Two Theses on Church: Disputing the Power of Sunday Morning Performances

On Sunday mornings I shuffle my family to church. There are donuts and bagels at the front that I can put in their faces before I hand them off to other people for ~75ish minutes. Normally I'm not a big fan of sugar pills, but hey, this gets the kids excited about going and for at least an hour or so they're burning off that sugar under someone else's watch. This morning I got them checked in, with badges that have family-unique numbers for safety—the numbers no one ever checks when they kids are released. And then I left.

I just walked out of the church and went for a walk for an hour around the neighborhood. Sadly it was a more spiritual experience than attending the service.

My biggest fear with Sunday-morning services today is that we have equated them with the word "church".  Our word "church" comes from the greek Ecclesia (or Ekklēsia—“gathering of those summoned”). Fundamentally it's about community. Folks getting together. Amazingly the ambiguity in the original language is what's most observed today. That is, we gather together. And we do literally nothing else.

Church is, at its foundation, at its bare fundamental, not a sermon and songs sung in a certain way—but rather a gathering—community.

If there is one thing you should get out of a Sunday morning it is community. There should be people there who know you. They should know when you come, when you leave, what you care about, what kind of bullshit is making your life terrible. They should know more about your life than you care to share. If you're a vet tech, they should know that your job is to express dog's anal glands and that sometimes it's unpleasant to get that stuff in your beard. If you're a manager of people and two of your people are driving you nuts, there should be people there that ask how they are treating you.... by name.

I think I'm coming to the conclusion that this simply cant happen in pews. If you're sitting in a row listening to someone "preach" then you probably are not experiencing community.

Now don't get me wrong. There are no absolutes in this. Some Sunday morning services have adult Sunday schools, where even couples with kids can drop their kids in some sort of kid care and then get a time to talk about who they are (be known) and get to know others.

It's a weird concept. But also extremely unusual outside of the bible belt.

I'm going to propose two theses (because 95 seems absurd).

Two Theses on Church: Disputing the Power of Sunday Morning Performances

1) Sunday morning should be about inviting your neighbors over for pancakes and bacon. If bacon isn't proof there is a God, then I don't know what is.

There are fancy religious arguments. Then there is bacon. Bacon will convert vastly more people than the average evangelical with horrifyingly narrow world-views.

2) If you have to attend a service, and hosting something in your home or attending someone else's small gathering doesn't work, maybe try a Bible study. A small circle of broken people trying to understand the Word of God is pretty damn fun.

That's it. I've mostly given up. But I think I can safely give these two bits of advice.

The Good uh... Lesbian

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Boulder to Denver, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a pastor was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a missionary home on furlough, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a lesbian woman, as she journeyed, came to where he was, and when she saw him, she had compassion. She went to him and bound up his wounds, lathering on neosporin and splinting his legs. Then she put him in her own car and brought him to a hospital and took care of him. And the next day she took out two thousand dollars and gave them to the doctor, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

  • Luke 10:29–37

On Cursing and Controlling Your Mouth (James 3)

"Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. . . From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so." - James 3:1-2 and 10.

I've been working the last few months to push back on the cultural things that are stuck on me when I read the Bible. I'm a white American with a particular history and I'll never be able to read the Bible without that viewpoint affecting my understanding. There are, however, certain things that have become obvious to me as part of "evangelical" culture that I have little patience for anymore.

For clarity, when I say "evangelical" here I'm using it disparagingly. If "evangelical" describes the Christians who are okaying the behavior of a pussy-grabbing Donald Trump. And if "evangelical" describes the people who are fine with gun violence and racism that is pervasive in America right now, if that's what "evangelical" is, then I'd liken it to phariseeism. If, by our claim of loving God, we are no longer loving others and oppressing many, we are pharisees. The very people Jesus has zero patience for because they were cursing people in the name of God (all with a thick veneer of religiousness). But further depth would require another blog post.

From my "evangelical" worldview I have read James 3 my whole life and understood that there are certain four letter words that I should never ever use. How can I praise God and say "shit" with the same mouth right?

Except sadly, that's missing the whole point. A pastor who uses the Bible to hurt others is the one who is being called out by these verses. The person who finds someone in their hurting and should be entering in and loving them, identifying with them, caring for them, mourning with them, but instead they say, "What sin is there in your life that's causing this horrible thing to happen to you?"

