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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Questioning Doubt

Ok, so I know I'm on hiatus, but this is worth sharing.

In a recent interview with Christianity Today, Tim Keller, author of The Reason for God tackles a great question: If our faith is culturally conditioned, what about our doubts? And if our doubts are just as much a product of our society as our beliefs, then shouldn't we be skeptical of those too? Wouldn't they be equally worthy of critical self-examination?

It's your society that gives you the doubts. If you go to the Middle East and ask people what makes Christianity implausible, they're not going to say, "Because there can't be one true religion." They're going to say, "Because of how oppressive America has been as a Christian nation, and if you look at their culture, it's lascivious and debauched."

If you ask Americans, "What makes Christianity implausible to you?" they're not going to say, "Your popular culture is filled with sex and violence." They will say, "How could there be one true religion?"

You can read the whole thing here. This is a nice short introduction to Keller, who is a great touchstone for anyone who values thinking critically about our own culture assumptions.

If you like his responses here, you'll probably enjoy his book (whether or not you're a follower of Jesus). Thoughts? Comments?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Seeing as it's the new year and all, I thought I might as well make official something that most of you probably figured out a while ago - this blog is hibernating.

Looking back over the last year or two, there's been less and less posting, mostly because all my time and energy is going into the Missoula Project.

Of course, this doesn't mean I won't start posting here again at some point in the future, but for now, my energy is going elsewhere. So feel free to browse the archives for past material, but don't expect much new on this site for the time being...

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Johnny Cash - Hurt

So this is a couple of years old, but it's really worth a listen. I like Johnny Cash more and more these days...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Are Mormon's Christian?

Since we've talked about Mormonism here in the past, I thought I'd pass this along as well. Al Mohler is having an ongoing conversation (HT: JT) with Orson Scott Card on whether Mormons are right in calling themselves Christians, and he makes several good points, in my opinion:
When I asked, “Are Mormons ‘Christians’ as defined by traditional Christian orthodoxy?,” I was stating the question exactly as it was put to me. The words “as defined by traditional Christian orthodoxy” were part of my assignment, not my imposition.

...With the question structured that way, the answer is clear and unassailable – Mormonism is not Christianity. When the question is framed this way, Mr. Card and I actually agree, as his essay makes clear.

In his words, “I am also happy to agree with him that when one compares our understanding of the nature of God and Christ, we categorically disagree with almost every statement in the “historic creeds and doctrinal affirmations” he refers to.”

Mr. Card would prefer that the question be put differently. I understand his concern, and if I were a Mormon I would share that concern and would try to define Christianity in some way other than traditional Christian orthodoxy. The reason is simple – traditional Christian orthodoxy and Mormon theology are utterly incompatible.

Mr. Card is gracious, even when suggesting that I misinterpret the Book of Mormon. He even suggests that I have not read it. The fact is that I have, and I have even studied Mormon theology in the course of my graduate studies. Reading the Book of Mormon was a fascinating experience. Nevertheless, if I were a Mormon arguing that Mormonism is Christianity, I would be very reluctant to suggest that those I am seeking to persuade should read the Book of Mormon. Nothing will more quickly reveal the distance between Mormon theology and historic Christianity.

Mormonism uses the language of Christian theology and makes many references to Christ. Mr. Card wants to define Christianity in a most minimal way, theologically speaking. If I were arguing the other side of this question, I would attempt the same. But Christianity has never been defined in terms of merely thinking well of Jesus. Mormonism claims to affirm the New Testament teachings about Jesus, but actually presents a very different Jesus from the onset. A reading of Mormonism’s authoritative documents makes this clear.

(It's worth reading the whole thing.)
One additional thought - I really appreciate Mohler's tone: gracious and sincere, even when he disagrees. We need more conversation, not less, and that means we're going to have to learn to dialogue with people who think differently than we do. Mohler's a great example, IMHO, and kudos to him (and to anyone, for that matter), who can write/speak in this way.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Dreaming of Satan

I saw Satan last night, but he was a woman and he looked even better than my wife. It was a little weird. And scary. Because I easily could have kissed him, especially when he cried. It's a good thing it was only a dream.

