Tuesday, April 12, 2011

how to fix the church in one easy, koolaid-free step

About four or five years ago I sat down in a snug Canadian living room to an informal family-style chat with an evangelical Christian power couple whom I'll call the ChurchSmiths. These folks were leaders in an organization called Outreach Canada - the sort of people who travel widely for speaking engagements at big evangelical conferences, and know Rick Warren (slightly portly mega-church guy who prayed at Obama's inauguration) personally.

The ChurchSmiths had recently been re-assigned to Europe, where they were tasked with somehow re-invigorating a choking, gasping, dying Protestant Church. The purpose of this family gathering was to fill in their kids (and friends like me) on their vision for how to do this, a vision plucked from recent readings and experiences. The basic gist of it was this: the way to fix the church was to dismantle it. That is, to deconstruct it as an institution and re-envision it back to its original, house-church format.

If you follow my writing at all, you know I can be a bit snarkey when it comes to the North American Protestant Evangelical church. The problems with NAPE churches are obvious, so they've made easy targets for the more depressive mood-swings-of-my-pen. There are times when I wonder if in this regard I am just another angry, destructive internet voice, and if I should focus my attention elsewhere, to avoid contributing to the general nastiness of the virtual world.

Although this may be true, it is also true that, in the words of a t-shirt created by my older brother's freshmen dorm at University, "I yell because I care." These problems are not, I think, because of who Jesus was. They are not even inherent in the idea of a church. So rather than whining and pointing fingers, I have decided to do something about it by outlining what I have come to believe is the one, practical, straightforward step the NAPEs can/must take if they want to be a part of what the Christian church really is/ought to be. Here it is: abandon your buildings. Sell them, if you have to, to get out of your American-sized debts. If not, just walk away. Give them to the community, and then go start a whole bunch of house churches.

If you're a NAPE you may have just soiled yourself in anger, so let me assure you that I do not believe that every time a large group of people gathers to become a community of faith, it will invariably degenerate into the sort of vapid, consumer-conformist, image-and-entertainment obsessed spectacle it has often become today. There is always a choice, and I tend to think, rather, that the problems have arisen when some very basic human foibles - like the desire for power and control - take over.

Conversely, I do not think that if all the NAPEs abandoned their buildings and went home to create small, decentralized house churches, it would immediately fix all the problems that have come to be associated with this church. It just seems to me that it would create a context where it might actually be possible for the NAPEs to address some of their problems. Good things happen in NAPE churches, sure, but I think that more often than not it is in spite of their culture, rather than because of it.

Perhaps it would be helpful to take a moment to briefly list (off the top of my head) what I think are the major problems currently afflicting NAPE churches:

1. Misappropriation of funds.
2. The deeply lamentable tragedy of the association of Jesus Christ's name with structures of Power, Violence and Control.
3. The endorsement of a lot of truly crappy art, and the exclusion from the culture of most art that is honest, true and visceral.
4. The association of faith with entertainment and self-indulgence, rather than discipleship and service.
5. The creation of an environment that foments hypocrisy.

This may not be your church at all. I am not trying to attack your specific church, and like I've said, I don't think these problems are an absolute given. So if you've managed somehow to avoid them, well... bully for you.

But for the rest of the NAPEs, here's why I think a move back to house churches would fix the aforementioned problems.


1. Misappropriation of funds: The area where I live spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on church buildings that are almost without exception grotesque architectural monstrosities designed with little concern for either longevity or aesthetics. Granted, that's the state of most architecture in America... but to my aesthetics-loving self, this is no excuse. Within these buildings there are a number of services offered, but none that could not in all probability be provided more efficiently in other contexts. Of the hundreds of millions of dollars brought in by donations to many of these churches, only an itty-bitty percentage goes to the things that Jesus usually went on about, such as caring for the oppressed and the needy. A friend of mine dropped in on one of the fastest growing churches around here and the "tour guide" actually bragged to him that they gave a full tenth of their income to the poor. If we're going to pretend to be Christian, it would be nice to see the majority of our funds diverted away from new carpets and heating for fifty feet of head-room, and towards Jesus. 

