We do Church in the US like companies expand their presence in a region…we franchise. Slow Church, a book written by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison offers up a profoundly different vision for what the Church is & does to be true to its original calling.
Sunday, June 29, 2014
We do Church in the US like companies expand their presence in a region…we franchise. Slow Church, a book written by C. Christopher Smith & John Pattison offers up a profoundly different vision for what the Church is & does to be true to its original calling.
Sunday, May 4, 2014
It has come out in the press that one more Evangelical leader has possibly misused his authority by creating an environment of intimidation and control over a mega church and its campuses. As Gomer Pile used to say, “Surprise.. surprise!" How do we miss the road signs of these train wrecks as they gain speed and tumble down the track? We miss them because on some level we are in collusion. Yes, we want efficiency. We want clarity of vision. We want consistency of product and packaging. We want an experience that is meaningful, well researched, done with excellence, and offered up by men (mostly men by the way) who could work anywhere in the world if they wanted to but choose the church. In other words, we want the most talented, skilled, and charismatic leaders in the most visible positions and we want the most technical leaders in the technical positions and the most logistical and management oriented leaders “running” the church. Why?
We don’t understand that question.
Of course we want things to “run” well. We want life to have a degree of order and accessibility with clear cut answers to current and looming problems. We want to solve any foreseeable challenges with our families and spouses. We want to manage our money effectively and of course we want to stay healthy and active. We also want to get in and out of church within 10 minutes, tithe online, get our pastors’ sermons via podcast, and attend our weekend retreats at a vacation spa if possible while we do the inner work in a chilled out much needed environment.
And leaders, oh do we have some real demands we place upon them. In the age of sound bites, we need a pastor who speaks his mind. If he is an expert on some topic, we want that expertise brought to bear in his teaching. We want leaders who keep up with the latest trends but hold on to our deep biblical traditions as well. You know, keep a real good balance. We want leaders who can make the hard choices. Guys who in the trenches don’t wimp out but step up to the plate and knock it out of the park. We want leaders who are not girly men. No effeminate guys who can’t garner the respect of the manly guys in the congregation. Let’s be clear. We want our leaders to act like leaders. What does a leader act like?
We don’t understand that question.
So when it comes to anyone desiring leadership roles or status, we have a tall order for anyone promising meaning and truth to us. They better step up and deliver. Well it just so happens there are a ton of people unconsciously driven with enough naïveté about their own limits to buy into that concept of leadership and promise those things whether they can actually deliver them or not.
Of course, they believe they are not only willing but quite capable of delivering. That is why they must pick their team. And it is a team much like a marketing team or sports team. There is an energy of power and direction to this team. Just being in their presence you can sense they are going somewhere and they are going despite the obstacles. They are in a sense “hired” to come in and get things done much like a consultant. It is their job & specifically within their purview & skill set to get this thing called the church running smoothly.
In fact, their real service (not servant hood but service) is to create a streamlined experience that is offered Sunday after Sunday without having to deal with any of the messy “unworkable” issues prevalent in your life. In other words, continue to drink the Kool-Aid until you are hooked on sugar.
This critique (if that is what this is) of the aforementioned reflection on a type of leader is not specifically about mega churches. Not anymore. This is a strategy of many church plants in the church growth movement who have taken the “franchise model” and the web and commoditzed the whole proclamation of truth down to information and data that they don’t even need for the pastor to be real anymore. Well, real in terms of being on site, actually praying with you, laying hands on you in real time, offering up discernment because they actually live with you from day to day. No, they can mail that to you (or send you to the church's counseling division) and if you choose to buy deeper into the program (there is a small inner circle but that is not privy to but a few) you can get the perks of being well liked, respected and occasionally offered positions within the middle management division of the church that tell others, “I am a guy, we are a couple, here is a family” who has worked the program and see how great and efficacious it is. Yes, you too can become not only advertisers; but actual Hair Club Members. We have tried the products, committed ourselves to the authorities and experts suggested regimen routines and found the programs life changing.
Lest I sound to cynical let me qualify the above by some parsing. God is able to do miracles with the most stupidly human attempts at helping one another. So I am not placing on most of the leaders of such a model as offered above any purposeful malevolence or egomania. There are countless churches that operate out of a modern business model and they do so because that has been offered up in their experience as an effective way of “doing church.” I get that and have pursued and participated in a few myself. So I stand condemned if that is what this post is about. (cynicism I mean) But it is not.
What this post is about is the “uber churches” & their leaders who are fostering a type of "boss meets prophet teacher" who is taking over the voice and heart of the evangelical movement. It is the abrupt pretentious, animated, & overly authoritative leaders who see themselves as God appointed spokespersons of this new movement be it neo reformed, charismatic, holiness, emergent or whatever. Pick you flavor.
What I am addressing here is the blindness many of us have to the kind of person these types of business models demand, produce and allow. Business and the bottom line decisions that have to be made every day surely involve issues of bankable skills, predictable results and consistent performance reviews (of all but the big honcho by the way). This is another post on the potential of work to be redeemed so I am aware that these above assumptions and perceptions as to the meaning and purpose of work severely shrink the dignity of humankind and the real possibilities of a work world redeemed and infused with faith. But alas, that is another post. Here, once again, I am pointing to the types of leaders a business like church model produces. I am sure megalomania and pride have always touched the Church as it is full of fallen human beings. But we now have a type of leader taking over a large portion of what I deem to be my family and I am sorely worried about the next few generations of leaders following in our footsteps if they see the arrogance, narcissistic tendencies of these men and mistakenly count them as actual Godly traits.
Jesus is our model is He not? In Matthew 20 He clearly points to a posture of leadership missing in many of the leaders who have cult followings.
