11 years ago Christine and I with our 2.5 year-old son left the United States to live in North Wales. We set out to make a fresh start, and we did. But I sort of failed at something. I never really left America. I blame the Internet.
While Christine and I were starting fresh and getting healed up from a full term stillbirth and some whacked out ideas about God and the response of a church that didn’t know what to do with an unhealed dead baby, I sort of stayed in America. I kept up with American politics and Christianity via the Internet. Being the Internet, it was kind of a cartoon version of American politics and Christianity.
It was fine for a while. Some bits were very good: I found Greg Boyd, Rob Bell, John Michael Greer, Shane Clairborne and Larry Shallenberger. Other bits were bad. My evolving views made my wonderful sister and brother-in-law angry and lost me a really good friend.
Lately, America has just been making me mad. I’m cheesed off that American Christians are still debating whether or not women can do the same jobs as men or be considered their equals. I’m cross that they are still trying to decide whether or not LGBT people get to be counted as fully human. I cannot endure one more pastor with perfectly reformed theology expounding ad nauseum why a different conclusion than his is Dangerous. I’m sick of the fake miracles and the politics of fear. (‘AMERICA IS DOOMED!’ Of course America is doomed, not because it has a black liberal president but because America is an empire and all empires are doomed.) I don’t have the stomach for this presidential election. I don’t need to hear the latest pronouncement by the church’s prophets of Baal about what kind of prayer and fasting we need to do for the next 40 days to make sure God doesn’t lightning bolt the country. I have no interest in what the evangelical pope has to say about anything. I’m sick of the megachurchcorp CEOs and their obsession with their big numbers. I’ve had it with the whole thing. I have no grace to offer.
I realised a couple days ago that the problem isn’t America – okay, actually the problem is America and its stupid paranoid greedy consumer religion. But that’s not my problem. My problem is that I’m making it my problem. I live in Wales, UK. My job is to serve and love people in Wales. Raising my blood pressure over what the Americans are doing is stupid and dumb. I’ve been stupid and dumb.
I’m going to stop.
American Christians are on their own journey. My meddling in it displays a serious lack of faith in the Spirit’s work in those Christians and an unwillingness to fully concentrate on the work I’m doing here. It’s time for me to leave America – for real – and keep my face pointed in the same direction as the plough.
This is what I’m doing. Until the end of 2012 anything to do with American spirituality or politics is out of my life, the good and the bad. (The exceptions are family and friends, of course. And I’m keeping Josh Garrels in my playlist.) Basically I’m cutting out a bunch of podcasts, books that I may have read, blogs, Twitter accounts and all their links and link and links. Here’s a list for people who like lists:
- Blaine Hogan
- Cognitive Discopants
- Google US news
- Greg Boyd
- Jamie the Very Worst Missionary
- Jesus Needs New PR
- John Michael Greer
- Kirk Cowell
- Larry Shallenberger
- Love is what you do
- Mars Hill (the good one)
- Naked Pastor
- People ranting about Mars Hill (the other one)
- People ranting in general
- Rachel Held Evans
- Rob Bell
- Shane Claiborne
- Stephen Colbert
- The Beautiful Due
- Two Friars and a Fool
- Unvirtuous Abbey
This will give me space to clear my brain. Once I get to 2013, I’m not sure. My goal is not to pretend that America doesn’t exist or has nothing spiritually good to offer. Rather, I want to return (metaphorically) full of grace and love and no longer fighting against a bunch of rules and ideas that haven’t actually applied to my life for years. It may take me more than six months to get there.
This is obviously a big overblown statement full of broad brushstroke characterisations. It says more about me than it does about the United States. That is the point. I want to expose my own dysfunction so that it is clear (to me probably more than anyone else) why I am doing this. It also makes me kind of accountable. If I announce something on the Internet, I am a lot more likely to do it. Also, I tend to make big overblown statements about things that don’t need big overblown statements.
If you are an American reading this blog, you are welcome to keep reading and to comment. I’m not going into hiding.
Finally, thank you, Greg Boyd, Rob Bell, John Michael Greer and Shane Claiborne and so many others. You have helped me to become a better person. I’ll be back listening to you again, maybe as soon as next year.