2. The deeply lamentable tragedy of the association of Jesus Christ's name with structures of Power, Violence and Control. As much as I don't like saying an unqualified "Ra-Ra" to America, I gotta say that the concept of decentralization is brilliant. Humans are perpetually scared, and that fear pushes them to try to wrest an illusion of control from a vast, un-tameable universe. The problem is that it is an illusion, and that once we have succumbed to the fool's errand of a fear-driven power pursuit, things fall apart. We know it's not working, but at that point we're too invested in the power structures we've made to understand that the only real solution is to just give up. 

Institutions are never static. They grow or they die. This is an unfortunate rule by which our culture plays, and churches are no exception. Often, therefore, the demands of growth drown out the whispers of truth, love and faith. And although it is true that in house churches, people have all the same fears and that those fears drive them towards the same power struggles, the intimacy of the relationships in house churches means there will be less opportunities for a few people to deceive their way to having power over a great many others, which is where things always get really ugly. Jesus was a last-shall-be-first kind of guy. Let's go there.

3. The endorsement of a lot of truly crappy art, and the exclusion from church culture of most art that is honest, true and visceral. Despite being based, in theory, on a Book of Scriptures that is an often brutal, raw, angry, funny, sexy, vulgar, poetic and complicated work of Art, most NAPE churches have come to see Art as existing for very narrow, saccharine purposes. There are a variety of complicated historical reasons for this, but the bottom line is that in the NAPE church music, dance, poetry, film, prose, theater and cetera often get completely stripped of any part of reality deemed ugly or unpleasant. 

Then, in an example of Groupthink peculiar to this sort of church, the lifeless, dishonest, sweet unreality left over gets labeled "good" and held up for praise. Musicians who write uncreative, dishonest lyrics reformulated from someone else's work and put to chord progressions and melodies cribbed from the last decade's pop-top-forty get hailed as Great Artists, and make careers out of telling half-truths about themselves and the world. Filmmakers create sappy nonsense full of weak acting, weak story lines and two-dimensional characters, which leave the sheeple weeping in their seats and clamoring for more. 

"Well, yeah," they say, "it was kinda bad in all those ways you mentioned... but the message, man, the message."

The problem with this sort of thinking is that in many ways the medium is the message, and as Madeleine L'Engle once said, "bad art is bad theology."

In intimate, smaller groups, it is very difficult (and pointless) to try to lie too much about yourself and the world, pretending to like art that deep down you all know really sucks the camel's tail. It is my belief and hope that if you could get people out of these large, groupthinking clusters, their ability to honestly apprehend artwork would return to them.

4. The association of faith with entertainment and self-indulgence, rather than discipleship and service. Healing is found in community, when a bunch of us look outward and commit to the difficult, practical, often painful work of loving each other for the long haul. This may happen to a useful degree, sometimes, in some NAPE churches, but again, I think that those cases are somewhat transcendent. 

5. The creation of an environment that foments hypocrisy. I have made this my last point, but in some ways it's the most important. Each of my other points has suggested some of the reasons this happens, but suffice it to say that I think this is one of the most compelling reasons why we ought to consider abandoning the current NAPE church model. North American culture as a whole glorifies the presentation of a polished facade, but what the human soul craves is truth, in all its ugly reality. It craves honest, open communication of the self. Humans are not meant to live in lies and pretensions. They are meant to live actual, abundant lives. 

It is far too easy in churches to disappear into the faceless crowd. Even in the smaller programs offered, it is far too easy to mouth the "right" words and hide the truth about who you really are - your fears, failings, yearnings, and hopes. Anybody can fake anything for a few hours a week, but with people we interact with regularly as part of our daily lives, we are free to work out our faith with an other-centric love. Why? Because we know and are known. 