Much like a brand or image driven machine, these leaders use the church and its technologies to foster their own notoriety. Their sermons, books, podcasts, and blogs are disseminated and given a high priority in the functioning of the truth & the Gospel proclaimed as they have become one of the main reasons a people attend the church. It’s a branding issue you know. So it is justified in the minds of those who allow this serving energy to be trained backwards. In other words, the Church is there to hold up the pastor’s mantel and image. You want to serve God…serve the vision of one man.
We (well I do) live in a suburb outside a major metropolitan city. This means I have a mortgage, two cars and insurance to pay for, some college bills coming down the pike one way or another and insurance payments up the yin yang. It is expensive to be this comfortable. Point??? I need cash. One sign something is array is when the leaders of a church are living way beyond the means of most of their flock. That money comes from somewhere. And it does. The pockets of the body. This new brand of leader generally lives pretty large. It may be understated pretension and hidden from view but upon a deeper look, the money from books, speaking engagements, and royalties all add up and this leader is now a celebrity of sorts living a life way beyond the means or ability of his flock. But, that is what happens when you are blessed of God right? Well, if our checks came directly from God’s bank yes…but the truth is they come from the backs and the sweat of the labors of those in the pews. When money and time is abused, so are the men and women coming to church every Sunday.
In the business world decisions need to be made by those who can be decisive and have a track record for making the “right decisions.” This new leader in the church has now equated the elder board for a type of inner circle that placates the dreams of one or two and rubber stamps them as long as the church is growing and the bills are being paid. This pragmatic assessment (i.e. growth and fiscal soundness) is such a surface judgment of God’s activity in the midst of a congregation. But I have attended many a “report meeting” where numbers and metrics ruled the day. The deeper inner lives of the people, the impact of the church on the families involved and the real witness of the Church in the community and world were never addressed. These are just too difficult to asses is generally the excuse for relying on number driven assessments.
To make these numbers work you need a team and unity. Anyone asking too many questions or God forbid truly dissents and exposes a darker part of our heart (which we all know exists individually within us so why not corporately or at leadership level?)
As one who has grown up in the fine and performing arts world, I have had to weather and fight against the modernist “genius” mentality that was fostered in the 20th century. “Oh she’s genius you know.” That was the statement that allowed the person to justify nearly anything and everything. Well that genius status or savant role has now moved from the creatives over to the business world. That is why it is not only acceptable to engage the church with this arbitrary business ownership model of leadership but in some ways expect & demand it. We respect who we respect. We would not put these men in leadership if we did not respect their bravado, bullying and inability to accept others ideas and insights.
So what is up people? What is wrong with us? For me, I remember a time where many of us had the experience and therefore the ongoing fear of being involved in Evangelical and Fundamentalist enclaves where legalism reigned. Now, in a time of post denominationalism, legalism is not as much the issue as authoritarianism. In other words, there is a lot of openness on doctrinal issues but certain leaders have weighed into the discussion with a spirit of intimidation and in some case oppression. It is their way or the highway. The issues can of course be doctrinal but also spill over into how the church is run, how the staff is hired and fired, and who gets to speak into the day to day decision making processes.
I began to ponder this whole social phenomenon after reading what is taking place up in Seattle at Mars Hill. As one who actually encountered Mark Driscoll n the early days, none of what appears to have happened of late surprises me. It is one thing to have a fairly “big” personality when speaking and performing & another to be full of self importance and conceit. I have worked with countless musical performers and even speakers who had the ability to take the stage and fill it. But most of them went back to being human when they hit the street. For some, the need to have that stage-like worshipping positioning in each and every life situation is their downfall. They just can't go back to being a normal human being. The grandiosity embraced at these heights of the glory go beyond being an experience to remember and become the very air one needs to breath. When thousands are watching it fills anything that is empty even if it is in hiding. They now demand that of all who would come into their presence assume the position. Like the Will Farrell’s character Ron Burgandy in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy says to Veronica Corningstone (Christian Applegate) :,”Don’t you know who I am.” The hubris and extended stretching of the human ego beyond its ability to go back to its original shape will mean a tremendous fall from grace.
I get this social phenomena because it is a by product of our own desire for the Church to be an experience we purchase rather than one in which we live and participate in. The “big leader” allow us access to God without all the messy incursions of our own inner life. Let Mark Driscoll decide al these pithy theological issues regarding life love sex and marriage. Let the famous Christian author be the one who speaks into our lives with simple techniques and solutions to problems that are impacting our daily lives. The local church doesn’t usually offer, unfortunately, a powerfully human conversation full of love, respect, and real embodied listening to have something to balance out this twisted answer to getting “fixed & filled.”
So we go to church, sit “under” the uber leader, remark at how “timely” and “meaningful” his sermons are, get in our car and drive 20 miles back to our suburban cocoon and cry ourselves to sleep in private.
I am praying or you Mark.
For background http://www.organicchurchtoday.com/profiles/bl
Friday, March 11, 2011
I have shared with close friends my "on again off again" encounters with depression. Profoundly polar, it appears my deep incessant hunger for openness and responsiveness to life, beauty, community and God are equally informed by this chronic loss of heart. In recent months I have taken off a significant amount of weight. As a poet, I am always looking for the spiritual metaphor hidden in my response & interpretation of the world or reality. Depression in its most profound sense usually brings with it a "weightiness of soul." This mass of sorrow takes on an actual volume in the soul. Full of this empty, normally fluid emotions now are frozen and muted. There are times when I feel like a thousand pound deer caught in the headlights. No act or engagement with others makes sense. Why? I have exhausted all my energies, my perceptions, my skills, my mental & emotional acumen in regards to life and it is still out of my control.
The mere fact that everything changes remains a bone in my throat. The impermanence of the outer world is more than tiresome. It often mocks me with ceaseless shifting and endless meandering to places not on my planned-out maps. These were not my dreams for this life. This is not the place I had decided to create for myself.
