(The rest of this post is about the church, and sex, and stuff. The pic at left is to make your kids think you're looking at a lengthy post regarding dogs who balance cups and saucers. Which, come to think of it, may make for a better post, but I didn't know what else to say except, "Cool, here's a dog that balances cups and saucers." but the picture already kinda gets at that. Yep. Thank you.)
I got a kick out of the responses to the "30 Day Challenge" thing. I thought the challenge kind of a bad idea. May make you "relevant" -- we all want to relevant, by golly -- but isn't it kinda awkward, on a few levels? I was thinking that.
(BTW: I was at a Christian-themed singles event last night, with hundreds turning out, at the Improv. It should have occured to me, on stage, to issue a "1 Year Challenge": "I sexually challenge my sexy married self to enjoy some very sexual sex five times a day for the next year. And I challenge you single people to not do anything. Cool? Cool.")
Anyway, I got some fun objections to my hesitation about the attempt at "relevance" via comments and email: "But the church has to talk about sex, and...but we shouldn't act like sex is gross and...but we can't stick our heads in the sand," etc.
But this points out a problem, doesn't it? Nowhere did I write, or intimate, that the church shouldn't address sexuality. Nowhere. But it's presumed, in some quarters, that addressing sexuality means having some guy in a pulpit talk about sex to everyone, en masse, right before everyone leaves to go to the Golden Corral.
Er...why? And what does it say that people think this is themeans of teaching?
We can't fathom other ways to teach? Are we this limited? We can't, in our rich imaginations, possibly envision any other way? Teaching = a guy doing an oratory on Sunday morning? You really think that's the best place the church can teach about sex?
Obviously, the church has to teach about sex. And I'm all about that, mister. Heck -- and, let's face it, I really meant "hell", there -- for me, once a day for a month seems like a lowly goal, to be honest. Make it 100 times for the month, and we're talking. How about them apples, chump? This here hunka accordion-playing love makes Mark Driscoll look like Richard Simmons. Yessir.
So never for a moment did I think protesting the all-church, from-the-pulpit Sex Challenge, as bad idea would be taken to mean that the church shouldn't deal with sex. But perhaps I should have.
I was just thinkin' maybe...I don't know...maybe other people could do it. In other venues. Our group of guys takes our teenage guys out for dinner on their birthday, and sits around them, out on the back porch, and advises them very, very frankly on sex, porn, and how to treat women. It's just guys, challenging each other, talking about their own traps, their own failures and successes, telling the younger ones (and each other) how great and perilous this gift is.
Seems fair, to me. And more than appropriate, too. It involves sustained relationships. It teaches not only about sex, but how it's not strange to talk to older men about it. It teaches not only about sex, but how other guys let Jesus actually matter in their most vulnerable places. It teaches not only about sex, but about how these young men are to be the church, and not leave it to the paid guy.
Yes, the men in our country, and our churches, are porn-soaked, and yes, we better talk about it. Perhaps we could find ways of talking sex that don't involve everyone, en masse, in the sanctuary on Sunday morning, from a guy not everyone can really know, and can't know them...? Maybe...?
And perhaps -- let's be honest here -- it's MORE dangerous to "deal" with the issue that way, because you may not have really "dealt" with anything...except your need to feel relevant.
...was pretty messed. Maybe in different ways -- fresh, excitingly messed ways -- but definitely: messed.
I grew up in a church that proudly said it wanted to be a New Testament Church. It couldn't quite pull it off. Truth is, none of us REALLY wanted to do it. We didn't have the stomach for it. And I don't blame us.
I'm reading Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity. He's my favorite historian, edging out Jacques Barzun. (That Johnson is "my favorite historian" should tell you a couple things: First, Johnson offers incisive analysis in addition to respect for the proper role of the historian, and, second, I had no dates in high school.) You should read it.
People ask me a lot, "Where do you go to church?" and I don't have a real good answer yet. I start to say something about, "Well, we have a community of friends that..." and then they say, "Oh, a home church!" and then offer something nice like, "Yeah, you know, that's the way the early church did it, so there's something to that, I suppose, and..."
Thing is, I don't care about Home Church (TM) really. It's not about the house. Moreeover, I don't really want to re-create the early church, either. We can't. And that's fine. Johnson's account of it will make you a little queasy.