We could do this, of course, in larger groups. We could fight back against the alienating effects of our modern lifestyles. We could let the truly amazing message of love and grace and self-sacrifice taught by Jesus to infiltrate our lives. We don't, though, and I think it has to do, in part, with the sub-culture created by the things I've been mentioning - a sub-culture that is largely just a re-packaging of the culture in general. 

We are afraid to dismantle this sub-culture because a good many of us don't really believe in Jesus, and think that without our help and our structures and our programs, nothing would ever change. So we stick to our broken systems, counting our numbers and imagining they actually mean something. They don't, and the facade is crumbling. Church attendance is down, and its not because Hollywood made movies out of too many Dan Brown books. It's because the church - by which I mean the collection of buildings and publishing houses and weird habits that make up NAPE culture - is in many ways broken. We are not victims of our culture, though, we are shapers. So let's shape and un-break it, by breaking it and building it into something new.

This isn't really my idea. It started, as I've said, with a couple of dyed-in-the-wool NAPEs, and grew in the soil of my discontent. Do I really think it will ever happen? No. Peoples is peoples, after all. But a boy can dream.

---

*Note: this post was getting really long, so I ignored obvious questions like, "but who will protect us from heresy?" and "but what about 'worship'?" I am eager, as always, to give my opinions on these things, so if you wish to know them, feel free to push back in the comments.


22 comments:

  1. Ok, now you've piqued my curiosity. Who will protect us from heresy? And what about worship? And what happened to the many parts serving many purposes to create one whole? Don't large churches allow the members to contribute their various talents to God's ends?

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  2. Your blog is so interesting. I grew up in an Assembly of God church, which is totally NAPE-full. I have a heated perspective on my spiritual upbringing and it's rare that I come across a Christian who is willing to be honest about the way things are run in Christian america.

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  3. I don't know if you are 'right' or 'wrong', but just know that someone will be thinking very hard about your above post. I have a few questions:
    1. What is the point of going to modern churches (other than the Sunday School answer of 'because we need to worship with other believers') when you are completely lost in the numbers and the faces. You sit and stand when someone tells you to, you sing some songs that make no sense, and then you hear a long speech about God with some references to the Bible. Why should I even bother to attend church if it only brings me farther from God?

    2. Believing in the holiness of a person named Jesus sets Christianity apart from Judaism. What if Jesus was just another Martin Luther or a conventional mega-church leader? What makes Jesus so great that there is a whole religion, or what seems to be a big group of people that are motivated by cultural pressure, based around his greatness?

    3. Why should the Bible be believed if it is a stack of papers that have been touched and altered by humans?

    It still amazes me as I have grown older how, after going to a Christian school, being raised in a Christian family, and going to church continually, that I do not understand the basics of what my culture urges me to believe. It is scary how I am questioning it so seriously because I have been told my whole life to never question Christianity, but I guess that is just a part of growing up and realizing my beliefs are a big deal because they are my beliefs, and no one elses. I have the power to accept or decline what I want.

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  4. Thanks so much for the feedback/questions. I will attempt to reply to each of you in turn. First, Anonymous Numero Uno:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for spelling the word "piqued" correctly. For some reason, that makes me happy.

    All right, to the fray:

    First of all, we have to define what heresy is. According to Wikipedia, it's "a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma," but most people in the church will just say "heresy is doctrinal error" and proceed to define it as anything that doesn't go along with what they already believe.

    I, on the contrary, am supremely convinced of my own immense ignorance, so I will go with wikipedia's definition. My response, then, is to say that I don't really care all that much about protection from heresy, and I don't think God does, either.

    One annoying thing the NAPEs have done is to conflate Christianity with "head knowledge." I disagree. I think, rather, that the bottom line is that "they will know you are Christians by your love." No love = no Christian. I've known people who in my opinion believe a whole lot of whacked-out things, theologically speaking, but who are exceptional lovers.

