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Why I hate writing, Part 11: Fighting the Blue Hair Mafia

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“I want to be a Puritan,” my son says.

These are the first words uttered to me when I pick him up from football practice. He’s never been one to ease into a conversation and has a tendency to make extreme, declarative statements as a reaction to something that has upset him or made him uncomfortable. My mind quickly reviews our previous conversations for the week and I remember him suggesting that I not attend his pep rally. “Mom, there is a whole lot of cussing at my school, and I know you don’t want to hear that.” I assured him at the time that none of those kids were going to say anything I haven’t already heard, but him wanting to shield me from it was still admirable.

But back to the Puritan statement.

Me: Why do you want to be a Puritan.

Son: Because they lived good lives. They didn’t cuss or do bad things.

Me: Okay, well you do realize that if you become a Puritan you will have to give up the use of your computer, television viewing, your video games, many of the songs on your iPod as well as many books you may want to read.

Son: I think that’s a small price to pay to live a sinless life.

Me: There’s no such thing as a sinless life. Everyone sins, either through action or thought. Jesus was the only human who lived a sinless life, and He’s God.

Son: Okay, well. Then a life with less sin. I think that would make me happy. Did you know that children who talked back to their parents were subjected to public beatings?

Me: Are you suggesting that I beat you publicly? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to live a life free of sin, as long as you understand that you never really will. Besides, if you go around constantly trying to do right, think right and be right, how do you fit grace into that picture? Grace for yourself as well as grace for others?

He was relatively quiet for the rest of the ride home. I’ve considered sending my kids to private Christian schools in an attempt to shield them from the worldliness of public education, and the transition from elementary to junior high has exposed my son to many things I’d just as soon he not have to deal with. But you can’t live life in a Christian bubble. If you’re going to be salt and light, you have to understand that there is much darkness out there, even at the tender age of 14. I’m praying he makes the right choices because he knows better, but I’m relying on grace and mercy because I understand that knowing better does not always equate to being better. Besides, how can you ever truly understand the gift of grace if you’ve never fallen from it?

Which brings me to Reason 11 why I hate writing…

More specifically, the genre of Christian writing and who defines what that means. For me, any decent work of inspirational fiction will contain at least four key elements: Sacrifice, Trust, Hope and Redemption. But the characters and the narrative have to be real in order to be believable.

There is a large contingent represented in the world of Christian publishing who believe that any book which contains profanity, sexual immorality or perverse behavior of any kind is not worthy of the classification of Christian genre. I refer to them as the Blue Hair Mafia, and I’m not the first one to use this descriptive. They want assurances that anything they read will not offend their delicate Christian sensibilities. They want to live inside their safe, Christian bubble and not have to confront the harsh realities of a fallen world when they open up a book. No, they want to escape to a white-washed fantasy world where people say “shoot” instead of “shit”, where unbelieving husbands become believers because their loving wives prayed them back from the pits of hell, where children are tempted by drugs and alcohol but their faith protects them from ever indulging in such sinful behavior and where Jesus snatches them up before any real damage can be done. Who am I to say whether or not they should read nice, safe, Christian stories if that’s what they want to do?

I only wish they would afford others the luxury of writing books which might actually plant a seed of belief in a person who is either without faith or clinging to their faith by a thread. Someone who, by Blue Hair Mafia standards, is living a life of debauchery, a life so far away from Jesus they feel like He could never take them back. How is a book full of white-washed reality going to relate to them?

I’ll tell you how.

It’s not.

What it will do if they manage to get through the book in the first place is convince them they could never be worthy of grace because they are so much worse than any of the characters in the book. Which is pretty much the opposite of what an author who calls herself a Christian should be writing if she claims she want to draw others to Christ through her writing.

In a now somewhat famous sermon from a few years ago, American Christian preacher Tony Campolo summed up my frustration with the mentality which permeates our churches and all forms of “Christian” entertainment when he addressed a congregation with the following introduction:

“I have three things I’d like to say today.
First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition.
Second, most of you don’t give a shit.
What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.”

So what do you think? Am I completely off base with this? Do you think profanity should never be used in Christian books?

A new take on the mustard seed

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He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
~ Matthew 13:31-32

The lesson I’ve always drawn from this parable was that God can do great things even through small things. Whether it be our faith, our ministry, or our testimony. I still think that lesson is a valid one, but it wasn’t until I read Guerrilla Lovers: Changing the World with Revolutionary Compassion by Vince Antonucci that I realized there’s more to the story.

See, I read “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” and mentally stopped there. But Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.” I focused on the smallness of the seed, not the fact that a man planted it in his field. Why is that significant? Vince explains:

Remember, Jesus took center stage with the words, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.” One hundred eleven times the Bible records Jesus saying the word kingdom. And now he asks, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?”

