) to discuss such achievements.

He told of a soon-to-be-convert whose house he’d been called to because the man was currently having epileptic seizures with his eyes rolled in the back of his head. When he arrived at the house and saw the man who was still incapacitated and had lost control of his bowels, the minister could only think, “God, this is not a good deal for me.” He preached this story with such charm and charisma that most listeners just giggled about his reaction to the man writhing on the bathroom floor (really?).

He shared how evangelism at his church had allowed for the popularity of their church logo on t-shirts to be on the same level as the nearby major league sports teams. And you’ll never guess what verses from the Bible this painfully loud man used to inspire us all…….why, yes, it was the Prayer of Jabez, how did you know? He said he originally just had a dream for leading a mega church like Saddleback and Willow Creek but now he wanted a church with “biblical proportions! And so should you!”


As I’ve been investigating various Christian denominations in the recent past to figure out where my family and I best fit, one very valuable lesson I learned from the Orthodox Church is that Sunday mornings are not about the preaching. As a matter of fact, I think they could do away with the sermon for a week or two and no one would even notice. It’s about the Eucharist. It’s about being with God and experiencing His presence.

I’m not telling you anything you probably don’t already know. When do good, visionary church leaders turn into egocentric, greedy for fame and power businessmen? When it becomes more about the guy up front and less about being in God’s presence and with His people.

What say you Church? Have you seen your leaders be tempted towards accomplishment and fame rather than humble, genuine leadership? If so, what are we to do to challenge them on it when all they’ll say is that they’re just trying to be like the church in Acts 2?

Obsessing About My 1999 Honda

In Uncategorized on July 23, 2011 at 3:27 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

Don’t tell any prospective buyers, but our car is starting to go to shit. In addition to having to replace a side mirror – an unfortunately standard, New England winter, self-inflicted wound – we’ve had to replace an oxygen sensor, the catalytic converter, and a major hose over the last month. The latter part is the cheapest possible remedy to the infrequent and truly inconvenient stalling of our engine. If the hose doesn’t work, the cause is probably a difficult to detect electrical issue that will not only signal the end of our ’99 Honda, but will also compel us to trade the car in instead of selling it privately (and certainly pissing away vital resources in the process).

Since we know the ’99 is coming to an end, we’ve been looking at other cars, vans, and suv’s this week. We want something that seats six so that we can pick up our friend’s kids and our kid’s friends if need be, but we don’t want to go broke in the process. On the prideful side, I also don’t want to cut ‘em completely off by getting a mini-van.

Throughout this process, I’ve found myself on the verge of obsession about our next vehicle. Should we get a Toyota Highlander? If so, I don’t want one with the cooperative Hybrid drive. As dad would say, that’s just another thing to fix. I liked the Ford Freestyle and it’s renamed but virtually the same successor Taurus X. But the cheaper front end price results in a lower resale value and reduced durability. What about the Honda Pilot? We’ve had good experiences in the past, but can I justify spending $19K of a freaking suv?

This is not the first time I’ve obsessed about a potential purchase. I approached the long delayed purchase of an IPod – ended up with a 36 gig touch – and our new laptop – flirted with the mac, but wasn’t willing to pay a 66% premium over the Toshiba Satellite – as well.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a passionate proponent or frequent victim of retail therapy, but when I decide to buy something, the potential purchase often dominates my already limited cognitive space.

Why am I obsessed with an eventual purchase?

I’m starting to wonder if this obsession is a warped refraction of my calling to steward God’s creation. Since I’m not driven to plant and cultivate a garden or pursue shop class as soul craft, purchasing might be the passive, pitiful way that I try to express my agency and responsibility for creation. In my darkest, least reflective moments, maybe I am because I purchase, I am because I own, I am because my dining set defines me as a person.

I’ll probably never plant heirloom tomatoes, or be interested in conversations focused on them, or find satisfaction in being able to fit pipe to pipe in order to direct the flow of water and so responsibly dispense of my family’s waste. I don’t mean to denigrate those practices in any way. In fact, just this week when Preston decided to put an actual instead of metaphorical number 2 in the toilet and jammed up the works I wished I could have had as valuable a skill set – and the union wages of – as the plumber.