    Besides, having a larger, centralized church authority structure is no guarantee in any way against error of any kind. People who say that believe, at heart, that their denomination is absolutely right, because all denominations believe a lot of things that conflict with all the other denominations. Someone's wrong, and it's probably everybody.

    But if you're going to quake in fear that without someone smarter than you to tell you what to think, then I have to say that in today's information age, there are a lot of really smart, truly wise people to whom you now have access through the internet, libraries, etc. And chances are good, if you're willing to look with your mind AND heart, you're likely to find teachers who have a MUCH more love-centric theology than the inbred Bible-School-Educated pastor of your local church.

    Oddly enough, I think that the response to your other two questions requires me to speak out against what can only be described as a particularly insidious form of heresy: that is, the false dichotomy of sacred and secular. First, as it pertains to worship, I have to say that the idea of "worship" being four songs played as an opener to a church show is COMPLETELY antithetical to what the Bible teaches. Worship is a mind-set, a soul-set, a way of life.

    If you love music, you'll make it or listen to it as a part of your life. This will happen in a home-church setting, or it won't, but that won't have any bearing on "worship." The current NAPE definition of "worship as music" is just one more sad example of how they split the unsplittable, defining some things as "spiritual" and some things as "fleshly." If the Bible uses those terms in contrast, it is as a teaching device, not a metaphysical description of the Universe.

    Cont'd...

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  5. ...Continued from Above.

    This also answers your other two questions, about a mega-church providing opportunities for people to contribute their various talents to God's ends, because your question implies that God's ends are served only (or at least, more importantly and directly) within the context of a formal church program. I would argue, rather, that anyone can and does serve God's ends in any job, anywhere - that it's all part of a larger tapestry being woven by a superbly creative Artist who LOVES it all... has FUN with it all.

    A church is not about job-provision. It's about community, faith, love, and encouraging each other in the hope that we believe can be found in Jesus. This does not require a formal church structure at all.

    Church can be a family dinner.

    Church can be a father and son, working on a broken truck.

    Church can be two dudes going out and drinking some beer on a bridge while fishing.

    I've written a lot about this over the years, but perhaps the best explanation of what I mean can be found in a poem I wrote two years ago called "steeples."

    Steeples

    I have been taught that church is a building you go into
    that is somehow sacred.

    And though these so-called "christian" teachers backpedal
    and say they don't mean sacred sacred,
    it is exactly what they mean,
    because they want to invest a part of the everyday life they despise
    with an element of the Divine.

    They are afraid to admit the truth -
    that everything is infused with God,
    that it breathes God's breath -
    for they fear that by this admission they will lose control of God.
    Their fear will be exposed and they will whither up
    like the phantasms they fear themselves to be.

    Me, I think a church is a community of people
    with a truth-lust raging after yearnings for the impossible.

    I think it is a grouping of humilities,
    of dying selves who love the poor
    and want more LIFE,
    not glitzy, tawdry imitations.

    I think it is a broken gathering of broken people
    who will admit it.

    I think it is a place for losers and lovers
    that exists, not between two-by-fours,
    but in loves both great and small.

    I think a church is made of folks who sense,
    if not admit,
    that everything is sacred:
    even death, birth, sex and toilets.

    So if you ask me what a church is,
    I will tell you that I do not know...
    that it is a holy mystery I enter every morning
    when I softly breathe awake,
    and every night when I anxiously fall away.

    It is all that lies between.

    It is a hug, a tree, a kiss.

    It is this.

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  6. Thank you for your comment, Amanda. I am saddened by the number of people who get hurt by lies masquerading as Jesus. It sucks, and it's a major reason why I write a lot of the stuff I do: to hopefully help people see that the Truth is bigger than any broken system.

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  7. Your brother posted this post (what funny combinations these internet words make...) on my facebook. I'm glad he did.