That's a curse. Because saying, "Damn Steve, this is a shitty shitty situation. I'm fucking angry for you." Is loving. It's not cursing. Four letter words are not the end-all be-all of cursing. "Steve, maybe this happened to you because you're not tithing enough, or God is punishing you for something. If you were a better Christian Steve, then this wouldn't be happening." The best curses often come with religious undertones (or even blatant religious speech).

My evangelical worldview has caused me to read this chapter for years and years and miss completely what it's saying. I was caught up in the minutiae of American evangelical tradition instead of reading and understanding the heart of thing.

It's embarrassing frankly.

It's All About the Premise

It is 100% about the premise. The details basically don't matter. Yet people keep getting caught up on the details. I've alluded to this in the past but want to state it explicitly. When people nitpick details from the Bible and say, "How can you believe this actually happened?" they're really questioning the premise. Because nothing else matters.

Premise possibility #1: There is no God.

If this is the case, the _entire_ Bible is utter foolishness. And the life of the Christian is a joke—a slow painful joke, but a joke nonetheless. If this is the case, nitpicking a single story and calling it foolishness is foolishness in and of itself. The Bible should be burned as outright lies and the stories in it should no longer even be considered as stories of literary or historical value. If there is no God, these stories have been used for unbelievable harm and led countless people astray. The book should cease to exist.

Premise possibility #2: There is an almighty creator God and this is his word supernaturally revealed to man.

If there is indeed a God, then none of the rest of it is a leap. The tower of Babel is a pretty nutty story, and maybe it _is_ allegorical and we're not supposed to take it literally. But if it is a completely literal story, an all powerful God can easily spread mankind across the earth and confuse their language. If there is a God that can speak the world in to being, spreading people and confusing their language just simply isn't that big of a leap.

A savior who comes down incarnate and lives a perfect life followed by self sacrifice to save all mankind? Again, it just isn't that big of a leap if you've accepted this premise.

Stop nitpicking details. It's a fools errand. Decide what you believe about the premise, because then the rest just isn't that difficult to accept. The acceptance of premise #2 also does not require having neat answers for every single thing. Maybe some scripture is meant to be interpreted differently, but if we one day find out that something the Lord did defies physics and somehow goes against our understanding of the historical record of the earth.... it just isn't that difficult to accept.

It's all about the premise. Nothing else matters. It's either all true, and therefore pretty damn easy to accept. Or none of it's true, and we who believe it are utter fools.

The Second Coming, and Noah - Really God? (Matthew 24:37-39)

"For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man." - Matthew 24:37-39

I was reading this passage this morning and wondering, "What on earth does it mean that Jesus' return will be like in the time of Noah?" In Noah's time, like today, there were believers and unbelievers. Noah's family represents the believers, they're doing what the Lord told them to do, they're getting ready. The rest of the world are the unbelievers, heckling Noah for building a boat on land. Wondering if he'd lost his marbles.

Today, as believers we are still called to be ready for the return of Christ. It's hard though because it's been so long, is it ever really coming? Many have started to think we must have misunderstood. How many times do you think Noah stopped mid-way in building the ark and thought, "What utter foolishness is this? Am I absolutely sure I heard from God about this? He's going to put two of every animal on this thing and we're just going to float away? This is nuts." But he kept on building.

Similarly, how often do we think, "What utter foolishness is this? Are we absolutely sure we understand from God about this? He's going to just come one day and everything is going to change?" Do we keep on expectantly waiting?

If there is no all-powerful God. If the world has no creator and is indeed an accident then the story of Noah is definitely foolishness and the return of a savior—equally so. However, if you buy the premise that there is a creator God who created people in his likeness and cares about them profoundly—well then, the leap to Noah isn't that hard. And likewise, believing there is a savior who died and rose again, and will come back is also not much of a leap.

I write this to say, I think it's completely appropriate for us to stop and wonder if we truly believe this. What we're being asked to do (wait expectantly after thousands of years—something that feels impossible) is utter foolishness unless it's all true. Then it just isn't that much of a leap. It's okay if we catch ourselves wondering if Jesus was serious about coming back. I'm sure Noah wondered if God was serious about a flood, and putting so many animals on such a small boat.