In this new place I discover once again, the limitedness of my own ability to fit in, to know how to act, to know what to feel, to actually know who to be. I am confronted once again with the very vapor-like nature of my sense of self. I thought I was so together, so intelligent, so wise, so loving. Now, in a new place, a new time, with a new people, I find my heart freezing up in resentment and fear. I feel the very edges of my sense of self melting away and I feel a sense of shame.
Why can my soul go so high in moments of aesthetic bliss and wonder and yet feel so small and weak in the dark new places of change? Growing up in a Christian holiness tradition (this is the perspective that one can be sinlessly perfect), I found very early on in my teen years an overwhelming impression of anxiety & guilt. Very early on I knew I was not the airy, light, spiritually victorious person I was being raised & groomed to be. My inclinations towards earthiness & the love of music (especially R & B) informed me even in budding adolescent childhood that some part of my journey involved going deep as well as going high. In fact, the way of depth intrigued me more than the way of light, white, strength and power. I sensed in my weakness a doorway facing heaven that is easily missed in seeking a spiritual glow & knowledge of God.
It is interesting that Emerson sensed he did not have sufficient tools and inner strength to allow his soul to move in and about the darker parts of his heart. He knew his shame and guilt were telling him something. He was not sure what. God is trying to speak to me through this loss of heart. Given my history and access to spiritual knowledge, hubris disguised as love and care and wisdom are my nemesis. As Thomas Moore says, "Shame corrects the hubris of the spiritual ascent." Any pastor knows that his ministry if often spilt between the Sunday morning service and the weekday counseling session in a private room. This conversation with pastors in the counseling room represents the Church's underworld. This is the sin we refuse to repent of, this is the fear we run from, this is the pain we avoid, this is the shame we refuse to embrace, this is the guilt we project on others, and yet in this place we encounter the proper love of self needed to properly engage the vicissitudes of life. And yet the torturous patterns of personality and soul are often not only neglected but seen as an optional or even an avoidable bother.
I am naive if I do not see the darker side of my depression. As much as I know the love of the Father is the ultimate antidote to this noonday demon or sickness of soul, I also know the lurking self-absorption hidden in depression's cycles. To enter the story my loss of heart is telling me is to know & feel the fluid feelings running deep under the glacier I call my persona or public self. To actually be as vulnerable as my feelings are telling me they are is to fall apart on some level. Within these stories lie uncertainty, sorrow, anger, helplessness and fear. Hidden in the chapters yet to be published also awaits my own complicity, my own broken nature inclined to blame and yet avoid any responsibility for change, for life, for forgiveness.
When my sadness is overwhelming I know I am in need of a great emptying. My very heart is to full of emptiness. My very heart knows pain beyond its ability to feel it. I must share this knowledge. I must weep together with others. I must tell someone of my overwhelment.
Is there a different dialect to the Spirit's voice in "the land of the bottoms?" When will I stop seeing the world before me as mere meaningless interferences? When will I regard the unsettled self as a benevolence of soul offered as a gift?
I am always amazed at the shear idiosyncratic complexity of the friends that are in my life. And yet I want my own life to be simple and uncluttered. I want my engagement of life and the Lord to be free of sorrow and sadness. I have had my fill of this emotion thank you!. And yet Scripture is replete with images of the ongoing spiritual warfare involved in the blossoming and fulfillment of the call upon one's life. The way of our Savior and the Cross is wrought with this kind of darkness and travail.
So as I feel this loss of heart, this sense of transgressing social expectations (often my own unexpressed projections), and the failure of my plans, my ideals, my own sense of righteousness and self, I discover much is rising up from this weakness and shame. Like Emerson I am in the "land of the bottoms" and I am seeking the engulfment of the Savior. I will sit in this vulnerability today. I will let the fire of the Spirit burn the chaff and stubble and create embers to warm my chillier traits. In this, and out of this I pray I do fall completely into the arms of God and as Bonheoffer realized, one can ..."take seriously, not our own suffering, but those of God in the world."
Sunday, October 11, 2009
A Response to Franky Schaeffer's book Crazy for God
Recently I came across an interview with Franky Schaeffer, the son of renowned Evangelical philosopher and teacher Francis Schaeffer. The interview was a brief segment on a cable talk show. If I interpret bias and slant with any degree of accuracy, this particular segment was positioned to malign and undermine what many call the “religious right.” I have read a few books of Franky’s in recent years so I was prepared for his “unique” read on the remnants of the Moral Majority but I was not prepared for the observable primal delivery of his rant.
As I said, I was prepared for the ideological placement of Schaeffer’s story but was not prepared for the emotive spillage that observably overshot the host’s intentions. I am sure she was rejoicing in the scathing and pointed barbs Schaeffer hurled at Evangelicals and yet at some point it seemed like his inner vitriol was not serving her audience. I can only imagine the stereotype many have about Evangelicals and Franky’s read certainly more than substantiated those existing prejudices. But the intellectual disdain many project on Evangelicals is much more ideological and an underlying distrust of religion in general than some personal encounter with the shadow side of faith. Schaeffer’s bearing was noticeably tense and restless. His speech was flighty, inordinately intense and blunt.
Schaffer’s latest book Crazy for God was undoubtedly the impetus behind the producers booking Franky and he wasted no time in cutting to the chase. The Rachel Maddow Show host branded as “mind over chatter” so her preferential style of dialogue is low key and riddled with humorous irony. There was no humor in Franky’s weigh in and the irony was probably lost on most with the exception of a few disaffected Evangelicals. But Franky kept on.
He was a man on a mission and he did not merely wade into the water but belly flopped off the high dive and called Evangelicals “the village idiots” of the religious world and called the eschatological fiction of LaHaye & Jenkins’s Left Behind series a dangerous narrative that allowed this particular enclave to demonize most of the world and elevate their own status in God’s eyes. I knew this was much more information than Maddow needed or wanted but Franky has never been one to fit into any molds. He kept on.