 But that’s not me. So in order to move beyond the trap of stewardship as shopping, I’ll have to keep trying to discipline mind and body to care for others by intentional accompaniment, provoking reflection and possibly encounter through the typed word, and skillfully working words and stories into doors that open into worlds where lives are not circumscribed by lonely, oversexed uncles and our days are not defined by purchases, but the investment of prayers, checking accounts, and listening ears in the broken but beautiful, half-whole yet potentially holy, lives of others. 

I’m Bipolar

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2011 at 2:37 am

Submitted By: Gentry

I often feel as though I’m strung between two poles.

The first pole is the Bible. I come from a tradition that is so Bible centric that people often claimed that “where the Bible speaks, we speak, and where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” I now think that profession, while well-intentioned, often ignores the dynamic trajectories of the Biblical narrative and unintentionally suggests that the Spirit who inspired it and fills us still is as dead as a doornail.

However, I still give the Bible primacy since it provides such a clear guide to the human brokenness and divine reconciliation that I see refracted throughout our lives. Although the books of scripture that speak to me vary significantly from season to season – Ecclesiastes for freshman year, Romans for senior, Genesis was for seminary, Proverbs for early marriage, the Psalms, Luke, and Philemon for now – and some parts have rarely spoken to me at all – I’m looking at you Revelation – I still long for my story to be shaped by and to understand my community through scripture.

The second pole is the edge and the other. I’d love to say that my orientation towards the outside edge, where I often encounter or at least look for the disabled, poor, trafficked, or widowed is inspired by a catena of scripture verses. I wish I could sex things up by saying that this pole stretches me into the prophetic or tell you that in the dandruff flaked head of the other I truly see Jesus. But I suspect that the reason for my orientation is simpler than that. Whether on account of adoption, fragmented idealism, inherent distrust of institutions, I simply feel more comfortable on the margins.

A recent example of this distrust was how I tried to distinguish myself from the noble intentions and social power of my LeadBoston group on orientation day by letting them know that I found my way into my current work not through principled conviction but an alleged felony. My orientation towards countering communal understanding was also on full display when, as a college senior, I tried to help lead an interdisciplinary consideration of the American Dream. Beyond being an abstract concept I had trouble wrapping my 22-year-old head around, I found it hard to speak to the American Dream because I had no plans of living it and really didn’t feel like a part of it. In regards to the latter presentation, if  I’d had the wit of an artist like Nathan Hall, I would have snarked the text on the flag draped work of art he displayed in the chapel around that time: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for those who can afford it.” Perhaps that text would have saved me from one of my only collegiate “Bs.”

If the Bible is the vertical pole then the edge/outsider is the horizontal, and almost every day I feel stretched, strung up and scratched out between those extremes. In the moments when an issue, such as homosexuality, becomes so much more than an issue – as when the Torah/Apostle Paul’s condemnation of homosexual practice is viscerally countered by my noble, beautiful, trustworthy, and true brothers and sisters whose identity is shaped in part by that very practice, I feel quartered and stretched to an inch thin.

Lately, I’ve been trying to reframe or at least think about those terrible moments when I’m strung between the proclamation of scripture and an encounter with the beloved other as a rupture. When I feel the rupture I’ve started begging for the Holy Spirit. In the midst of my pleading I wince at the thought of being unfaithful to scripture, am horrified by the potential separation from a brother or sister, wrestle with the potential fidelity of betrayal, and desperately strain to hear the whispered name, Israel.

Walking Together, Encountering the Other

In Uncategorized on July 11, 2011 at 1:19 am

Submitted By: Gentry

On the mountain as fog curled over the ridge I couldn’t help but think about the kol Yahweh. I thought about it all the more when 65 mile an hour winds turned us into human sails on the auto road shortcut and Nelson Crag trail.

Shortly before, walking the stream and stepping over the twisted roots beside Psalm 19 burst into my mind – the heavens declare the glory of God. Day after day they pour forth speech. Night after night they display knowledge.

On the mountain, the transcendence/otherness of God was on full display. As Rhys said, experiences like this remind us very quickly of our place in the natural order. As we struggled forth I kept thinking about my life as a contingent proposition.