Paul Johnson is a Catholic, it should be pointed out, and one who takes his Catholicism very seriously. Nonetheless, he doesn't try the ol' "Look, the hierarchy was in place from the start," trick. He completely discounts, historically, any idea of true "apostolic succession." It just wasn't happenin'. Instead, we get stuff like this:
"(The Pauline gospel) stood a good chance of surviving and spreading. But it had no organization behind it. Paul did not believe in such a thing. He believed in the Spirit, working through him and others. Why should man regulate when the Spirit would do it for him? And of course he did not want a fixed system with rules and prohibitions...The Church was an inversion of normal society. Its leaders exercised their authority through gifts of the Spirit, not through office...Worship was still completely unorganized and subject to no special control. There was no specific organization to handle funds. And there was no distinction between a clerical class, and laity...Clerical control seemed needless and inappropriate. And the atmosphere in the Pauline churches was reproduced elsewhere, in a rapidly spreading movement."
Johnson says "there were numerous varieties of Christianity, which had little in common, though they centered round belief in the resurrection...Each Church had its own 'Jesus story'..." and no one was making things orderly-like. Paul was getting his way, and his way was a big, uncontrolled, mess.
Me, I love watching order come from chaos. Like from the top of this very small desk, for instance, which currently holds books, receipts, a wheat bread wrapper, CD's, Elmer's Glue, a remote, a guitar pick, glasses, a Curious George hat, a "cassette tape", a newspaper "Salute to Illinois Football", pieces of granola, and here's some hair.
But not everyone's that way, and would prefer order come from...order. And that's perfectly understandable if you're that way, we're all created different, we should celebrate our diversity, and honestly, it's perfectly okay if you have to keep your desk clean, like Hitler did.
We all like our theological trains running on time. Funny thing is: Humans have tried steering the Church, and the Holy Spirit, for some time now, and I'm not sure the result of our orderly attempts at order haven't been chaos.
Anyway, my point is: We shouldn't replicate the early church. What should we be doing, then? I submit, humbly: We love Jesus with everything we have, study him, and love our neighbors, and stay open to what that might look like in our neighborhoods, our workplaces, our cultures, our contexts.
It may turn out that what the best way to be a Jesus movement in your context is by starting a fund drive for a big tract of land, building a multi-million-dollar edifice, and paying someone to talk at everybody, lecture style, in a big theater-type thing at 10 and 11:30 Sunday mornings. But maybe not. My guess? Probably not. But maybe.
By the way, if you think blogs are rough-and-tumble, read about the "Church Fathers" sometime. They blasted each other. Stuff like one bishop saying he was glad another bishop was dead, except he felt sorry for the people in Hell who would have to hear that guy's preaching -- stuff like that. Tertullian blasted some heretics, then joined them.
At least we have Origen: A brilliant, thoughtful man who wrote foundational commentary on scripture. He took it seriously, too. And I'm pretty sure about that, because when he read Matthew 19:12, he up and castrated himself.
I've read that passage before, but have not done that yet.
You can try to be the first century church, but you'll fail, because you're not in first century Corinth right now. (Or, if you are, tell that one guy to quit messing around with his stepmom, and take the "30 day singles challenge".) Point is, my neighbors, co-workers, family, and friends don't need me to be a first century anything. They need me to take Jesus seriously, and they want to see people take Jesus seriously, together.
And they don't need to hear me go on about how much I enjoy the trappings of tradition, either. I do love incense and liturgy, by the way, and beautiful cathedrals give me chills. But they do need me to take Jesus seriously, and they want to see people take Jesus seriously, together.
The first century church was a mess, and we can't replicate it. I won't quote Tolstoy here, but could: Messes take many forms. We have our own particular version here in Jupiter, Florida, in the 21st century. I do take solace from this, though: When God is given control of the mess, big things happen. They did then, and they do now.
I don't know what to say about this whole thing. Other than it strikes me as a little creepy.
It's not creepy that "God wants (me) to have a great sex life": It's creepy that Pastor Wirth in Tampa wants me to have a great sex life.
No -- wait: What's creepy is I don't know Pastor Wirth, and now, I'm thinking about Pastor Wirth's sex life.
You see, I believe 1) There is a God, 2) God may want Pastor Wirth to have a great sex life, and 3) God doesn't really want me thinknig about it, because, 4) God cries when I throw up.
I've heard it before: "Well, God created sex, so, obviously, we can talk about it, in frank terms, during an oration in front of a large crowd of worshipers."
God made our rear-ends, too, but -- thankfully, at least in irrelevant churches -- the pastor keeps his covered. Turns out, God made everything, but there are times, and places, for everything. That's why some of us aren't comfortable with, say, a couple -- even a married one! -- making out in the pew in front of us during the next Tomlin song. Let's agree, sex is the most fun thing to do, ever, but "How Great is Your Bod" may not be appropriate for the worship set just yet.
What's more, if I went to "Relevant Church", I wouldn't want to be looking around the room, wondering who's taking the 30-day challenge, and who isn't. What about Gladys and Myron, in row 14, over there? I've noticed they drive a smokin' Ford Taurus.