It appeared that at some point she just relented to his denunciation and let him go as his deep-rooted loathing seemed over the top even for her most ardent Evangelical and Fundamentalist haters. This was a rage & woundedness that was aimed at someone and something beyond mere political & ideological differences. This was a profound & uneasy disclosure for reasons I would have to explore to begin to empathize let alone understand or critique.
The cable news world is a pimp for authors, politicians, activists, and specialist of all ilks. It sets the stage for the worst in all of us to emerge and Franky was used as a shill like so many others who take their Wharholesque 10 minutes of fame with an unbridled zeal and unabashed self seeking. It is equally & somehow voyeuristically fascinating. We are drawn to the seething edge of another’s wounds. It touches something locked away in our own unspoken diatribe. We listen to “the other” for we feel the same rage. We feel the same confusion.
From the opening response to Rachel Maddow’s initial question it was apparent and palpable that this was a man working out his life on camera. This may be the attraction with reality TV. We get that in many cases the unscripted nature of the program releases a subterranean tributary that can cascade a person into a deeply human experience right before our eyes. This is not acting. This is real. And I could see that happening with Franky. The host touched a rivulet most likely hidden until the convergence of Franky’s emotions, the awareness of millions of viewers, and the years of desiring a platform converged & his invective became a tirade. Deeply animated and direct, Franky was not talking to Rachel or her audience. He was talking to his supposed perpetrators. He was talking to his father’s shadow; his mother’s idealized sense of calling and purpose. He was working out in front of humanity the role of being a son to parents who loomed large on the historical landscape especially for those in the Evangelical camp.
I am sure her producers were aware of Crazy for God’s premise and felt Schaeffer would offer up a reasoned and balanced view of this group. I am sure their hope was he would deliver a substantial wound to the heart of the movement. That is what cable does best. Set up the court, pick the jury, judge the accused and offer a verdict and then hang them openly. This is daily fare for this genre of news spectacle. But Schaeffer was having none of it. His emotional and intellectual biorhythms were on a different lunar cycle and he was going to deliver his testimony regardless of the jury. This was a man who wrote a book ostensibly about his feelings regarding this group called Evangelicals and specifically his life as the son of a famous couple in Francis & Edith Schaeffer. Rachel and producers brought him on to articulate his position and critique of the Christian right and although his vitriol certainly splashed on to anyone in that vicinity, his fury was directed and intended for more than an amorphous faction in the world of religious pluralism. This was a man who more than estranged from his past was now actively speaking out against their dangerous ideologies and openly bore upon his soul the scars of their abuse. He needed no baiting. He needed no clarification of his regard for this group. He was angry and he knew why.
It has been my experience that five minutes of cable generally gives me just enough data to create more confusion surrounding an issue. But in Franky’s case I think I got his message loud & clear. This exchange or depositing if you will was not ideological or even theological at its core. This was penance and grief work all rolled into one. This was a man conflicted and the cable news format gave him just enough windows to open a storm of unrehearsed and misdirected accusations. A sacred sorrow offered up in the profane setting of infotainment becomes dramatic display and it was in that light that the entire segment became seared into my mind. As soon as I was near a bookstore I bought the book. I hoped its examination might give me insight into this man’s interview which became his soul’s deposition, a declaration of revenge and reconciliation poured out as proof that this group called Evangelicals were more than bothersome. Some of the people responsible for much of the current town hall angst and outrage were insidious and ultimately unredeemable. It was the delivery of that ultimate verdict that touched some long silenced sting harbored in my own soul. That night I saw myself in Franky & it longed for its naming.
Recently an acquaintance released a book entitled The Sacredness of Questioning Everything. I was immediately drawn to the title and knowing what I think know of this man, surmised there would be some comfort in his journey into the spirituality of questioning. In retrospect, I imagine my thoughts were drawn to David Dark’s writing because I knew his observations would bring respite to my weary quandary filled soul. I was drawn to Franky’s Crazy for God for totally different reasons. There was a pain and unresolvedness in this man’s life and writing that beckoned the darker ghosts of my own past. While David Dark’s work was personal in part, its thrust was culturally interpretive and theological. He is a master at drawing together seemingly disparate and paradoxical happenings and issues and weaving them into an acceptable account. In The Sacredness of Questioning Everything there was a man who was offering a grid or flexible net if you will for holding & addressing the questions of life.
Schaeffer’s intent and delivery were far more amorphous and disquieting. Franky’s writing seemed more confessional, almost like a Christian tell-all. It is a hard book to categorize, if one even needs this assistance, and even harder to lay down after you picked it up. I read the book in two settings. That should tell you something. I devoured the book and on nearly every other page found myself nodding inwardly, smiling outwardly, making notes along the edges of the paragraphs in solidarity, disgust and occasionally experiencing a deep sense of violation. Franky’s, his parent’s and even my own boundaries seemed to be tossed aside for some odd confessional expedition meets witch hunt. I was not sure who or what he was pursuing at times but I felt the sweat on his temple, the heavy breathing of the chase, and the final resignation of discovering once again it was his own soul he met in the lonely darkness of acrimony and resentment.
What I did glean from Schaeffer’s work was insight into the man. I am not sure that was his intention but I felt his sorrow and grief on every page. I sensed his questions that by now had become encrusted and calcified into some inner posture he deemed intellectual and aesthetic. This was art he was offering up I am sure he announced to his inner critic. Maybe it was or is. I don’t feel qualified to assess that but much of the manuscript seemed like a man defending his current self-protected and defensive position on life, faith, and his past. Here was a man at odds with himself over the explanation of his life. Stuck on anger, his tears were held for fear of once again being abandoned. Here was a man whose very victimhood shamed him even more and upped the ante on condemnation. He was stuck in the victim-punishment stage of life & couldn’t get out.