It seems to me that while the transcendence of God is fully displayed on the mountain, the immanence/inward presence of God is more of a focal point in the city. As I walk with the kids from Judson Street to the Beverly Library or as I stop at Chinatown for a meeting at the Nonprofit Center I am, quite often, still thinking about God, but my thoughts are often framed as a question, a pursuit of personal salvation, or intellectual probing about a personal moral question. As I succumb to the temptation of Starbucks – or, if I’m lucky, Equal Exchange – I often approach God as a problem and address him as an ancestral conception of authority that is threatening to reshape my life around scriptures or control my life with guilt.

On the mountain I do not approach God with questions, but with awe. On the face of Huntington Ravine, I encounter God once again as the holy other, the majestic creator, the one who has forced up this mountain, called forth these driving winds, and is setting me straight about my place in this world.*

As we struggled up the mountain, I mentioned to Rhys that I was starting to question how much the urbanization that started to take root in the industrial revolution influenced Christian theology’s elevation of God’s immanence in the 19th century. That’s an academic question that might be worthy of a master’s level church survey paper.

However, as I reflect on our conversation, I’ve realized that my theology question is far less important than remembering the transcendence we encountered upon the mountain. Moreover, moving forward I long to cultivate an awe that far outstrips, while not invalidating, my questions about and evolving conceptions of a God whom I only know in (infinitesimally small) part.


* Horrific musical connection not intended.

Positive Models of Repentance

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Submitted By: Gentry

Prompted by the reminders of the Pixie, who regularly challenges me to move from deconstruction to construction, as well as the recent Homebrewed Podcast with Mark Scandrette where he challenges folks in the emergent conversation to identify and live positive spiritual practices rather than simply critiquing the practices of the past – such as rededication – I would like to identify a few positive models of repentance I have stumbled across.

The first is the culture of “push-back” that I have heard of and occasionally seen modeled by friends in the New Thing Network. The pastors and leaders of these churches constantly collaborate on their sermons, social justice and outreach initiatives. One of the ways that these leaders ensure excellence in their activities is by welcoming and providing critique, challenge, and questions. If your mission is important enough – such as “helping people find their way back to God” – then critique is not a hindrance or personal offense, but fuel that helps effectively address barriers and pursue the work you were called to do. For my part, I’ve often provided far more push-back than commendation of my dear friends – I’m looking at you Jackaway and Montsie – who are a part of New Thing. I appreciate their openness to my critiques – eagerly welcome theirs – and would like to publicly affirm the vitality and beauty of their ministries at Restore Christian Church and IKON.

The second model for repentance that I’ve stumbled across is in Doug Hall’s remarkable new book The Cat and the Toaster. For over 40 years Doug and his wife Judy have helped lead the Emanuel Gospel Center in Boston’s South End. In the midst of his ministry Doug encountered the social science discipline of systems thinking that was initiated by thinkers like Jay W. Forrester and Peter Senge at M.I.T. As Doug began to look at his South End neighborhood as an organic system, tracing the inputs, outputs, and interrelated factors in his local culture, he realized that many Christian initiatives for church renewal or social justice ended up having unintended negative consequences* that far exceeded the growth or progress that was initially sought.

In the midst of his introduction to living systems ministry in the church, Doug challenges church leaders to not only realize the unintended negative consequences of their well-intentioned actions, but to also “confess and repent from the wrong thinking that got us there” (137). By confessing the wrong thinking that often derails well-intentioned action – such as how I often spent so much time studying and pondering the interrelation of Greek words in the text that I had little time/cognitive space for listening to the stories of fellow believers so that I could identify the revelatory intersection between biblical truth and their lives; or when I assumed that I knew the nature of pastoral support people needed instead of simply asking them what kind of friendship, accompaniment or accountability would be helpful – we can receive the forgiveness of God for our failures and address our ineffectiveness at the root instead of vainly trying to identify the healthy flesh remaining on an almost completely rotten fruit.