Come to think of it, I don't want Myron wondering about me, and I don't want to think about whether Myron is wondering if Gladys is wondering about Pastor Wirth.
And let's admit, having a Pastor say, "God and I want you to have great sex!!!" is tantamount to your uncle, looking in the living room at you and your teen friends, and saying, "You guys are just having too much fun in here!!!"
Yeah. We were. Until you said that.
So, after full consideration regarding this outreach program: Ew. If this is relevance, I'll take ignorance.
I'm going to take a stand on a question posed to me, regarding the Muslim Jesus-follower I wrote about a couple posts down:
Is he going to heaven or hell?
I will now answer this definitively, in plain terms, so that there is no lingering question about where I stand on this. This is a black-and-white issue, and deserves a plain-speaking, informed response.
So let there be no confusion, and let me speak, openly and boldly, full of truth, with absolute, crystal-clarity. Let the stand I take be unmistakable:
So they have all these really bright people, who've written books, made something of their lives, etc., and they're all on shapevine.com.
And it's a pretty awesome site. You should register and join and learn and have fun and video-email people and everything. Too cool. And FREE!
It will be a matter of no small amount of scholarly consternation how I wound up getting invited to the party. I'm the only one on there who hasn't actually, you know, accomplished anything.
My first "Live from Kamp Krusty" webcast thing will be Thursday at 4 ET. I'm really excited about it.
Make no mistake: It will be an unmitigated disaster. But please join us, so that you can explain, to authorities, what actually happened, as an actual participant, before the whole thing is yellow-taped off.
It will be fun! Bring your webcam, if you've got one, so I can meet you! Or not! How cool is that? We can kick it together, no matter where you are!
So, last week, we met this big-time diplomat feller.
He's considered a leading expert in the U.S. on Islamic leadership, and he's involved in middle east peace efforts with Tony Hall. He travels around Iraq with bodyguards, a motorcade, and helicopters overhead. He's won big-time medals for big-time whatever stuff. He's got degrees from everywhere, blah blah blah. Neat. His name is Dr. Monsieur...something.
A group of us from Florida sat in a hotel suite, and he told us about an interaction he'd had a few years ago with a man who told him he should follow Jesus. Dr. Monsieur Something thought about it, and decided to do just that.
It changed his life. Drastically. He studies Jesus, and tries to emulate Jesus, and wants to be revolutionary in peacemaking, like Jesus.
He's learning to love his neighbor, and love his enemies, and even forgive them. Because Jesus said to do so.
He says he believes that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He identifies himself readily as a Jesus-follower.
...and a Muslim. And that's when my head blew up.
He's from Lebanon, grew up Muslim, and hasn't repudiated his Islam. I respectfully asked him about this ("Can you synthesize Jesus's behavior and teachings with Muhammed's?") and wasn't satisfied with his answer.
Yet, as I say, and I'm a skeptical sort: He seemed genuine, truly committed to following Jesus, and convinced that Jesus was calling him to a life of radical servanthood, and he'd had a drastic change of heart regarding his enemies. He talked about how he'd had to struggle, then forgive those with debts against him. And he told them why. He follows Jesus.
Honestly? I think he holds beliefs that are in stark contradiction. I needn't enumerate them. Truth is, all of us do that, on a lot of things, but the whole thing sure made my head spin...
Why does this Muslim seem to understand the radical nature of following Jesus, when so many Christians don't?
Is there a reason I feel like I have to pronounce final judgment on this guy's ultimate status before God, as if it were up to me?
Is Jesus more pleased with a theologically-messed person who actually does the things he says, or someone who's got the right answers, but doesn't follow?
Carolyn, my brilliant wife, mentioned something about that time Jesus told the story of the two brothers. One said he'd do the farm-work, and then didn't, and the other said he wouldn't, but then did do it -- or something like that. And Jesus was more pleased with the guy with the wrong answer and the right action. I don't know if this is what Jesus was talking about.
There's a classic question: What about those who never hear about Jesus...? But now I've got another one. What about those who don't like Christianity, have a conflicting cultural/religious identity, but actually put Jesus in charge of their lives?
And, again, why do I feel like I have to figure everything out? What accounts for that?
My head hurt. Couldn't...process...new...thoughts...so while he was talking, I ate some of those mini-candy bars they left on the coffee table. I like the Krackel ones with the rice in the chocolate. I remembered someone suggested one time that I should make rice and put a bar of chocolate in the rice-cooker, too, and I thought that would taste pretty good, like Krackel, I thought. Maybe.
Because there's nothing more fun than forcing people to look at your own photo albums, here's an online version.
I can't force you to look at it. I can't even force myself to think you'd want to. But here it is.
Oh, the places you'll go!