This was one of those really bizarre dreams, as far as dreams go - not the "whoa, God just spoke to me" kind of thing, but more along the lines of "whoa, where the heck did THAT come from?" I mean, I know I got up way too early (4:15 AM, to take the kids fishing), and then I stayed up way too late (1 AM, to watch the fireworks), but I had a nap in between and everything. Maybe it was the salmon that our new friend Mitt cooked us for dinner...

One of the stranger things about this dream was that it unfolded like a screen play, where I was both the author and the lead, and things kind of got rewound and rewritten without warning. Here's what I remember.

It's a dark and stormy night. Thunder flashes in the distance. Rain clouds loom ominously overhead. The small band of road-weary travelers makes their way along the narrow path, mountain on the one side, chasm on the other. The whole scene seems right out of the Hobbit. And suddenly, aaaahhhh - it's SATAN HIMSELF, ROARING LIKE A BALROG, "YOU CANNOT PASS!!!!" (I know, that's Gandalf's line, but its my dream, so cut me some slack). The point is, it's one of those freaky moments in the movie where we all recoil in terror. In this case, panic ensues as we all wet ourselves and then jump shrieking to our deaths. So much for a happy ending.

Then, suddenly - ziiiiiiiip! (stereotypical rewind sound) - the scene undoes itself and we are half-way up the cliff again, only this time we are met by the beautiful woman I mentioned earlier. She has voluptuous breasts, a low cut shirt, and she looks like like a frightened young woman who wants me to hold her.

I'd really like to kiss her now, to feel her lips on mine while I run my hand tenderly up her back. Instead I utter my lines stoically, "You must let us pass. We are on our way to see God."

"I can't." She starts to cry those little-daughter tears that just melt your heart. "I cannot let you go on, because God cannot be found. I know because I have tried. Only if you tell me how to find God, only then will I let you pass."

She speaks with such heartfelt empathy, God must not be there. I have no idea what to say, but since I'm a pastor, I feel like I have to say something. So I mutter something silly. Or stupid. Or maybe both. Details are fuzzy; the only part that is staggeringly clear is the realization that for me, God is far too abstract, far too far off. She, on the other hand, is way more convincing than we are - her tears are genuine; she knows that of which she speaks.

Clarity returns when a new voice beside me speaks, quiet yet confident: "I know where to find God, and I know what to do when you meet him - you kick his ass."

(I realize that doesn't quite seem to follow what she said - it's answering the 'what' not the 'where' - but that's what happened, and it made for a nice dramatic moment in the screenplay of my dreams, so let's just run with it, shall we?).

I turn to see the speaker, only to discover my fifteen year old son. I'm more than a little shocked to hear such language from him (perhaps I hear too much of myself in those words?) but I am pleased nonetheless. He is speaking with conviction, lovingly even, as a boy-becoming-a-man, little David staring down Goliath, oblivious to her breasts because he sees beyond them to something better.

There is a tear rolling down his face, and fear aplenty, but nevertheless, here is Samwise the Stout, staring down Shelob. And when he speaks of kicking God's ass, he says it as a loyal soldier, as a longing lover, as Jacob-renamed-Israel limping out of the sunrise, as someone who has encountered God face to face and lived to tell about it. He realizes the only way into the kingdom if to lay hold of it forcefully, throwing yourself into mortal combat with the King of Kings himself - we kick his ass only because he has already kicked it himself for us. The secret then, is to lay hold of the angel and to not let go until he blesses you, even if it means your own hind end is going to get kicked in the process.

Malachi too knows that of which he speaks, and this is his defining moment, the one where he alone stands up and defies the giant, saying, 'Oh yeah, well I'm with him!' as he points to the memory of the God of his fathers: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. It makes his father proud, even if it is just a dream.

The reaction, of course, is immediate, volcanic. The camera zooms in close to the woman as her face explodes in wrath and rage, the balrog within unmasked again: "YOU. CANNOT. PASS! I will destroy you if you try!"