I start as soon as I finish my last book on spirituality by an American author for now. (The book is Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. It is the perfect book for where I’m at right now.)
4 June 2012
john michael greer,
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27 April 2011
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24 February 2011
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I wanted help my class of 10-13 year-olds to feel like they were a bit more inside the story of the beginning of the church, so I rewrote Acts 2, setting it in the present in the town where our church meets on Sundays.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together at Ysgol John Bright. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole room where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Llandudno holiday-makers from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: ‘Aren’t all these who are speaking from North Wales? You can tell by their accents. Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Scousers, Mancunians and French…
18 July 2010
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Since Easter, in my Sunday School class we have been talking about the garden of Eden.
Yes, that is a long time to talk about a garden, maybe. But… God’s plan for the world, for people, for animals – I found it quite amazing and I’m glad the kids seemed to feel the same way, but, So many questions!
Jesus said,“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”
I have been told that the meaning of this is that you have to have un-questioning faith. That you just accept.
Ummm… Have you ever spent any time around children? Starting at toddler-hood a favourite word is ‘why’.
The ball is round
Because in order for it to roll smoothly and in the direction that you want it to roll it needs to be.
Because, if it wasn’t round then when you kick it it would just go a way that you didn’t mean for it to.
Umm – I just told you why. Twice!
Because you asked me to
Because you are very curious.
Because you are a child, you want to know all there is to know and you want to know it right now and apparently you want me to tell you!
I don’t know, But I don’t have all the answers.
Cos… I’m not God!
My own kids, and my church kids have so many questions. Often I just don’t have the answers, and I won’t pretend to either. But I will do my best to encourage them to keep asking questions, keep looking for answers.
Whoever seeks shall find. They will know so much more than I do. Thank Goodness.
Maybe also Jesus was talking about the enthusiasm of a child. I watched their faces light up as they learned about this perfect place before sin. I showed them a drawing of the garden, one child piped up, ‘That’s silly! there’s a fox lying down beside a rabbit. That wouldn’t happen.’
‘There was no death in the Garden of Eden, the rabbit was perfectly safe to lie with the fox.’
The rest of our short lesson consisted of the kids talking about which animals they would put together if life was like it was then. Their imaginations were going nuts!
We came back to that many, many times over the next few weeks. I shared stories of the exploits of my cat Max, whose favourite thing ever is to devour small animals, and I have heard many stories of their own pets and the blood and gore they get into!
If only life could be as it was at the beginning. You can see the longing in them – for perfection, for freedom, for that ability to walk in the garden with God.
Last Sunday we talked about how the people were sent from the garden, we talked about bloodshed and shame and him blaming her and… it was very quiet in the room.
At craft time we had clay Snakes and pictures of Adam and Eve sad and shameful with their leaves and furs. One boy just looked at his paper and said, ‘I want to draw but I don’t know what to draw’
‘What part of the story sticks in your mind from today?’
‘I don’t know’
‘Okay, just take a little time and go over the story in your mind and as you are doing that, ask yourself how you feel and try to see if you can get that feeling onto the paper.’
This is his picture:
15 July 2009
kingdom of god,
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But we have this treasure in saved, healed, delivered and supernaturally changed vessels, to show that God has given to us, right now, His surpassing power over every situation. We are no longer afflicted, perplexed, in conflict or defeated. No, we are alive with the power of Jesus, and the resurrection power of Jesus has changed us now…TODAY! In every way!. God wants you to see just what a Jesus-controlled person is all about, so the power of Jesus is on display in the life I am living, and those who don’t have this life, are miserable and dying. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11, MSV)
This is Michael Spencer Version of one of those bible passages that we don’t celebrate much because to do so would require us to be honest about ourselves, and who’s actually honest about themselves in church? Here’s the real version:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11, TNIV)
The whole article is a bit long and in baldly exposing some of the lies we regularly live swings a bit too far to the dark side of life, but it is a Very Important Article for anyone who cares about realness.