I can imagine Franky’s editors working relentlessly to discover some over arching narrative or life message that connected all the pages but for me the book was nearly like a confessional diary. There was no admission of guilt but page after page of embedded denial. This was a man who was working out his life on the page and his inner dislocation made the spatial nature of his writing lack context and humanity. It was not robotic or clichéd but fragmented and emotionally scattered. It was if his history was still held hostage somewhere in the universe & he was imagining what it might look like but unsure of its authenticity. And oh does Franky desire authenticity. He wants his artistic confessions to be redemptive for their honest appraisals of life, love, sexuality and the burden writers have to tell the “real” truth. Yet there was something persistently unsayable that was holding his soul’s voice at bay. There was something unacknowledged that pushed him to and fro looking for the missing conversations. He was broken but not broken open.
Upon completion of the book and a reviewing of the cable show it struck me as to the extremely embedded sense of innocence lost in Franky. This was a man who sorely wanted to believe but had way too much information to the contrary to allow that act to emerge without major grief. All through the book I felt an overwhelming sorrow even in the segments meant to be joyful or titillating. The placement of certain memories and reminiscing moments felt forced and arbitrary. None of the emotional vignettes dug deep enough into a larger “we” to give me a sense he knew I was just like him. In fact, I felt what may be the core of unacknowledged arrogance in writing on many of the pages. Arrogance is a posture my own soul knows well. I find it riddled throughout my journey, always standing at the threshold of every new healing. Each time I put forth my suffering as mine & mine alone. Each time I build a story out of my pain that gives me the right to demand of life some kind of repayment. Each time I weary my soul with ego and wounded demands for justice. It was Franky’s damaged soul that bore his conceit. It was his early emotional impairment that kept him self-absorbed, looking for himself in himself. He must discover the artist his parents could really love and admire. He must.
As one who identified with much of his hurt, I did not identify with his victimhood. Still a casualty, Franky’s naming drained a deeper beauty his soul has to offer but here-to-for remained untapped. It seemed clear to me why his biographical historicity tied him to his shadow. This was a man who relived over and over again the lack of love, the disloyalty and self seeking of his parents and adults while he was left to his own childhood and teenage devices. This was a man still standing outside the camp (L’Abri) waiting for the father to run to him or at least call out to him. This was a man whose childhood was ignored in the larger callings of zealous believers who assumed God would cover all the bases of child rearing while they attended to “higher” matters.
Reconciliation is an infrequently preached message in the churches I have attended over the years. Evangelicals believe in salvation and that act is imbued with such restorative power in regards to one’s life in & towards God, it may be seen as the only volitional act a Christian need ultimately do in this life. In other words, reconciliation has already taken place so any of the unresolvedness, the questioning, the sense of loss and imperfection are minor irritations at best and should be ignored to get on with the real stuff in life.
Throughout the book, while Franky raged against Evangelicals, there arose in me a deep sense of ambivalence. I have spent a life time with “these people.” Of course I feel a kinship with the friends and families with which I worship. Of course I feel a deep sense of agreement around theological and cosmological issues of life and faith. We are in fact fellow Christ followers. But Schaeffer’s tirade touched some long ignored or buried emotional uncertainty regarding my place in this community. I too have often felt uneasy and unsure about my identity and likeness to this enclave that spoke into so much of the culture wars. Often I have felt a deep embarrassment and even sadness in the demeanor & rhetoric of my brothers and sisters as they spoke to the world without the camp. Many times I gave them a pass on how they dealt with a person inside the walls of faith as it were while castigating with stridency someone on the “outside.” Just the metaphoric choice of the word walls tells me something as I read back this blog. What are we keeping in and what are we keeping out?
In recent months since a new president has come into office, I have been alarmed at the tenor of what I have come to call “political speech” by self proclaimed Christians. Fueled by media ideologues and town hall meeting chaos, a lot has been said by those referring to themselves as Christians and would most likely call themselves the Christian Right. I have found the spectacle of this emerging troubling to say the least. So often the vitriol seems to belie the very heart and posture of the Gospel and our Lord Jesus Christ. But….this is my family: weird uncles, judgmental aunties, and dysfunctional brothers and sisters. It is all part of loving and living. I know my own bigotry and fear so I offer up as much grace as I am given and open to receive.
But Franky is a brother too. Well at least to me he is. He may feel estranged, he may feel abandoned, he may be full of questions he no longer even acknowledges, but he is still a brother. These observations and assertions contained in this writing may very well be as much for me as Franky. I too know the nagging sense of unease and dislocation. I am as well the son of a larger than life father who was an author, preacher, and ministry leader for thousands of people. During my childhood years I seldom saw my father as he was ensconced in ministry, preoccupied with the challenges of shepherding the flock. My mother, of course felt called to assist him, so my sister & I raised ourselves: literally. I get the chill of a large man’s shadow. I get the loneliness of being forgotten after everyone else has been comforted. I get the seeming emptiness of waiting outside the camp longing for my name to be called and sadly never hearing that calling. At least by my parents.
At the end of Franky’s book he haltingly attempts to wrap his bitter grief into a yet to be realized encounter with awe and wonder as embodied by the Greek Orthodox Church. Most of the book is void of spiritualizing and in the final moments he seems to reach out for a life line, a home for his hungry heart. Although on the edge of this world of faith (or so it seemed) he does feel it calling him into this deeper metaphor out of which God will make Himself known. At this point in Franky’s life, the Father seems so distant and aloof.
All through the book & ostensibly his life, Frank and his parents bonded around art. They spent most of intimacy’s currency at museums, art shows, nature walks, and late night free flowing discussions with hundreds of “cultural creatives” that frequented L’Abri back in the 60’s and 70’s. It makes sense to me that he has spent a life time trying to be the artistic genius he needed to be to call out the desire in his parents he so longed to foster and embody. My first encounter with Francis, his father, was in the series of lectures entitled “How Then Should We live?” Single handedly that series offered to baby boomers an aesthetic life line to a Church still under the shadow of iconoclasm. We had no pictures to go with our stories. We had no images to serve as doorways into metaphoric grandeur. We were a people of famished imaginations.