But we worship and trust an all-powerful God who has done things that many of us have seen in our own lives and don't believe. We saw things we know to be the works of the Lord, and we still struggle to believe.

We numb our pain because we've lost perspective

Life is hard no matter how you slice it. There is a constant grind to get more, do more, be better, offer more to your family, do the best by people. It's hard to keep up and everyone has coping methods. Some drink, some run, some read or watch TV. Others (like me) do all of the above.

But I have this theory that the only time we really seek to deaden our pain or escape from reality is when we have lost perspective. When our problems (however big or small) are the biggest problems in the world, we have to run or drink to deal with them. If, like me, your "big problems" are the stresses of your very stable job, you've probably lost perspective.

When your eyes are truly open to how many people struggle to put food on the table, to pay rent, to just keep their children alive... when you see how many people come home to a unsafe place and live in constant fear.... when you see people without any hope in this life or the next—when you see these things all around you it's much easier to relax after a long day and be thankful for what you have. It's much easier, with real perspective, to be comfortable with your pain and not feel the need to numb it.

That's part of the reason suburban America is so difficult, it's nearly impossible to leave your bubble and maintain perspective because everyone around you has it approximately the same as you. What you see is the people who have it better, because seemingly no one has it enough worse to snap you back to reality. There are hurting people around you. Even in suburban America. But if you're not careful, you'll forget them and begin to think you're the one hurting the most—when chances are high you've simply lost perspective.

Gonorrhea Maybe

There are a number of things you expect to sacrifice by being in the mission field. You know you're giving up being close to your family. You know you're giving up the comforts of your home culture. You know you're leaving friends behind. But, and I think I can speak for all missionaries here, you don't expect to give up a testicle.

Now this may be more information that you'd like from a blog about missionary experience and theology, if that's you, feel free to move right along. The other option is lots of detail about the nitty gritty of what you might be sacrificing.

Four years ago I had gonorrhea and I all-but lost a testicle as a result.

Well, it might have been gonorrhea, it might also have been the mumps. Apparently two things cause the swelling I had—and the following atrophy that will be with me forever.

I sat in the doctors office after he had done an exam and found Luigi to be about two times the size of Ramone and the doc said, "Hrm.... are you married?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Are you being faithful to your wife?"


"Is she being faithful to you?"


"Are you sure?"

".... well shit. I was." So I pulled out my phone and called her right there in the doctors office. When she picked up I asked her if she had been sleeping around. I expected an incredulous voice, but she calmly asked me to repeat the question (perhaps assuming she misunderstood me), and so I did, and she simply said, "I'm going to hang up now."

The western doctor was a bit befuddled about my condition but we were at a local kidney hospital and he said, "You know what, there is a doctor two doors down, all he does is look at testicles all day long. He'll know what to do." So he stood up and I followed him (slowly, because standing was excruciating) down the hall. He popped in a door while I stood outside. There was a line of men about 50 people long out the door and down the hallway. Each of them in varying states of visible discomfort. Whatever my doctor said got the foreigner bumped to the front of the line and the testicle doctor asked me to come in.

No sooner had I dropped my trousers than the doctor bent down, took a look, popped up and said, "Testicular infection, give him antibiotics, he'll be fine."

And that was that. We walked out and back down the hall to the western clinic. My doctor then said to me, "Man, I wish he had given more of an explanation, but like I said, all this guy does is look at balls all day long. If that's what he says to do, I'm going to trust him. I mean, all he does is look at balls."

I took the prescription and returned home. This was at day 7 of excruciating pain. And the reason it took so long for the diagnosis is another story altogether that may or may not involve the Singaporean woman who sat next to us in church every week holding my testicles unable to discern that one was indeed infected. But the antibiotics kicked in and the swelling was gone about three days later. If the antibiotics cured it, it was gonorrhea. However, when this happens as a result of the mumps (a viral infection), it runs its course in 10 days. Meaning it may have been bacterial and the antibiotics helped, or it may have been viral and the antibiotics did nothing—I simply recovered around two expected timeframes. I was never tested, and in retrospect I really regret not knowing what took Luigi from me.

You don't realize how much having two feels like an insurance policy until you're down to one testicle. Once Luigi was dead, I spent about a month in constant fear that I would lose my last remaining hope and be on artificial testosterone for the rest of my life.