11 April 2009
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This morning I listened to an interview (i.e. puff piece for his new book Spectacular Sins) with Dr John Piper. The interview finished and iTunes appropriately chose Pipe Dreams by Travis
I read it all, every word
And I still don’t understand a thing…
Three things stood out to me in this interview:
1. The insanity of his understanding of God If God is like the god that John Piper describes, active rebellion against him is the only righteous position to take.
2. A very interesting insight into Judas’s betrayal of Jesus Judas was a man to whom Jesus gave authority to cast out demons. He not only lived with Jesus, he ministered healing and freedom to people with the authority that Jesus gave him; yet he chose the money over the relationship and the power.
3. John Piper and I have the same heart At the close of the interview he said that the reason he wrote the book was to enable a faith that could handle the really big, life-shattering bad/evil events that people too often have to live through.
I want to enable that same robust faith in people. That is what motivates me when I tell a woman that her friend’s child didn’t die because God killed them. I want people to know the God who triumphs over evil, not a god who invented evil and who uses it at a tool to make people glorify him. When I tell people that science and Scripture are not at war it is because I want students to know the God who isn’t afraid of the fossil record and the unravelling mystery of DNA. When I embrace a partially open future it is because I believe in a God whose infinite wisdom and insight and power is actually infinite enough to give human beings a true free will.
John Piper and I believe nearly opposite things about the nature of God. I see his theology as based on a logic so convoluted that it could only be suited for designing Russian motorway junctions. He boldly characterises many of my core beliefs as weak, spineless and false. (I’m talking about the beliefs here, not my holding of them. I don’t think John Piper knows I exist.) Both of us are convinced that our opposite beliefs offer better, more helpful and truer answers about the condition of the world and the nature of God.
Yet the marvellous thing is that we are both motivated by love for God and an earnest desire to see God’s kingdom come on earth. I have been writing this post in bits throughout the afternoon and evening, and the more I think about it the more I am shocked and humbled by the generosity of God. As far as I can tell he lets both of us stay in his family. He gives both of us meaningful work to do for his kingdom. It is conceivable that He even calls both of us his friends. That would mean I probably should think about calling John Piper my friend, even though that doesn’t fill well with thing number one.
I’d rather call him a heretic and overturn his URL, but I don’t think God offers that as a valid option.
20 October 2008
kingdom of god
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Nine years ago, we lost our baby.
Teifion was born, weighing in at the perfect seven pounds seven ounces but never breathed a breath. Teifion died a few days before his birthday.
I held him in that hospital room and whispered ‘Life to you, Teifion,’ but none came. Yeah, I know that I should have expected that much, but remember that bloke Lazarus in the bible? Well, he’d been dead for a while as well…
8 September 2008
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I like to keep up with what was hot five years ago, so I just read Your Best Life Now by Joel Osteen.
It took me back to my teenage years and the two Kenneths. Messrs Hagin and Copeland were very influential on my spiritual development. I am very grateful today for the understanding of being in Christ I got from Kenneth Hagin and for Kenneth Copeland’s superb teaching on covenant.
On the other hand, when you lose a baby, despite all your faith and confession, you find that Word of Faith has some pretty poor answers to a lot of life’s big questions.
Nearly nine years on and past the pain and anger, I was able to thoughtfully read, if not enjoy (Joel, 10 aphorisms in a row isn’t a paragraph, it’s a list! And please stop calling me ‘friend’.) Mr Osteen’s book. I found it inspired me to pick up some important truths that I had thrown out with the bath water.
It also got me thinking. Here are some of those thoughts.
1. A lot of Word of Faith teaching is not uniquely Christian. Rather, it is universal principles with a Western church skin. I’ve read the same principles with a business skin, a self improvement skin and a Buddhist skin. Underneath it is basically the same: belief and words are powerful forces for change. In fact, my favourite ‘Word of Faith’ book is not Christian at all. It is a jaunty little self help read called Being Happy.
In some ways Word of Faith is better without God. It keeps us from trying to turn God into a genie. And when the thing that we are believing for doesn’t come to pass we can blame an imperfect universe instead of a god who is constantly evaluating our Faith Performance.
On the other hand, the idea of life without God stinks. God has to be bigger than the WoF version or I quit.