    I agree with you so much I don't even know what to say. Usually I get to frustrated to do a good job of expressing these things to people, and they end up just seeing another instance of Emily thinking too much about things. Or they get scared of heresy, like the time I forgot to say that I "hope" animals will talk in Heaven, and announced that I thought they would.

    Anyways. I look forward to reading more of your blog. (:

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  8. Anonymous numero deux:

    While I am generally talking over my pay grade whenever I open my mouth, this will be especially true of my response to you. I'll try.

    1. Why should you go to a NAPE church if it just takes you further from God? I don't know... doughnuts? Do they have doughnuts? If they have fresh-baked, homemade doughnuts it might be worth it. Other than that, I can't think of a good reason.

    2. Why do I believe that is Jesus more than just a wise teacher? Well, that's a super-huge question that would take a long time to answer, because I'd have to have you live my whole life alongside me and read every book I've ever read.

    Highlights? Well, I grew up in a loving, Christian missionary family, so that definitely plays a part. I was also raised in an actual (gasp!) loving Christian community. It had problems, but not enough to make me bitter. Furthermore, Jesus' divinity also makes sense to my mind. It soothes my spirit. It resonates with my soul.

    Books that have pushed me this direction? Well, amongst the hundreds, there's "The End of the Affair" by Graham Green, "The Giver," by Lois Lowry, "The Idiot," by Fyodor Dostoevsky, "Why I Am a Christian," edited by Norm Geisler, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," by C.S. Lewis, "The Bible," by a whole bunch of people, and "Something Beautiful for God," by Malcolm Muggeridge.

    3. Why should the Bible be believed? Wait... did you say, "JUST a stack of papers"?!??!

    That's like saying "The Brother's Karamazov" is just a stack of papers, or that Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" is just a bunch of notes.

    The Bible is a stack of papers, yes, but it is also so much more, and even though I wish that I could hear the "Moonlight Sonata" played by Beethoven himself, I still may weep for the beauty of it if one of my more talented acquaintances gives it a go. Just because I can't read Russian, doesn't mean I can't be moved and changed by Dostoevsky.

    As a missionary kid in Wycliffe Bible Translators, I knew a number of people who messed with that stack of papers and came up with their own take. Some of them were not always the nicest people. Some of them probably even made mistakes, so I'm not going to argue with you that the people who translated MY Bible never, ever got it wrong.

    In fact, I wouldn't argue with you about anything. The Bible is a marvelous work of art, an incredible historical document, and (I believe) a mad-awesome way God communicates with people. I don't worship it, though, and I don't think I could argue you into believing its claims.

    I wish you the best in your struggle. It is my belief that you have nothing to fear. That God loves you, no matter what you come up with.

    Cheers.

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  9. Thanks, Em. In the words of Bono, "don't let the people of uncertain parentage get you down."

    Nothin' to fear but fear itself. Seriously.

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  10. Good points, in that the dismantling of comfort zones generates introspection. But I would disagree with #1, that buildings are misappropriations of funds. Instead of warehouse churches in industrial parks, we need to move back toward great buildings in relevant areas. Churches like this reflect the art necessary to life in your other point, and their permanence and relevance--in my opinion--makes them harder to leave. The current trend of holding church in the cheapest building possible (while we live in the best building possible), does nothing for Christianity.

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  11. Dear Josh,

    I grew up in the church you describe. My folks ran house churches, took on the loose meaning of church. It is exactly like the rest. Full of people, occasionally run by cult of personality.

    Love, Sarah.

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  12. "I disagree. I think, rather, that the bottom line is that "they will know you are Christians by your love." No love = no Christian."

    Personally, I think this statement encompasses what is wrong with NAPE-ism. We have become tribal. We want to "be Christian." We need to listen to Christian music, live by Christian ethics, go to a Christian building every Sunday, read Christian books, etc... "Christian" is an [often empty] ideology many people (including myself at times) fight for instead of a philosophy and faith they shape their lives around.