At the time I did have a friend with the mumps. On the other hand two days before the infection reared it's head, I had visited a spa (hot tub, sauna, steam room, cold pool) near my apartment complex. If mumps was the cause, my sick friend is the explanation, if gonorrhea was the cause, the spa explains things (although none of my friends who went with me that night got anything). But I still don't know which it was—I could have gotten tested to find out before I took treatment but I was in so much pain I just wanted treatment.

Laying flat on my back on couches and propping my feet against the wall for a week was humiliating (especially in the office). Riding an electric bike down bumpy roads to and from the doctors office with one leg on the seat, or hovering just above it was humbling and excruciating. Being told by the first doctor I saw, "They look the same size to me, you'll have to wait four days and come back when the male doctor is in," was actually terror inducing. But not knowing to this day what caused all of this is the pain that has lingered. Had I had gonorrhea, I would at least have bragging rights.

Tips for Spiritual Guidance for 2018

It's 2018 and it's time to make sure you have the right priorities to suit the times and your spiritual needs. Here is a handy guide to help walk you through the process in a systematic way so you don't have to worry that you're "doing it wrong.™"

1) Pick a Hipster Church

If you're new to a town, one of the most important things today is to pick a hipster church. Theological depth, good community, and diverse crowds are a thing of the past, the way forward is much simpler, surround yourself with people exactly like yourself and avoid getting to know them. A simple point system will help you understand how hipster your church is, or if you find it scores too low, it will help you seek out and find one that is hipster enough to better suit your needs. Simply print out this guide and make a tally for each category and then add up your points at the end. Any church scoring over 20 points is certifiably "hipster enough":

+1 point per each white guy with a beard on stage. Two if he’s on the worship team.

+1 point if the worship leader stops to change the tuning of his guitar during worship.

+1 point if for each person on stage who wears boots during service (leather or snow).

+2 points if you sit in refurbished wooden pews instead of chairs.

+2 points if your church used to be an old church.

+1 point if someone prays with a voice that sounds like they’re on the verge of tears.

+1 point for a pallet wall somewhere in the church.

+5 points if your pastor drops a curse word during the sermon.

+1 point if someone on stage refers to the audience as “church”, e.g. “Good morning church," or, "Now church, I want us to consider this for a moment."

+1 point if the pastor refers to Facebook from the pulpit.

+5 points if the pastor tells you what the real Greek or Hebrew word says and why you should trust his understanding of it over the professional translators.

+2 points for every man bun in the auditorium.

-1 point for each minority on staff or on stage during the service.

-3 points for any woman that speaks (announcements included).

-1 point if there is a piano or keyboard anywhere on stage.

-1 point if anyone who is not on staff is allowed to speak during the service.

-1 point for all members of the congregation over the approximate age of 60.

If you've successfully found your hipster church there is one more check to be sure this is the church that should be your spiritual guide for 2018—find a church that will leave you with a little sense of guilt every time you attend. Perhaps this is guilt about some sin in your distant past. Perhaps this is guilt over your need to take Xanax to function. Whatever it is, let that guilt run deep. If the Gospel were about freedom the Church would teach that.

2) On Theological Direction

Pick a system that has the name of a great forefather attached to it. You should hold to it unquestioningly and allow yourself to be rebuked by your peers if you ever ask questions about it. These systems of theology have been tried and tested in the fires of human tradition, they are hardly likely to fail now.

If you find yourself becoming heartless and impatient with those who think differently than you, cling to the passages in the Bible that back up your thinking. God must not desire love or grace if these things are true and aren't to be questioned.

3) On Baptism

Get baptized in the name of your favorite theological leaning. Whether that be the name of Calvin or the idea of Pentecostalism. Paul never wanted us to be united in Christ, so it's good that we cut out the middle man (Jesus) and go straight to baptism in the name of the things that we will use to divide us.

Always opt for a hot tub on the lawn behind your church. Baptismal pools and rivers/lakes are so a hundred years ago.

4) On Communion

Communion should only be taken with flavorless wafers or cheap white breads and grape juice. If you find yourself doing something that resembles communion with a small group of people, or you're suddenly sharing food and drink with other believers and you haven't stood in line to do so, you should be afraid.