Franky was raised on beauty. Franky was encouraged to picture his world with wonder. Franky was subtly told to be Van Gogh or Picasso while I was told to be Wesley or Moody. Franky took on himself all the reticence and personal sense of dislocation his parents had with words, theology, and propositional truth and unknowingly deemed it a small burden to displace or carry. He had no idea what it would cost him some years down the road as an adult. During the “Moral Majority” period Franky and Francis discovered the shaky bond and sense of community shared by famous Christians who had much too lose in being misunderstood or deemed liberal. This was certainly not about beauty or goodness for that matter. This was about truth, who understood it, who could offer it, and ultimately who could own and defend it. This was an iconoclastic tearing down of secular images and had little or nothing to do with Franky’s early idyllic years at L’Abri discussing faith, values, art history and aesthetics. This was about power and the direction of a nation.
Franky got taken to school. This was Evangelicals meets the Great Evil One –Liberalism! This was a cosmic smack down way more heady and full of ego that Franky was groomed to endure. It appears he is yet to really embrace the duplicity here in the historic retelling and naiveté about his own motives. This neglected or unfinished inner work usually fosters revisionism of the highest order. But maybe he has unveiled his own duplicity and that is the rub. How can he forgive himself for leading his own father directly into the very center of the storm that could destroy his father’s legacy of art and beauty and root his primary historical influence in the rancor of the culture wars and the political infighting of a Church capitulated to nationalism and an unspoken desire for power and control?
As my own story nudges me towards winter, much like Schaeffer, as a writer, I am trying to fill in the grief on memories held for decades. My guess is that Franky longs to be a “writer” specifically because he has way too many pictures in his head and not enough language or purposeful language to make sense of what he has seen and experienced. He is still back at L’Abri chatting with the forces and gods of change as if they were visiting for the weekend and he could ultimately hand them over to his father after he charmed them with his wit and creativity.
And his father did have words. His father did have some boundaries, some theological foundations, and some bottom line ways of naming he would allow to form and inform him of the ultimate truth. Franky does not remember that part for some reason. I do not know why.
I am haunted often by Wittgenstein’s statement,” Language precedes reality.” I take that to mean the arduous task of naming, renaming, and thickening the very way we speak about ourselves, others, and the world in which we live is essential to navigate any awareness of ourselves and the world. Words surely matter. Throughout the book Franky speaks over and over again of the need to write, the struggles of being an author and the desire to become a better writer. He is beginning to grasp the price his soul paid for the cultural wars in which he served. Much like a soldier coming back from war with traumatic stress so powerful it crowds out the normal everydayness of the world, Franky seems unable to be truly present. He is always caught up and lost in some grandiose narrative hanging above his life. Like an alien abduction, he has been captured and held hostage. During the Moral Majority years he was able to live above earth’s atmosphere in this grandiose idealized world of untested ideas which were going to change the world. But that excursion into messianic political answers had very high price tag as well. He may have just been longing to be with and around his father and thought promoting his father during this time would be a way to draw close and be desired by his parents.
It is clear in retrospect he had little to no inkling as to the impact the culture wars would have on him, his father, his father’s legacy and his own role in that chronicling. The book is in part repentance to or at anyone who saw Franky’s divided energy promote his father & this view of the world he now believes malevolent and crazy. The gathering of all these Evangelicals with political aspirations much more deeply entrenched in their theology and cosmology than he, used both Francis and Franky. The Falwell’s and the Robertsons knew why they were there. They had counted the cost, prepared for the battle and had the inner resolve and financial resources to weather the battle. Francis was an unwilling and unwitting shill while Franky, according to his own words, saw the opportunity to expand his father’s reach and regarded the “movement” as a potential carrier of the Schaeffer brand. By his own admission he was sorely under qualified and overwhelmed by the real reasons this convergence of men & mission were involved in political and faith movements. He and his father were seemingly both willing but would only later discover their dangerously moldable naiveté.
I have been privy over the years to quite a few famous people most of which were Christians. As an employee of a Christian music and book publishing company and then later a public relations marketing analyst, I was in part involved in many pseudo events that hyped themselves as real moves of God. I am still, much like Franky, walking quietly upon the old ground looking for land mines and the lives my complicity may have sold religion in a box. So I am fully aware of what American consumerism and faith can create when a few things in the mix go wrong. Fame and the projection of countless followers and admirers feeds the ego but starves the inner man. I have yet to meet one person of prominence who did not pay a huge price for having their deepest personhood monetized and every personal moment carry a spiritual responsibility that was just too heavy for any adult to carry let alone a small child or teen. So many celebrity Christians I know become addicted to the adrenaline rush of being “messianic” and larger than life. It is usually not the vices against which they preach that become their nemesis but the more subtle insidious movement of the heart that sees itself as special, anointed, above, the golden child. After all, whose ego would not experience a great rush of self adulation that then haunts us as we spend more of our lives looking for the same scenario, with the same or similar people, all seeing us as high and lifted up? When we are doing things for “God” the ego rush is ignored as all involved are diverted from the duplicity of their fallen nature. There is indeed a big part of the heart that desires God be glorified and lives be changed. But in my experience, the grandiose planning of huge undertakings appears to always have some degree of the broken and false self emerging. As one deeply spiritual psychologist said,” Our accomplishments become our pathology. “
So it is not if, but when. I have yet to see a movement emerge without some significant compromise taking place within those in the lead or to their families in the next generation. Franky and many like him raised by larger than life parents live their lives holding their breath. The heroic platforms created by these movements are stratospheric and demand a high degree of self forgetting and sacrifice. As valiant as the momentary sacrifices feel, the pay off of power and notoriety never bring a softness or deeper humanity to the soul. It barbiturates the very part of the heart needed to be a child, humble and open to love. So those at the top become numb. And, their children learn to ignore the parts of the soul unnecessary to the grander vision, the cause, the healing of a nation. So the quiet, behind the scenes, ordinariness needed to explore the inner landscape of the soul sinks back into shadows. As a leader in this messianic vision you can’t let down your guard. You can’t let anyone see you cry. You work and work to become the now gigantic idealized shadow the movement projects on you and expects you to sustain and animate for the cause. There is no turning back. The only way out is death or defection.