It's my turn to shout now, in the face of the maelstrom, freaked out and afraid: "Oh yes we can! IN THE NAME OF JESUS, GET OUT OF OUR WAY!"

Ziiiiiiiip! (stereotypical rewind sound).

"Oh yes, we can. In the name of Jesus, get out of our way."

Hmm. That was an interesting little change. I'm speaking in a much calmer voice now, quietly, matter of fact - I wonder why? Maybe it's so I will look better on screen: calm, cool, collected. But if that's the case, why didn't they fix my thinning hair and sagging midsection? Maybe we should just see where this goes.

"In the name of Jesus, you need to let us pass."

"Never!" shrieks the balrog.

"In the name of Jesus, you need to step aside. Repent. Stop opposing God. Maybe he will forgive you."

"Never, ever!" shrieks the balrog, whose breasts are looking decidedly less sexy with every passing moment.

"In the name of Jesus, you need to turn to God. Now!"

"Never, ever, ever!" shrieks the balrog. "God doesn't exist. He is nothing but a delusion. Besides, there would be no forgiveness for me." Her breasts are gone. She is an undead fire-corpse, Durin's Bane, threatening to engulf us all.

The repartee continues like this for several minutes. Back and forth, me-the-actor beginning every phrase with those same simple words, me-the-spectator puzzling over the way the conversation is unfolding. Back and forth we parry. Back and forth I ponder. Then suddenly, it is over, Satan is gone. Not because I argued, not because I won, certainly not because I listened sympathetically to his plausible arguments. He is simply wrong. And we are on a mission to find God. And he must repent or step aside. Not because we say so, but because Jesus does.

Satan leaves simply because we speak in the name of Jesus.

Maybe there is a reason Peter used those words when he speaks to the crippled beggar in the gate named Beautiful. Maybe I should use them more. Not in a shout-real-loud-cause-I'm-scared-of-the-freaking-demon sort of way, but simply, quietly, matter-of-factly, as a servant who knows who his orders. How would this change the way we talk with unbelievers, with one another? How would this change the way we plant this church here in Missoula?

There is no time to ponder, because the dream lurches onwards as dreams always do. For the first time, I realize that friend Mitt is also present in our little party, and now it's his turn on center stage.

First though, some background on Mitt. We haven't known him long, but already he seems like an old friend (perhaps because he lived with us for a couple of weeks). He reminds me a lot of myself-as-a-church-planter. I think this is because he's a journalist - an 'immersive journalist' at that - and he is fascinated by all sorts of people; he will talk to anyone, and he loves to climb into their lives and try to see the world through their eyes. Mitt is a great writer. But he is also a good friend, so their are some things he can't write about as freely - it's that whole conflict-of-interest thing: How could he write objectively about someone he really likes? How could he write an article about our church plant, if he himself is kind of interested in it?

Given all this, the next words out of my mouth shock me as much as him: "Mitt, God wants you to write an article and tell everyone what you just saw."

I feel like someone else is speaking through me; I am Merlin reborn in That Hideous Strength, uttering oracles in the midst of otherwise normal conversations. Everyone else just looks at me like I've gone loopy: Satan has vanished, and now Christian-who-would-be-Gandalf sounds demon possessed. This is one really trippy dream.

(Aside to Mitt: dude, if you are reading this, remember, it's a dream. I have no idea where this came from. I'm certainly not suggesting that God actually wants you to do this. Honest. What did you marinate that salmon in, anyway?)

"Christian, how can I do this? I'm you're friend. You are planting a church. How can I write about this journey you are on and make any claim to objectivity?" Mitt's response is completely understandable. But in my dream it's simply wrong and unacceptable.

"Mitt, in the name of Jesus, you need to tell people that this is what God is doing, and that they need to be a part of it."

"Christian, no one will believe me! We just ran into a really hot balrog-Satan-babe. People will think I am freaking insane!" (I told you he's a good journalist - very in touch with his audience, Mitt is).

"Mitt, in the name of Jesus, you must tell them that this is what God says."

"But what am I supposed to write? And what about the fact that whenever I write something I am always writing from my own perspective, my own interpretation of 'the facts'? What if I get something wrong? How will anyone know which parts are true?"

The wide-awake-me is nodding vigorously in agreement with Mitt right now; unfortunately, the mouthpiece-of-God-me isn't buying it.

"Mitt, in the name of Jesus, you need to write what you have seen. I will ensure that the parts which are true get said truly. And I will also ensure that the people who need to hear this truth recognize it when they hear it. Anything less is simply errancy."

This strikes the watching-this-as-drama-me as a fascinating way of thinking about inerrancy - not that every jot and tittle is 'true' in the abstract, historical, impersonal sense (is there even such a thing?), but that the real, true, ultimate meaning of every jot and tittle is preserved truly, irrepressibly, by an ultimate author who is infinitely capable, not just of speaking, but of communicating, of being heard by those he intends to hear. Anything less is simply errant - it may be true, in a factual sort of sense, but it is nevertheless wrong because it fails to say all that is meant to be said. Facts alone never get us to meaning, and yet life is clearly loaded with intent, and anything that hides that is ultimately false.

"What if they don't believe?" Mitt is Moses now, and I feel like the burning bush: on fire, in the middle of someone else's conversation, and completely unable to do anything about it.

"Mitt, in the name of Jesus, you need do what God is telling you, or you need to step aside and he will use another. Now!" Same quiet voice. Same quiet name. Same sense of urgency. Same demand to decide.

To my shock and horror, Mitt makes his decision, but in a way that completely surprises me. He turns aside. He steps away and disappears from the dream. Poof. Mitt is gone. Just like the balrog.

I find myself shaken, not by Mitt's failure, but by my own (remember, this is my dream, not his). My confidence is so easily misplaced. In friends. In my own ability. In how others think about me. There is so much 'me' in this journey, so much 'in my name', 'in my time', 'according to my plan'. Maybe it has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with someone else. Why do both friend and foe hear the same words - repent, believe, follow, all in his name? Behold, I tell you a mystery...

Just as I think this, there is one last... Ziiiiiiiip! (stereotypical rewind sound).

The scene vanishes and I am lying wide awake, listening to my alarm scream tidings of good news: Satan is gone, morning has come. Time to wake from my death and arise.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Business Time

It's Friday. Time for something funny. It's "Business Time" (HT: Ryan).
WARNING: Contains sexual content that will thoroughly embarrass your teenage kids (or ours, anyway). But it's hilarious because it just nails so many of our idols when it comes to sex. Brilliant deconstruction. Spot on. And for those who are still unattached, this is what you have to look forward to. You've been warned...

Thursday, May 31, 2007

This Makes No Sense

So this makes no sense.

First, in case anyone's actually reading this on a regular basis (and according to Statcounter, there are about 10-15 of you 'returning visitors' every day), you may have noticed that it's been a LONG time since I've posted anything - nearly two months. So why on earth do you keep coming back? (please note, I'm not at all displeased that you do; I'm just surprised by it).

Second, back in the day (2005 and the early parts of 2006) when I was posting like a maniac, the best we ever averaged was about 40-50 visitors per day. Not bad. But now (again, according to Statcounter), we're averaging 96 a day (with a peak of nearly 140). Most of these folks are new, and I'm guessing they don't come back. So why on earth are new people coming to this site, when nothing new has been posted here in such a long time? (once again, I'm not complaining, just curious).

Add in to the mix that in spite of all this traffic, almost no one ever comments anymore. Hmm...

Part of me wonders if Statcounter is accurate (I think it probably is); so is it robots crawling the blogosphere, looking to harvest email addresses? Or is it real people?

[ATTENTION ALL REAL PEOPLE READING THIS - would you kindly leave a comment on this post and just say hi - just tell me where you're from (vaguely), how you found your way here, and what you were looking for (that you did or didn't find), and if you come back regularly or not. I'm not looking for biographies or anything like that - I'm just curious if there's really a pulse out there. Anyone?]

My guess is that very few people will comment. Gawkers? Strangers passing in the night? Or perhaps they just aren't real people at all. I just don't know...

Some of you (all three of you 'real people' who for some reason or other ARE in fact still reading) - I'd be curious for your input on a followup question. As you've probably noticed, I haven't been posting a lot. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, things are busy in a church plant (no surprise there, but they were busy in seminary too, and I found lots of time to post then).

Second, because blogger didn't support tags when I first started blogging, I split my content out into multiple sites - personal stuff on Granitepeaks, photos on my photoblog, rubber meets the road stuff here on SLD, theological musings on Wayfaring Pilgrim, and stuff about the church plant over on the Missoula Project site. And when you get busy, it becomes a whole lot harder to post to 5 different blogs, let alone one (that said, it's not like I've been overly busy posting on those other sites either).

Third, (and probably closer to the real reason for the slowdown), for the first time in my life I'm spending an awful lot of time talking to folks who share their stories and struggles, and because I'm a pastor planting a church, there's a chance they might tune in and find this blog. And so even though a huge number of blogworthy conversations have been happening, I've been reluctant to talk about what people are saying, lest they think I'm simply using them for blog fodder. I really want to respect the privacy of people who are wrestling. And so I haven't said a lot about all the interesting things that are going on, at least not publically on the blogosphere.

Given all that, I find myself wondering:
  • should I combine all my blogs into one (and just mix content, so there's at least more volume getting posted, even though that means people might have to sift a little more to determine what they're interested in)?
  • should I give up blogging altogether?
  • should I start a new blog, under a new name, and just not tell anyone about it - then I could write what's on my mind and not have to worry about someone who knows me in real life reading what I thought about their conversation?
I'm not sure, and I'd be interested in feedback (assuming there are any real, longtime readers, out there somewhere). Thoughts? Comments? Anyone?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I realize that I'm not exactly the most artistic tool in the shed - but last night, with Coldsmoke as my companion, I was truly inspired. This poem came out of a difficult evening of parenting. One of the hardest things about being a dad is coming to the dinner table, worn out after a long day, looking forward to some quality time with the family and having it ruined by an unruly 3 year-old. Not only is dinner ruined, but so are my hopes and dreams of playing with him after not seeing him all day. This poem was inspired by such a moment as this. Check it out here.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Morning After

So I ran across an article on New West this morning talking about what it's like to wake up on the other side of a one night stand:

Now, I know this isn’t an event one usually shares with a widespread and anonymous readership, but stick with me. Though the one-night stand is a fairly common occurrence, and I’ve been on the other side of the Morning After table listening to friends recount their own foggy exploits, this was my first go-around, as it were.

During a day built around eating a lot of toast and watching Law and Order reruns, I didn’t feel the somewhat sullied freedom most people I’d talked to about one-night stands express. I had a much different reaction, and when I figured out what it was, I kind of freaked out. I wanted to see Pajaro again. I, on some weird gut level, expected more out of it than just the one night.

This was not good. What I’d gleaned through vicarious experience was that this is how these things go; it happens, end of story. I knew I was supposed to be grateful for the lack of expectation. Except I wasn’t. I harbored a sense of connection, the implicit sense we’d shared something “special” and that it could manifest as something more. Not only did I feel it, I sort of wanted it. And so I became slightly, um, concerned with how things were being perceived on the other end of this thing. Maybe I wasn’t alone in this.

Go ahead, read the whole thing. Its funny. And sad. And it's the story of everyman.

What I like most about it is not that the guy is feeling this deep sense of guilt ("boy I shouldn't have done that") - on the contrary, he's gripped by a deep sense of wanting something more ("boy I wish it would have lasted").

At the end of the day, both of those emotions are relevant. Yet while we can learn to suppress our sense of guilt (after all, we're Americans - why can't I just do whatever I darn well please!?!?), we can never fulfill that sense of longing that tantalizes us in the first place.

Christ doesn't just say "Don't do that!" - instead, he adds, "You were destined for much better things." And then he goes on to say, "And you're only going to find what you're looking for in relationship with me."

That might sound a little 'out there' (spiritual?), but it's really quite down to earth. We ultimately want a relationship that lasts. We want someone else to want us. And to keep wanting us even when the see the 'real us' (most relationship consists of hiding that for as long as possible, at least until marriage or some kind of 'commitment').

Christ says, "You want someone who will love you as you are and not reject you no matter what you reveal? I'm the only one. And I will never leave you nor forsake you."

It's that last part of the promise that is really scary, because it means that Christ will not leave us where we are - a relationship with him is inevitably a transforming relationship. It changes us, and it also changes the nature of our relationship with others. Which brings us back to the subject at hand.

There was still a part of me that felt bruised by the fact that it was just “one of those things.” I didn’t really want to accept that Pajaro and I weren’t nothin’ but mammals, doin’ it like they do on the Discovery Channel. After six months alone I had latched pretty tightly onto this human connection, sexual and otherwise, and was having a hard time giving it up.

“Does that make me a sucker?” I asked my friend Don Julio over beers this week. “You know, that I was hoping for some kind of relationship?”

“Nah, it just makes you naïve,” Don Julio said. “And maybe a little bit femme.”
“But that’s cool,” he added, draining his glass. “Chicks dig that.”

Funny. But sad. What would it look like for a couple to really commit to one another?

Christ, however, says there's another way - that he can actually make a difference in people's lives, so much so that they can actually love one another the way he loves us. It's worth noting that he doesn't offer us a new technique or method or ethic - instead he offers us himself. And a real relationship with him somehow impacts our relationship with others.

We can't really love until we've really been loved. And that kind of love makes all the difference on the morning after...

[Note: there's a followup article to this on here]

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What the Church is All About

Reading through the comments on this post, I saw a stunning indictment: "Why is it that the church spends 95% of its time coddling insiders?" That may seem a bit harsh, but I think it might be true.

Just today I had a conversation with a nice young woman named Jenny - yeah, she's interested in the church plant; yes, she loves Missoula with all its beautiful pagans; but when are we going to start a Bible study? After all, what she really wants is to grow, to be around mature people, to become more spiritually mature herself. She wants fellowship with believers, with people who've got it together. But it's ok if we don't offer that yet - she's found another church that does, and she's making friends there, and she's thinking she'd like to get more involved there. I mean, don't you think I can just be involved in both?

What struck me is that Jenny is a consumer. How many times do we desire the fruit of our salvation - sanctification, holiness, calm in the face of trials, peace, love, joy - rather than the vinetender from whom all these things flow. And when we pursue the former, rather than the latter, we end up with neither.

I'm reminded of C. S. Lewis, who deeply desired joy. When he pursued joy, he failed to find it. When he pursued God alone, he also found joy.

The church, sadly, falls into the trap of marketing to felt needs. You desire community? Ah, we have some of that over here! Holiness? Hey, we have a twelve step program in stock!

The church coddles believers - insiders - because the church thinks it needs them (just like the believers think they need the various things the church offers). And yet what everyone needs is what Christ alone offers - himself.

Christ offers us himself (go read about the woman at the well in John 4, and look again at what Christ offers her). And he goes on to say that the call of one who would follow Christ is that of a servant, a follower, one who emulates Christ - not serving himself, but taking the form of a servant and dying that others, unbelievers, weaker brothers, might live.

Christ calls us not to be consumers, but servants. Of those inside the church, and also of those outside the church. The infidels. The unbelievers. The 'sinners' in this world. The cities and neighborhoods in which we live. Not for their own sake, but for his - to call them to join us in this self-denying service of Christ.

This is not a sexy call. It's mother Teresa, toiling away in the slums of Calcutta, never really being recognized or appreciated until after she was gone.

Seek holiness for the sake of holiness, and you will never find it. Seek Christ, and seek to serve those whom Christ loves - the poor, the needy, the afflicted, the oppressed, the lost - and you will not only gain Christ, but you will also find holiness. Only then will be ever really experience peace, joy, satisfaction, fulfillment - as we die to ourselves that others might live.

I'm not sure that's what Jenny wants in a church. But that's what the church is meant to be all about. And that's what it means to really know Christ.