Since reading Doug’s words I’ve been trying to identify my incorrect or unhealthy thinking – which he says AA calls “stinkin’ thinkin” – by journaling, discussion, and prayer, so that I can be a more effective reconciler and individually and communally live in a more full sense of God’s peace.

The third model that has inspired me was the Epic Fail Church Planting Conference that was held last April in the Walnut Bar & Grill in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.** I haven’t attended a Christian conference since Theooze’s Soularize in 2001, but if I had the time and the cash I definitely would have crashed this gathering. Instead of elevating model after model of church planting success – which can rarely be replicated by the eager and/or desperate pastors in attendance – this conference had the potential to be the ultimate laboratory for diagnosing incorrect thinking, confessing the unintended consequences of well-intentioned actions, and joining with like-minded strugglers to confess failure, repent of ineffective approaches and prayerfully await what the Spirit would do next. If they have this conference again next year, I’ll have a tough time deciding whether to attend it or the Wild Goose Festival.

There’s probably more to be said about these models of repentance, but I’ve got to get off my ass and act like a parent. I’d love to hear about practices that you’ve found helpful or reflections you have about the models above.

* I was first introduced to the idea of unintended social consequences by Rick Bennett, who I suspect learned the term, or at least developed an enhanced understanding of this reality, at the foot of Doug Hall.

** Maybe they can have next year’s conference in the soon to be foreclosed upon Crystal Cathedral in California.

A Recovering Addict Questions the Practice of Rededication

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Submitted By: Gentry  

On a sticky Oklahoma night, just before the lock-in started, a Freewill Baptist preacher stood at the pulpit, accusing, and hoping to convict us, of sin. As he spoke in escalating tones about our disobedience, I could all but feel the fires of hell licking at my feet. When the altar call came, he not only challenged people to make a personal confession that Christ was their Lord and Savior, but he challenged the unrepentant to rededicate their lives to Jesus. Although I wasn’t a member of his church, and my friends looked a little askance at my response, I quickly went forward to rededicate my life.

In an industrially air-conditioned gym at Western State University in Colorado, we worshipped God for hours on end. Although personally disgusted with the songs that included choreographed hand motions – I’m looking at you “Lord I Lift Your Name on High!” – during the quieter moments I was fixated on the joint between the ceiling and the wall just to the left of midcourt. It was there that I was convinced that Jesus was going to appear, riding on a white steed, tattoo scrawled across his leg, and a double edged sword of symbolism (I did not yet understand) rolling out of his mouth like a rollercoaster leaving the station. I was transfixed with hope and fear as I awaited Christ’s revelation, and when the Christian Church youth minister challenged all of the gym rats for Jesus to rededicate our lives, I damn near ran down the aisle. After the emotional rededication, which I think was my fifth, I ran into a girl I had been pursuing all week and who I later worked beside as we greedily worked to unravel our sacred commitments. But that’s another story for another day.

Whether I was at a Baptist lock-in, a CIY conference, or a Dawson McAllister weekend at Oral Roberts University, I was a sucker for the carefully programmed conviction and emotional rededications that served as a crescendo for these gatherings. In the buckle of the Bible Belt, almost every kid has been dunked into the death of Jesus and raised to applause and, if they’re lucky, a pizza buffet by the age of 9. For this reason, altar call cries for conversion at these events, no matter how skillfully executed, would produce paltry results. Thus, the majority of kids streaming forth at these events in hopes of beating the alarm on Dawson McAllister’s Decision Clock are rededicating their lives to Jesus. Like Jonas Nightingale before them, these kids have not only “been mistreated,” but “they’ve lied and they’ve cheated.” So they line up in hopes that Christ will settle the score before the last day comes.

I hadn’t thought about my addiction to rededication – which I kicked by the age of 19 – until the last week or two. A friend posted on Facebook that of his 10 kids attending CIY all 10 had made decisions. He stated that 4 dedicated their lives to fulltime Christian service – a commitment I also find odd because I am not aware that there is another type of acceptable service for any disciple of Jesus – and 1 made the decision to be baptized. Although he doesn’t mention the nature of the remaining 5 decisions, I’d bet my bottom dollar that they were rededications, since in those settings that’s usually the only other option available.