Crazy for God, if anything, is a conversation with the forgotten soul, now, for the first time saying out loud what has been unsayable. The times always demand a spokesperson or advocate. The baby boomers were exiting the church in groves during these years and conservative Christianity needed an acceptable apologist to fuel the counter culture’s ferment. Given the shear enormity of his father’s shadow, the convergence of his father’s love of truth and his growing book sales (Franky was selling books as well) it all seemed to make sense on some mysteriously odd level. Franky not only jumped on board but fueled the fervor with grand and seemingly noble marketing plans to build the Schaeffer Empire.
But what seems providential and right at the time often in retrospect is wrought with grandiosity, hidden agendas or worse yet, a mutual unspoken agreement of most involved to use the moment as a stepping stone for each and every person at the table. This goes on all the time but no one ever calls each other out as the complicity brokers the deal and paves the way for mutual exploitation of the critical mass. Most intuitively know that gigantic emergent moments of power and notoriety never last. The wisdom of the world nods inwardly communicating to each other's shadows that redemption will be sought after the fact but while the battle rages and the energy is high, take no prisoners and keep as much of the booty as you can. This has been my experience and I am still repenting. I indeed project this onto and into Franky’s epic journey of the soul. He may discover something much nobler but I think not.
Certainly the complexity, intentions, and broad ranging historic implications are open to dialogue and interpretation and Franky seemingly has no one in his world to proffer a counter balance to the now re-emerging Christian Right that is hauntingly similar to the Moral Majority of Franky’s heyday. It is out of the eerily similar moment in time that Franky emerges from the darkness of his own exile and begins to shout at the top of his soul. “This feels crazy! Does loving God make you this way? Is this what He demands?”
On a personal level, indeed, his complicity to the ultimate role he and his father played in the birth and character of the Moral Majority is going to be hard if not impossible to untangle. He has no ear or proximity to his cohorts of those activist days. (read Os Guineess’ review of Crazy for God for some great insight into Franky’s version of those times) Franky has long ago changed clothes, his name, his birthplace and created a new persona. He will not be that man. But alas, he is that man on some level and the book reveals the remnants of the ego still longing to be desired by the ones who matter most- his father and mother. For this conundrum of the heart I give much compassion and stand alongside in solidarity as he enters the dark and dangerous waters of contrition and the search for the beloved within. How could the son of one of Evangelicals most celebrated philosopher teachers come up with words to make sense of his father’ life or more prophetically the impact of his father’s life on him? For this is the naming we all avoid-our own. How long must we attempt to name our parents grief? How long do we wander from experience to experience longing for an inkling of ourselves strong enough to offer reconciliation?
So how will Franky get reconciled? Does he even want to be? If grief is a part of that process I would say he does not want reconciliation at this time. The grief is too large. Much larger than his father’s shadow. The sorrow he wears is his own unnamed presence. He is not present to himself. It is apparent in his writing. What struck me in his work were the awkward transitions from historic remembrances to emotive interpretations of those happenings. The subtle nuances of experience that should ground the author and the reader in the recollection were scattered to and fro much like his grief. This book was a quest. This book was a purging. This book was longing out loud. I get that. I get the voyeuristic obsession we have with each other’s need of reconciliation. We are all longing to belong. Franky has no home, has no people, has no place he can be broken or whole for that that matter. He is still wandering, still on a quest his father did not finish, still trying to name his father’s longing, answer his father’s questions, offer up his father’s dreams. And he is angry and tired. It was Franky’s unnamed state of the heart that called out to me. We men do anger better than sadness. I wonder if a resident sadness is necessary for our humanity to be soft and approachable? When I know my sadness I am present to others. When I am detached from my need for longing and yearning, for a place to disappear into my own beloved brokenness, I bear the weight of my family’s unresolved story, my nation’s constant yearnings and my world’s sense of being disconnected. After all, on a good day, that just might be part of the reason Franky got involved in the grander vision.
When I enter my own grief, sit in it, let it roll over me, my weeping is worship. My sadness is sacred. My tears are a cleansing. That night while I watched the cable interview I cried. I cried for Franky, for his father, his mother, for the larger extended family of Evangelicals who have been raised on picture-less words, and ideas without a beautiful story. I cried for countless disaffected believers who feel lost in the shadow of idealized leaders who struggle to be super human to everyone including their children.
Franky bears a doubly confounding destiny as he was offered the balance to this group’s shadow (Evangelicals) in his father’s work and life, but alas, he did not get tradition, foundation, and words as protectors and ideas as reflections of the mind of God. He mistook his father’s shadow as his light never doing his own work to reunite that space within himself. In many ways, the light side of his father seems crazy and disconnected as he now attaches it to the seeming darkness and shadow of the Moral Majority and movements like them often take on dark and demogogic energies. His anger towards Evangelicals is his unfelt sorrow for what he did not get from his relationship with them. They could not give it for they did not have it to give. Ironically both groups looked to Francis, the father, for his balanced embrace of truth, beauty and goodness. It appears neither really got the blessing.
Franky is a museum without a curator. He is an art show without an artist. I on the other hand, see myself welcoming myself in Franky. I picture late night discussions where I walk alongside the young boy and father him like his father did not and tell him he matters. For that is the burden he carries. He wonders if God even cares about his sadness. I can imagine in words for Franky and say whole heartedly, “He does Franky. He does.”
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
As I listen to many of the current conversations in the world of pseudo events called the media, I see reflected over and over again the struggle we humans have in discovering and fostering what we have come to call “freedom.” We live in a democratic society that is a major advance from despotic rule but still seems mired in a philosophical addiction that creates its ongoing ferment.