    Jesus wasn't a Christian. The term Christian wasn't even invented until 40 years after he died, and it was originally meant to be a sneering term. In the quote you paraphrased, Jesus said "they will know you are my disciples [ie: people I have taught and fundamentally shaped by me] by your love." I don't think it matters whether or not you are "a Christian." What matters is to be learning more about Jesus and becoming more like him. For this to happen, I think that the first and foremost requirement is a community of others who are actively trying to become like Jesus. However, there are many tools that can supplement this community- including, for some people, the experience of every Sunday being surrounded by hundreds of supposedly like-minded individuals, singing some catchy music, and hearing some Biblical teaching. Of course, for other people, this "church experience" may be counter-productive to them becoming more like Jesus.

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  13. Yeah, Michael, great buildings in relevant areas are good... I guess the reason why I'd chuck the whole thing and not worry about the buildings is that I figure the need to have them be "churches" is just another manifestation of that sacred/secular dichotomy I don't like so much. Make beautiful buildings, yes! But buildings aren't churches.

    You're right, though... people would leave. Lots and lots and lots of people. The sorts of people whose "faith" is contingent on buildings and programs, I think. The church itself wouldn't suffer by it.

    And Sarah, I agree. As that guy in the muppets said, "peoples is peoples." Still-and-but, they'd do a lot less damage if they were spread a bit more evenly. And as Michael implied, a lot of them would leave.

    The world I envision has no Large Church / Home Church dichotomy. It's home church or no church, so home churches wouldn't be defining themselves by what they weren't, or what they left. It would take a generation, but they'd forget all the stupid cultural baggage and perhaps learn to just get together and BE... without a program.

    But there's a reason they call it "utopia"... it means "no-place," right? I'm thinking this no-place of mine isn't gonna happen until after the alien apocalypse. You and Jon and I will survive, though (as evidenced by that story I wrote). Wanna start a rubble-house church with me?

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  14. Mr. Barkey, I'm a past student of yours. I appreciate the fact that you are honest about society and your own personal views, however, I question the fundamentals of your beliefs because of my own experiences. Continually, friends of mine who attend "NAPE" churches have shown me Christ's love and his grace through their actions. Does your post assert to a belief that becoming associated with or remaining in the guidance of a NAPE church will only lead you away from Christ and true Christianity, or are there certain exceptions to this statement? My personal view is that Christ can be found in a myriad of different methods, as long as the belief system is constant and the heart remains fixed upon the idea that faith in Christ alone leads to salvation. However, I also hold the view that there are certain paths to salvation that make the path "wider" (figuratively speaking). Fundamentally, are you saying that your method of "fixing the church" is one that you believe is the most effective? Please expound.

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  15. Anonymous: in your first post, you pose some interesting questions, bravo. I'm not sure who told you not to interrogate your belief, perhaps the church, but any belief worth believing should be able to handle some questions. No one can argue you into believing in god or a god. Or believing in atheism, for that matter. However, when you suggest a likeness between Jesus and a mega church leader, it makes me wonder if you've read the gospels - Jesus was the antithesis of that type of character, the church leaders at the time were his fav targets.

    Josh: I agree with you in many ways, decentralization and much smaller churches would democratize and make transparent organizational issues like the use of funds, the direction of the church, and other issues both political and religious; it also would make people more accountable for their faith and the way they live their lives. But for your ideal to work, you would need a church where everybody thinks like you, where everybody agreed on what was good art [lol], where everybody agreed on the same music, where everybody agreed on how to use the funds 'appropriately', and where everybody agreed on the same tenets of Christianity and the same way to approach them . It just doesn't work. If the small church is not homogeneous then the diversity is either pressured into conformity or left out or included and accepted (tolerated) as a dissenting opinion.