I don’t think Christians should stop living according to a principle just because it is not uniquely Christian. Our God is the God of the universe. All truth is ours. The question is how we use it. The answer is: How did Jesus use it? Which leads me to my next thought:
2. The stink of acquisition and greed is really hard to disguise, no matter how much perfume you put on. Giving to get is just ugly, and it sucks the joy out of giving. Surely we can give simply out of gratefulness to God for his indescribable gift?
3. The Word of Faith message is especially suited to inspiring preachers, motivational speakers and writers. They speak (or write) words, and people give them money. Tidy. It is a different story for the guys putting in the new water pipes on my road. They could confess increase and income all day, but unless they dig some trenches and put in some pipes, they will find themselves experiencing decrease and outgo. (see The Mustang 2 and James 2).
4. As I read Mr Osteen’s book I found myself constantly wondering how his seven principles could be made useful people living in poverty without any life skills. The book has something to offer to relatively well-off people who want to improve, but the stories about how to avoid speeding tickets won’t be much help to the single mum on the council estate who can’t afford a car. (Never mind the extreme poverty of the developing world!) Something else is needed.
The sequence of John 3:16 is instructive: God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (TNIV) Loving and giving come before believing. And since we are supposed to be acting like Jesus in this world – James 2:16 comes to mind.
5. The more I talk to Christians the more I think that the majority of us, WoF or not, have a faith that is basically a belief in some form of mystical or formulaic magic – often coming surprisingly close to magick. Most of us probably don’t know any better.
6. I should shut up now and you should go right now and listen to Greg Boyd’s message on Speaking the Kingdom. Whether you love Word of Faith teaching or you hate it or, like me, you are all over the place, I think you will find this to be a inspiring and life-giving message.
26 August 2008
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Here is the ‘Word of Faith’ version of how I got my Mustang.
My dad used to restore and sell Ford Mustangs, so as a young teenager I loved Mustangs and wanted one for my first car. I wanted a 1966 Honey Gold Fastback (2+2). I found a photo of one that looked just like what I wanted, and I hung it up in my bedroom. I asked God for that car, and I began to thank him for it every day.
My dad was pretty sure that I couldn’t afford a fastback for my first car. He said that I should buy and restore an ordinary six cylinder ’65 or ’66, sell it, take the profit, do it again, and then get my fastback. He knew what he was talking about too; Mustangs were the way he made a lot of his money.
I wasn’t having any of that. I hated working on cars and wanted to do as little of that as possible. Also, a year before I had given my life savings (about $500) to a friend to help pay for her Teen Mania mission trip. I had a claim on God for a lot of money. I could see the car, and it was mine.
Before too long my dad came across a 1965 fastback that looked pretty rough, but had a good body and engine. Almost simultaneously, he came across a wrecked 1965 coupe with a nearly new interior. Both for a reasonable price. To top it off, when we looked at the VIN code, we found that the original colour of the fastback was Honey Gold!
I prayed. I believed. I confessed. I got my car.
This is the appropriate place to insert ‘HALLELUJAH!’
Now here is the rest of the story.
1. I was claiming a 1966 Mustang. I got a 1965.
2. I was also after the oh-so-desirable styled steel wheels and fog lamps. I didn’t get those.
3. It didn’t just happen. Even though my dad didn’t think I could afford the car I was after, he was still looking for it.
4. My dad is very generous. He gave me the $1,500 profit from another car he fixed and sold.
5. He and I both put a huge amount of hot, greasy, sweaty time turning those two cars into one really great first car.
This is the point I want to make.
It is easy to tell a story like it is a triumph of good confession. It is easy to call something a miracle. It is easy to reduce all the hard work and human ingenuity that goes into a success to a breezy little sentence that no one notices. It is easy to get the impression that all you need to do to get what you want in life is to think the right thing and say the right thing.
The truth is that most ‘miracles’ involve an awful lot of hard work and sacrifice.
I am very grateful for my time with that car. I am very grateful to God for making a universe that somehow responds to our faith. I am very grateful that my parents taught me to be bold and go after the things that I believe God wants for me. Most of all, I am grateful for my dad’s love and sacrifice that made my confessing and claiming look so good.