As much as we appear to have moved beyond feudalism and its accompanying obeisance to monarchies and despots, I wonder if we are still inordinately obsessed with our government as the source of our freedom. As a Christian I find the acknowledgement of government’s power in our lives as a strange dependence given Christ’s Lordship and the rulership of His reign over the universe. Just too even use that language sounds grandiose and deluded. Most of my Christian friends talk incessantly about politics and the seeming impotence of the current party in office. That impotence never seems to be healed or banished as each party in control finds it unable to move the nation forward at least in terms of their agendas and mandates.
Have not the teachings of Christ powerfully directed our dependence towards our heavenly Father as our source and the Kingdom as the philosophical structure out of which we find our ethos and pathos. Paul tells us that we fight not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. This portion of Scripture alone is powerful in revealing our false & misunderstood dependency upon the material world of legal documents, laws, and political procedures to define our world. This is not to say that these crucibles do not indeed create a world. But it is not ultimately the world in which I truly inhabit. My citizenship is in heaven thus my understanding of who can give or take power or give or take freedom is based on this heavenly government under which I live.
I sense that we are all hungering for this deeper freedom. Can we find this in and from our governmental systems? Are we as believers looking for democracy or spiritual freedom? Are they the same? When I project power onto the government I then conclude that laws equal freedom. But as a believer I am told by our Lord that man made laws are not the constraints placed upon my life as His follower. As His follower I am beckoned by a much higher calling. I am bought with a price. I am not my own. My freedom is Christ.
In the Kingdom rule, I am called to become the leader I am looking for. I am called to develop the qualities that I insist other leaders have. Rather than see “flesh & blood” or humankind as the one with power, I am now able to see the invisible realm of minds, hearts, and intentions as the place of power & struggle. When I discover the true Lordship of Christ I begin to grasp the true governance of this world and to whom I must bend my knee to find true freedom.
Scripture tells us that this new law is written on our hearts. This means that no law or piece of paper will be a prescription for freedom. It is the realm of the ineffable and transcendent that rules and reigns over this world. It means that salvation, my own, is the beginning of the transformation of this world. This is not to make the salvation of the world as something outside myself. Quite the contrary. I am called to be a light on a hill. I am called to engage all systems and realms as those which will someday bow their knee as well. But this is not a political posture. This is a kingdom posture.
I grew up being taught in Civics class to look to my government as a source & provider of freedom. Right alongside that I was taught about Christ. As much as I was told Sunday after Sunday that Christi’s rule & reign were preeminent and all powerful, it was clear from an eagerly age that my family and my church saw the government as the most powerful source of authority in their life. When I finally came into a community that bent its knee to this invisible kingdom I began to see clearly the false dependence on man made governmental systems as the source and definer of my real freedom.
So often when I listen to the current visceral debates and conversations (if I can call them that) surrounding the current governmental leadership they seem so disembodied and removed from my freedom in Christ. I am not talking about hiding or dismissing the concerns that are represented in these conversations. Quite the contrary. I am merely wondering why we talk the way we do? Why do we empower our government with so much control over our lives? Why do we see this power as so preeminent? In fact, for those who may regard my perspective as escapism and some kind of detached spiritual flight, I am actually looking to the ultimate source of healing and truth for healing and restoration of the social ills that are much of the ruckus around these current debates.
Once again, my faith community has been teaching me about real governance and real submission and real freedom. When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God He appeared to be confused to many especially the Pharisees and those who thought they knew how truth should be organized. When He talked of the Kingdom He said it was …”here now… but not yet.” It was in our midst…. but located somewhere in the future. What did He mean? I am sure I don't grasp this paradox for that is indeed what it is (a paradox)
What might our Lord mean when He talked about this in breaking & yet future kingdom and how does it relate to us today? Could it be that Christ was saying that "The Kingdom is here now…….. But not yet.”
The freedom we desire and have received is not held tangibly in some form of government, some set of laws, some group of buildings or shrines. We live in the tension of being in and not off this world. That is the challenge. To live in the here and now, to serve in the here & now, but to receive through faith the inner down payment on a life that we are becoming, on a world into which we are moving, into a realm through which all things will be under the submission of our Lord.
As much as we want heaven here on earth through humankind’s system of governments, this is not to be. When we deify or unduly demonize a human made system, we lose the essence of the here & now kingdom and the not yet realm. We are looking to the wrong source for a freedom they cannot ultimate bestow. We are entangled in the flesh & blood of the skirmish and not focusing on the hearts & minds of the people who need to know & experience our Lord. We cannot usher in the Kingdom with bitterness, hatred, or even mocking and dismissing. In fact, I have yet to see divine love as a tactic in this supposed “war on truth.” These are strongholds and will only be taken down through spiritual means. Much of the protesting & the rancorous posturing on all sides is so far from a kingdom response I cringe when I hear people equate their engagement to spiritual values and mandates.
So this freedom we so crave and the demands we place upon our government give to us, they cannot. They are powerless here. Only a relationship with Christ can begin to offer the down payment on this ultimate gift .Maybe an analogy might help. Think about someone you love. We are all hungering for a deeper encounter with the ones we love. Their very absence makes us long for them more thus it is their absence that makes them more present in our minds & imaginations. So to, in the incarnation and His embodiment of His bride the Church, Christ has been brought near. But who He is and what we are to become in & through our encounters with Him IS YET TO BE fully revealed. It is still "not yet." So for me to anchor myself “ONLY” in the now is to disconnect myself from what I am becoming.
All this visceral discussion regarding the government seems misplaced at best & strangely manic at worst. The very act of looking towards our government for ultimate freedom is to remove from the Gospel its true overcoming power authority offered to us through the Life of Christ.
I would imagine that this perspective will be misinterpreted as being unpatriotic, severely naive or the ranting of a spiritual malcontent. “Get real,” someone might say. “Are you living in another world?” Well …..yes…I am.