Communion should only be taken in a manner that is worthy, and the only worthy way is to be directed in lines to the front of an auditorium by a Deacon you don't know. The longer the wait to get to the "elements" and the more moving the music during the communion time, the holier the experience will be. The more holy the experience, the more sins will be forgiven each time you drink and eat.

5) On Small Groups

A church that knows what it's doing will never refer to Small Groups as Small Groups anymore. They should have a fancy name like, "Missional Community" or "Affinity Groups". "Life Groups" is a word that is still being thrown around but is already considered passé by most pastors worth their salt.

These Small Groups (or whatever your forward thinking Church calls them) should not focus on community, but rather they should spend the lion-share of their time reflecting on the pastor's sermon. If your church is going to achieve the celebrity status that our board really wants for it, you'll need to do anything you can do to spend more time thinking about your pastor. Perhaps this is a good time to come up with a few choice quotes from the sermon and share them on social media. Just be sure to agree on your hashtags ahead of time.

If you're opposed to talking about the sermon, pick a book to study through—but definitely don't read through the Bible. A group of people without seminary educations reading through the Bible might come up with some heretical teachings. Best stick to something in the "Christian Inspiration" section of the book store.


Once you have followed these few steps you'll be well on your way to being properly spiritually guided through the year. Be sure to check back regularly and make sure the church has not gone off script.

Church is Rough in America Right Now

My family moved to Denver about two and a half years ago, and in that time we still haven't landed at a church. We've had a few stints at a few places that lasted longer than others, but we still tend to only manage a few months before we fizzle out and leave. There are a load of reasons we've had a hard time (sermons that were fundamentally opposed to the gospel, lack of diversity, kids programs that literally made my kids cry, small group leaders who referred to gay people as "flamers" etc...), but the fundamental issue for me is that I really want church to be about community. And we haven't found one yet where that's the case.

Some do better than others. And admittedly a few of the church's we've attended have seemed to have great community if you fit a certain mold (under 35 and without kids for example), and I recognize that with our four kids it's quite difficult to get plugged in. People invite singles or even small families over for meals to get to know them, but I'd be a fool to not acknowledge that it's a quite a different level of commitment to have a family as a big and chaotic as mine over.

So it's been rough, and I know it's not all on these churches, I know I'm the biggest problem in this situation—me and my lack of patience with American cultural values around church.

Yesterday was particularly rough. We finally found a church that our children absolutely love. There was one they liked attending before, but they really only liked that one because the church gave them candy at the end of each service (honestly, I'm totally fine with whatever it takes for my kids to be excited to attend). This current one seems to actually have decent teaching, and there are other kids for ours to connect with (and time for them to actually connect).

But the teaching in the adult portion of this church is really painful. Not wrong mind you, just painful.

The teaching yesterday was about praising God. There were some good points, such as God is the one who enables the praise and praises through us. We don't need to show up worthy in order to praise etc... But then it delved for about 10 minutes in to what the different body gestures in worship meant. "One hand in the air is like shaking a hand with God, two hands is like.... kneeling is like....", and my wife turns to me and says, "Are they somehow pulling this from the Bible?"

No. No they're not.

On the drive home we passed an old church building that was bought by a new-age-y group and, while there is no longer any tie to Jesus or evangelicalism, it is still labelled a church. "A Center for Spiritual Learning". Something like that. The building is huge and the parking lot was absolutely packed to the gills. The church sign said the topic that morning was "Divisiveness and Strife: Spiritual Basics for Toxic, Troubling Times". My wife sees the title and says, "Which would you rather hear? A talk about what I'm doing with my hands during worship music? Or something that actually engages with what's going on in our society and helps people enter in to the discussion? No wonder that place is packed."

She's not wrong.

Maybe they bomb teaching the truth (I can say with some confidence that this is highly likely), but I bet they get community right.

So many of the ways a church is run today are results of strange American Christian cultural values. Sitting is pews isn't inherently evil. But it's not in the Bible as the prescribed way of doing church either. Nowhere does it say that there must be a white male with a beard, a guitar, and a real desire for a record deal at the front singing songs as loudly as he can.

Yesterday's bitter tweet:
Community is a great place to start. When we gather, we should actually gather. Right now we do about as much gathering as if we all downloaded a podcast and listened at home. There are many many other assumptions I'd love to see questioned as well.