    Smaller churches amplify human frailty and difference, and people will merely lie more not less. Most people cannot handle the microscope of religious righteousness. And "Because we know and are known"? You have to admit that sounds creepy, and judgmental, like a surveillance culture or something.

    I'm not sure where in Jesus' teaching do you find this type of 'group therapy' church, where you are supposed let everyone see the ugly truths and where people have to know and be known? In fact, Jesus in the Gospels is quite individualistic about people's journey in faith with God. God knows; it's not up to us to know.

    I'm not advocating mega churches at all. But I like the freedom of anonymity, the freedom to bow my head and pray to God without someone coming up to me and asking me if I fell asleep or having people ask me how I feel about God and why am I angry at God and when was I saved and what sins do I struggle with so they can pray about them - and all the other things about my journey with God that are nobody's business but God's. If I don't like what the leaders are doing, I can suspend my anonymity and say something, and if things don't change, I can leave. No big deal. There's lots of churches around.

    My church has about 300 families, maybe a little less. I have a few friends, but I enjoy being somewhat anonymous. I find it liberating because it's me and God. He knows me. I don't need to be prayed over or to share my journey with God with people who already believe - I've always found these types of things weird. If I'm going to share my faith, it will be with a nonbeliever or someone who is obviously struggling.

    In the end, small decentralized churches will lean towards homogeneity or at least conformity; for better or for worse, that's how we human beings operate. Small churches will not vanquish bad taste in art; it will amplify it; some goth guy with fang implants will want everyone in the mini-church to read the Twilight books because they've written a sermon about the series as an allegory of True Love and Jesus' sacrifice. I'll warrant you'll be wishing for a little anonymity then.

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  16. Anonymous former student, I shall oblige and expound... although, I've gotta say that as a teacher, it's my duty to suggest (with a twinkle in my eye) that you go back and read VERY carefully through what I've already written - in the comments as well - and see if I haven't answered your question.

    ...And let me just add that by "answer your question" I don't mean that I've solved it, by any means. Just that I've explained my position.

    Let me rephrase it: People are people, wherever you find them - big churches, small churches... it doesn't matter. I am glad you were loved in a larger church setting.

    Your writing re-directs the discussion to matters of salvation, which I generally refuse to discuss in a public forum. First, because I don't think my opinion on it matters (an opinion which infuriates pretty much every NAPE with whom I share it) and second, because... well, just because I feel it's exceedingly foolish to talk about things which I'm absolutely sure I don't and can't understand. Also, I like my job. And as you know, the place where I work has a very clearly delineated opinion on this and would not approve of me yelling out my "don't know, don't care" ideology.

    Ultimately, this entire post is a Utopian ideal that I do not believe will happen. The discussion always gets re-routed back to styles of music and questions of leadership, all of which are evidence that most people are not coming at this from the angle that I am.

    As Mark pointed out in his comment, for this to work, people would have to view the church the way that I do. Almost without exception, they don't.

    And there is the added problem that I have somewhat concealed my true, deeper goal, which is to ultimately eliminate the church as being bound by ANY structure or system... house church included. That is why I acknowledge that a larger church could, conceivably, avoid all the problems I've mentioned... and that a house church could have them all - in spades. Because ultimately the external institutions - be they small or large - are merely representations of the collective inner life of the individuals who make them.

    The reason I speak out is that I feel that once an institution is created, it takes on a life of its own, and is easily hijacked by a few to override the needs and desires of the many. This annoys and saddens me, because I am tired of watching the human collateral damage fall by the wayside. I wish for something different, something better, something more real. I doubt I'll get it in any measure more than I'm willing to live it. So I try.

    And Mark - I cannot for the life of me understand why you think "knowing and being known" is creepy and judgmental. You write with such honesty and vulnerability on your own blog - your writing seems to me to be evidence enough that you agree with me - that knowing and being known is a big part of what we yearn for as humans.

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  17. I would like to add, after blathering on so much about things I can't possibly expect to understand, that one of the biggest mistakes you could make is to take me too seriously. I sure as bananas don't.

    As my college friend Charles Stankievitch famously said, I'm here to "explore, not explain." If my explorations help you think and, God permit, love better... well, that's just the cat's meow AND its pajamas. I'm here to share a journey, if you'll let me. I'm not here to captain anyone else's ship.

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  18. Thank you for the compliment, Josh. As evidenced by the time stamp lol, I was burning the midnight oil again, so please forgive me for taking short cuts with my phrase choices. I have visited a couple of mega-churches, and you are right: they are an affront to Christ's teachings and life; I think it would make me physically sick to wallow in such opulence and smarmy self-righteousness.

    I miss talking to Charles, arguing about films and books... good times at TW. Did you know Tamie as well? Dude, this journey is yours; I'm just glad you've chosen to share it here. Thx.

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  19. You are welcome, Mark, and I'm glad you love the banner. I think that's gotta be my most popular painting... I made prints of it once, and sold them all. Probably oughtta do it again. Artist's and their business sense, I tell ya.

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  20. I'm assuming you must not attend church based on your frustrations/arguments against it. I think there are certainly things you are saying that are quite true. At the same time, there are a number of assumptions you are making about the church. I am opposed to the mega-church personally for a number of reasons and one of which is that unless one works very hard, he won't be known. However, there are many smaller churches that have made true community a part of their lifestyle and priority. There are pastors who are known and know the people in their congregation. There are churches who have really good musicians and really great art. Interestingly, and you may not realize this, but sometimes your viewpoint seems to be presented in such a way that you have the corner on truth in the same way you fault all these denominations as having their "right" angle. I realize you make it clear that you don't know for sure or that you are on a journey, but it may be something you can’t see clearly: there is a condescending tone that speaks underneath your words that you are right. There are so many things to be angry about concerning the church. But isn’t that the point? Jesus loves the church because He loves prostitutes that keep giving themselves away to other lovers. He died for the church, for the ones who want to get His Kingdom out there but stumble over their own feet and compromise their own testimony. To be honest, the most disturbing thing for me with the church is when their is an arrogance floating around the pulpit. It feels like Jesus is the means to a pastor's own end of fame and the building of their own kingdom. This is so unsettling and yet I am sure it bothers me because at the core we all want people to think we are worthy of praise. All our posts, blogs, books and articles are our weak attempt at clarifying supernatural things, as if God needs our help to explain what He wished He could have said better. We can still make enough statements that make us appear humble so that we are not questioned, and yet the truth is, for all of us, we want to be right. Some of us make our platform be our own children, some do it in their office, some through their pulpit, some through their classroom and some all by themselves...to no one but themselves. We are far to sure we know best and in the end, we miss that God is not limited and we don’t get to celebrate what He is committed to doing. He doesn't need a perfect atmosphere. He works always because He works through sinners. Period. Not an excuse to be however we want, but if He was so stressed about it, He would have made it a hell of a lot more clear.

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  21. Dear Anonymous Massive-Paragraph-Poster. Allow myself to clarify... myself. You've made one incorrect assumption, and one correct. The truth is, I do attend church. As I said in my post, "I yell because I care." For a variety of reasons, however, I no longer consider myself to be a part of NAPE culture. Which is why I write the way I do.

    Your correct assumption is that I think I am right. Absolutely, of course. If I didn't think I was right in an opinion, it would no longer be an opinion. Anything else is po-mo, false-humility, jibber-jabber. However, if you read through my responses in the comments, you will undoubtedly discover that I do not take myself - or this blog post - particularly seriously.

    I highly doubt I'm gonna change much with a post like this. Most people who read, read only what they already think. And everybody comes with all sorts of preconceptions - differences of approach that make actual communication well nigh on impossible. Almost no one is actually willing to have their opinion changed. At least... not all at once.

    Still, the conversation is a gift and a pleasure... so I thank you for weighing in.

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