A couple of days after I saw the post, I talked to Raymond about an awkward encounter he had with the visiting team from a local Southern Baptist Church. His beautiful wife, who also happens to be one of my 8 favorite cousins, had filled out a visitor’s card on their first or second stop at this local “community church.” As a result they were automatically put in queue for an evangelism team to visit their new house. Although they were so new to their house that they hadn’t even brought their couch in from the garage, the welcome team stood, physically stood, for more than an hour in their house in an attempt to diagnose their salvation by running through the evangelism explosion script that includes such penetrating questions as “if you were hit by a bus and died tonight, what would you say before your Lord and Savior?” Although Raymond answered beautifully by stating that he would simply quote John 3:16 and say that his sole hope was in Jesus, the persistent visitors kept pushing for a conversion or at least a rededication. I have little doubt the guy – had to be a guy, didn’t it? – who led the evangelism team recounted their epic encounter the next Sunday morning via prayer request or Sunday School report.

Since I’m from a tradition that claims to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” and hail from a region tied by the Bible belt, I find this practice of rededication mystifying.

If you search the Christian scriptures, even in a cursory manner as I have, you’ll realize that there are no instructions for individuals to emotionally rededicate their lives to Jesus. There are instances of corporate repentance in places like Ezra 10 where all the men of Israel confess they have whored after foreign women and their gods and Nehemiah 9 when the body of Israel stands convicted of their failure to fulfill Torah, but there are no instances of individuals shoring up their salvation in response to one of Paul’s sermons. The closest instance I can think of to today’s practice of rededication is the people’s response to the ministry of John the Baptist, but that was a ministry of repentance and baptism that was focused on the impending revelation of the Messiah, not a ministry that focused on emotional experience as a means of discipleship maintenance.

Instead of the practice of individual rededication in the NT Christians are charged to regularly “confess our sins to one another, so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Moreover, on a regular, if not daily basis, Jesus invited us to ask the Father’s forgiveness as we extend forgiveness to others that have wronged us (Matthew 5:12). In other instances, such as the letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2, a whole congregation is called to repent and return to their first love that was presumably focused on both Jesus and the wellbeing of others.

The giving and receiving of confession. The affirmation of God’s forgiveness to one another. The collective repentance of the brokenness, myopia, and indifference of the church body. The Christian church is clearly called to these practices.

Yet we focus many of our ministries, especially those offered to our youth, on emotional rededications to Jesus and peer pressure influenced commitments to the persistent, sacrificial service that is a building block of every believer’s DNA.

So why did the practice of rededication and its inclusion in many evangelical and revivalist ministries develop? My hunch is that it developed as a metric of ministerial effectiveness. Thousands of people give millions of dollars each year to support ministries like CIY or Christian summer camps that are in many respects commendable. Because these significant inputs of cash and the untold thousands of volunteer and pastoral hours dedicated to these activities, those involved want clear benchmarks of its success.

Since many if not most of the attendees of these conferences have already been converted and are considered born again, we need additional outputs to validate the efficacy of this work. Thus, we have introduced innovations into worship such as rededication and commitments to fulltime Christian service, in order to validate a spiritual return on investment (SROI).

I have no doubt that these innovations were introduced by well-meaning people who wanted nothing more than to see more people follow the radical way of Jesus. However, I think that the biblical practice of ongoing person-to-person confession, the fulfillment of Jesus’ commission to embody and extend the forgiveness of God (John 20), and Spirit convicted congregational repentance are much more valuable practices that the Spirit will regularly use to produce good fruit in the lives of believers, the congregation, and our communities.

Lord knows my commitment to the radical way of Jesus regularly flags. I cut with words intended not to build up, but to destroy. The good I should do I don’t do. I am more receptive to lust than obedient to the law of love.

Because of the extent of my/your/our brokenness as well as the unrelenting efficacy of God’s grace, I pray that we who have chosen to follow Jesus will persistently practice personal and corporate repentance and confession so that we may be healed and become agents of healing in this world.

Although the daily metrics of our repentance and confession won’t be as impressive as the SROI produced by a week of CIY, I trust that these daily practices will ultimately have an exponentially larger impact on our lives and world.

%d bloggers like this: