First Church of the Ambivalent

Ambivalent: that’s my new word now when I consider the local church.

• having mixed feelings or contradictory feelings about something or someone

It’s amazing that several times a week I find that I am not alone in these feelings. Many people just don’t know what to think about the church anymore.

Just today I ran into someone from a previous church. She had left the church a few months prior to my own departure amid some stressful personal struggles and the desire to attend a church that she felt met the needs of her children more completely.

She said that in the weeks following this decision, she began to find out what her “supposed” church community was all about. Her choice to leave the church was met with mixed reviews, with some people being downright offended. People from her small group that called her on a regular basis stopped calling. People she would call suddenly were too busy to get together. And, in the midst of her personal needs, when she really needed some of these “tried and true” friends, they were nowhere to be found. While she had served this church and loved the people there for years, she felt a mixed bag of sadness and rage at the way she was now being treated.

This lady told me today that it has been in the midst of her crisis that she has discovered what it truly means to be supported and loved by those that genuinely care for her. With some reservation and dismay, she told me that she has found that love and support more consistently from those outside the walls of the church. Many times she has felt like saying a big “F-You” to the church, but has found a safe place to attend, that is allowing her to heal and be restored physically, spiritually and emotionally.

It was truly wonderful seeing this person again today. We shared our stories and I left feeling encouraged by the encounter. It seemed that here was another soul that felt that her life began to be more meaningful when she stopped expecting the church to meet her every need. Yet most pastors are trying to create a place where the needs of people are met. The way I now view this is that most pastors are trying to create a place where people develop an unhealthy dependence on the body of Christ to meet their needs. I don’t believe pastors always knowingly are doing this nor do I think they mean genuine harm with their actions.

Lately as I have thought about going back to church, I am trying to figure out the big question, “Why?”

I just get the feeling that many church people, both consciously and subconsciously, are trying to figure this thing out. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I am inspired by the desire of the human spirit to connect with something greater than themselves. It is equally encouraging to know that this connection we seek doesn’t require a pastor, worship leader, small group leader, or Sunday School teacher. We are all quite capable of connecting to our Creator on our own. Or maybe it is our Creator that is quite capable of connecting with us in the manner with which he sees fit. Not in a way that is cajoled, manufactured or manipulated in any way, shape or form.

I describe my spiritual development now as “organic”. It is a more natural process that flows from my everyday experiences and seems less tied to where others want me or expect me to be. This doesn’t mean I live a life of isolation or possess a lack of accountability. Quite the contrary. But my life, unsurrounded and unencumbered by the weekly or multi-weekly church experience is based in a sense of reality and normalcy that I haven’t heretofore experienced. Overall, it seems healthier.

I just think we should all stop going to church, at least for awhile… well I already have, so maybe this is more directed at those of you that still are going. More and more I have come to believe that real life, real connections, and the real journey we are looking for is awaiting us outside of the church.

Jonesing for a Podcast

Josh and I must podcast. We need to podcast. We have to podcast. But we just haven’t pulled ourselves together enough to make it happen.

You see, Josh has a new job. Yes that’s right “another one”… so I know you want to hear about that.

And… Josh and I went out again the other night to drink and have a little fun… so we haven’t talk about that yet. Let’s just say Josh behaved himself very well.

And… we both have some new endeavors we are trying to get off the ground. Not sure if we will tell you about those yet, but we are pretty stoked on them.

And… Josh of course hates TBN. He drunk posted the other night and the result was an “F” word-fest… so we have to talk about that.

And… we both haven’t gone back to church yet, we both think church services are just strange occurences right now, they seem so other-worldly… so we might just talk about that.

So there’s a taste of things to come. It might just be we produce about 20 podcasts lasting only five minutes each OR maybe we just sit down and talk and end up with a two hour SCP-o-rama.

We’ll keep you posted. When we know you will know.

McLaren Snubs SCP

Brian McLaren has been soliciting bloggers to write reviews for his book, “The Secret Message of Jesus”. Yours truly has been bypassed, ignored, and slighted. SCP hasn’t been invited to the party. I wonder why.

First Zeke got invited to share his feedback and then most recently so did Brandon. Each recieved a complimentary copy of the book from McLaren’s publicist so they could share with their readers what they thought about the book. I on the other hand, was not presented that opportunity. It couldn’t have been that McLaren was holding a grudge for being named our Person of the Year in 2005… could it? Nah… he’s an emergent, forward-thinking Christian… no way!

In all fairness, knowing the way these things work, McLaren himself probably has no clue or control over who is getting copies of the book for review.

Well, as dissappointing as it is to not be considered as important a voice as Zeke and Brandon are in the blog world, my ego has suffered worst blows. In all honesty, I think there is a way to recover from this embarrasment.

I offer to write an unsolicited critical review of “The Secret Message of Jesus” here on the site. Much like Consumer Reports does in reviewing products, I will buy my own copy of McLaren’s book so as to not be swayed by his generosity. This will insure an unbiased and honest look at McLaren’s work.

So I am going to pick up the book tomorrow and pay full price (I am sure $20 or more) at my local Christian bookstore and get to the task at hand. If McLaren’s listening (or Tony if you want to pass this along), please know I will be fair and honest. You can feel free to link to my unsolicited review once it is posted. Better yet, you could come visit us on the podcast to discuss the book. Yeah, like that’ll ever happen.

Tony Jones, My Missional Friend

My friend Tony Jones (Ok maybe he isn’t a “friend friend” but maybe more of an “acquaintence friend”) has finally done it. Yes, he’s written something that I can both a) understand and b) wholeheartedly support, endorse and trumpet. (Thanks to One Mo Blog for the heads up on this one).

The fact that he has written something that I can understand isn’t completely his fault. Tony is a very heady and smart guy, he occasionally uses really big and unfamiliar words when he writes, he discusses terms I am often not familiar with, and he is a student and lover of theology. The guy really loves the stuff and has a website dedicated to it called The Emergent Theological Conversation. I just took a casual read of the site and actually enjoyed most of what I skimmed. I think I just have to be in the right frame of mind to want to understand it. Theology reminds me too much of my university and seminary work….ugh!

Anyway, so what has Tony written that has motivated me to garnish him with praise?

In a post on the Emergent website called Pastor, Will You Help Us?, Tony addresses the concept of pastors marrying “churchless couples”. In this post, he refers to his friend Bill Yaccino, who is a pastor and has found quite a ministry among marrying those couples that come to him that do not have a church home.

Tony writes: When my friend, Bill Yaccino, first called me about this idea, I was a bit skeptical. I worked on a large church staff for many years, and we kept raising the bar on how hard it was to get married in our church, thus driving many couples to get married elsewhere. At the time, I bought the pastor’s argument that the church shouldn’t just marry any Tom, Dick, or Harriet who wanted to get hitched in our beautiful sanctuary. We should have standards. But the more I’ve talked with Bill, the more I’ve been convinced that his ministry is a truly missional endeavor: to marry churchless couples. Once you start hearing the stories about his conversations and ministry to these couples, you can’t help but be moved.

I couldn’t agree more. Beyond finally grasping the concept of what it means to be “missional”, this is something I have felt really good about since leaving church work. Little did I know I was being Emergent so many years ago when after leaving church work I would start performing more and more weddings for people that didn’t have a church home but wanted a Christian wedding.

It just seemed to make sense. These people didn’t want to run to Vegas, they wanted some type of “spiritual” aspect to their marriages. However, many times they would go to their local church and be turned away because they were either not members, or living “in sin”, or not willing to submit to several counseling sessions, or wanted to get married outside of the church building. So I have done weddings at colleges, bars, parks, backyards and of course beaches.

I reasoned that these folks were going to get married one way or another, so why not be involved. It was a chance to get to know them and provide some type of spiritual direction and focus for their marriage. Without a doubt, I have done more weddings since leaving the church in the past six years than I ever did as an “on-staff” pastor. These weddings have always been some of my favorite memories about being a real bonafide pastor.

Now if this is what means to be Emergent, then call me “emergent”. Like Bill says in the post, I think it is called just being “normal”. It is not worrying about whether or not people give you the “right answers” before you will talk with them. And it really isn’t about hammering out “theology” with people… you’ve got to get to know people no matter their church status, beliefs or attendance. As Bill reflects, I began hanging around people who did not attend church regularly – many spiritual, but not religious. You know, the type of people we all read about, but never meet because we are so busy being pastors!

Now where have I read something like that before…. hmmmm… I wonder.

You see Bill Yaccinno gets it. I echo Bill in this post and encourage each of you to give it a read. Also, if you know someone looking for a pastor for a wedding, send them over to Bill’s website and maybe they can find themselves one.

So just think about it. I have been “missional” all of these years without knowing it. Who’d of thunk it. Geesh, we make things so damn hard to understand. In the old days we simply called it being a “Christian”. I guess that’s not enough anymore.

Memories of Bean

I fully anticipate hate mail on this one. But what the hell. I know animals are precious creations of God, and I realize they oftentimes become important parts of our families. Trust me, when our cat hasn’t come home at night, who’s outside freezing his arse off calling “Kitty, kitty” in that annoying high pitched voice I use to get him to come. Seriously, I would feel really awful if our beloved Diego was to become “kitty pate” for the neighborhood coyotes. However….

All that being said, the memoirs about Bean (the pug) were written by a friend of a friend of a friend who shall remain nameless. They really made me laugh. Not laugh as in “isn’t this cute” but more laugh as in “are you kidding me?” It isn’t the pleasant memories of the pet that cause me to giggle incessantly, it’s just well… well… well just read these excerpts for yourself. Yes, these are excerpts from a four-page “Bean-fest”… enjoy!

Bean Passes Away

My beloved little Bean has gone home to be with Jesus. Saturday, March 18, 2006, was an extremely difficult day for us. A few days before, Bean began to exhibit some neurological decline. The symptoms I saw were those that the doggy neurologist had warned me about seven and ½ months ago… As I was praying and wondering if this would be “the day”, Bean had a seizure. I then knew that this had to be “the day”. I had prayed for the past seven and ½ months that if I were to have to have him put to sleep, then I would need to be very clear on this. I had even prayed that I would find Bean dead rather than me having to be the one to make the terrible decision. I clung to the verse, II Chronicles 20:12, that says, “…We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you…” (This was in the midst of a much larger, better trained army, attacking the Israelites.) I trusted that God will help me to know what to do, when I needed to know. Bean was diagnosed with brain cancer in July 2005 and given 1-3 months to live. Even though I prayed for his healing and extended life, I knew that this might not be granted to me.

God orchestrated Saturday morning in that my dear friend Debby was available to come from LA. In fact, she even had my name on her calendar. We did not know why, but now we do. She, as well, is a “single mom” having two little doggies of her own. She knew my pain. I look back now and don’t know how I did it. Debby took me and little Bean to the vet. I was holding him in my arms when the injection was given. Somehow God gave me the grace to do this. Thank you Lord. He is faithful. I have a peace, though am terribly sad. I am thankful for the seven and ½ months more I was given with this little guy.

Everybody Loves Bean

Valley Springs Fellowship (most of the people there) was very accepting of Bean. In fact, in the church directory, it lists my name and then Bean’s (where others have their spouse or children)! Bean loved children and they loved him. When a child would see me at church or in town, the first thing they would say is “Where is Bean?”, not, “Hi Cyndi”.

On July 17, 2000 when my grandma Eddy died, we congregated at my parents’ house. Of course I brought Bean. Once in the door to my parents’ house, Bean charged up the stairs to my parents’ bedroom (where he had never been prior), marched right over to my dad’s side of the bed, and lifted his leg. If you know my dad, you know he was not happy! All dogs were forever banned from his home that day forward. He says that there is still a stain where Bean left his mark.

Bean Gets Busy

When Bean and I moved back to California, we visited with my sister’s family. Bean liked to be there as Bozzie, their Dalmatian was there. Bozzie and Bean would run around chasing each other, but it was mostly Bean trying to hump Bozzie. One day we watched them out in the court-yard. Bean was much smaller than Bozzie. He had to stand on his hind legs to even reach Bozzie’s back end. The funniest thing was when Bean was trying to hump Bozzie (which would never work!), and hit a scratch spot on Bozzie. Bozzie was out there shaking his leg like crazy, completely enjoying the experience.

I guess this brings us to the topic of Bean’s humping issue. Many have memories of this, some not so fond. Because I waited so long to have him fixed, humping was a problem, along with the peeing. Bean had no shame. I found it extremely challenging to dissuade Bean from humping. I finally had Bean “fixed” after one of my former roommates became very offended by it.

Pastor Bean

My relationship with Bean taught me about my relationship with God. You see, I adored that little pug… I was crazy about him! No matter how naughty he was, what he peed on, or ruined, it did not change my love for him one iota. If I loved that little guy, regardless of his behavior, how much more does God love me, and regardless of my behavior? I always think I have to be “good” to get more of God’s love, but that certainly isn’t the case. Bean did not have to do anything for me to love him; nothing! I am reminded as well, that I don’t have to do anything great for God to love me.

I just ordered a garden stone in memory of Bean. Included on the stone is Matthew 10:29 where Jesus says that sparrows are sold two for a penny, but not one of them will fall from the ground apart from the will of the Father. God clearly loves animals which are part of His creation. In fact, I am doing a Bible study on animals and I am now pretty convinced that I will one day see my little guy in Heaven. For now though I trust that he is being very spoiled by both of my grandmas! (Maybe he is even trying to hump Bozzie!)