A mustard seed.


When a mustard seed grows it becomes a weed. It’s a vine-like weed which will grow and grow and will intertwine with other weeds. And they’ll continue to grow. And then they’ll come into contact with a flower, which will be overtaken by the weeds. Now they’re growing more. Soon they’ll touch a tomato plant, and pretty soon that tomato plant has been overtaken by the weeds.

In fact, Jewish law at the time of Jesus made it illegal to plant mustard seed in a garden. Why was it against the law? Because they knew that it would grow and grow, invade the vegetables and other plants, and eventually take over the garden. If you let mustard in, eventually you’d be left with only mustard. The secret to gardening for the Jewish people of Jesus’s day was: keep the mustard out!

I wonder how people reacted when they heard Jesus compare his kingdom to mustard seed planted in a garden. Did they just look shocked? Are you serious? Don’t you know about mustard? Or did they giggle? This guy is hysterical. I can’t wait to hear what he’s going to say next! Or perhaps they frowned and thought, Jesus, hush. We like you, and if you keep comparing your kingdom to mustard, you’re going to get yourself killed.

Jesus used a notorious, forbidden weed to describe God’s kingdom. He said God’s kingdom is like a man who planted a mustard seed in his garden. But people didn’t plant mustard seed in gardens. It was illegal. If you did, the mustard seed would grow and grow and take over the entire garden.

I’ve tried to think of modern-day equivalents. If Jesus was here today and asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?” what would he say next? What modern-day metaphor would make the same point and have similar shock value?

Maybe: “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a vicious computer virus a man sent out in an email from his computer, and it spread and spread and infected more and more computers.”

Or perhaps this: “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like AIDS, which infected one person but soon spread and spread and became an epidemic as scores of people received it.”

If we heard that, our heads would spin. We’d say, “What? Are you serious? And the people who heard Jesus back then would have reacted the same way.

So what was Jesus trying to teach us about the kingdom of God?

The Jesus revolution is subtle. It starts small, like a weed in a garden, but it spreads. It reaches out and everything it touches it grabs and pulls in. It spreads one life to another, more and more people getting pulled into it. And the harder you try to get rid of it, the faster it spreads.

I think Jesus is teaching us that the revolution is meant to be viral. It spreads like a disease. It’s a disease you want to catch, but still it spreads like a disease. When you hang out with someone who has the flu, you catch the flu. Jesus is saying the revolution should be sneezable. The revolution should be contagious, and when it comes into an area, it should grow into an epidemic.

But it will only grow into an epidemic if it’s done right. Weeds don’t come in and announce they’re taking over the garden. They don’t invite all the other plants and vegetables to a meeting and ask them if they’d like to be taken over by the weeds. They don’t hand out tracts explaining the benefits of the garden overrun by weeds. They don’t wear weed T-shirts. They don’t put a billboard up for all the vegetation to see: “For the Gardener so loved the garden, he gave his one and only weed.”

No, a weed comes in unannounced, popping up very subtly, and it starts to grow. Then another weed pops up. And if these two weeds meet up, they’ll get enmeshed, and then they’ll intertwine with another weed. Soon they’re pulling in flowers and plants, and eventually the entire garden is taken over by the weeds.

And Jesus teaches us that this is the way of his kingdom. The way his revolution is intended to function, the way it grows best, is not through public meetings, billboards, and TV. No, it’s a love revolution that spreads person to person, one individual to another. And when we try to make it something it’s not, it just won’t work quite right. But when we live it out as it’s supposed to be, watch out.

So what do you think?

Have you ever thought about the the parable of the mustard seed in this way?

Do you think it’s significant that the parable of the weeds immediately precedes this parable in Matthew 13?

Effective parody: How to make fun of people and get away with it

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My first blog post was posted on April 30, 2008. I’ve learned quite a bit since that first, horrible post–about writing and blogging–what works for me and what doesn’t. I think everyone has to decide their own formula based on trial and error.

One of the things I’ve really tried to avoid are posts that have the potential for intense debate or that may otherwise cause people to get stabby–with me or with other commenters. I’ve either accomplished this goal, or y’all are just too polite to tell me if I’ve offended you.

When my pastor forwarded me the following video, I immediately wanted to tweet the link. I think it’s absolutely hilarious. But then I got to thinking about it, and thought it might be better to present it here with a little disclaimer. By posting this video, I am not doing so as a way to bash big churches or how they present the gospel on Sunday morning. I’ve been to a few big church Sunday “productions” and while they’re not for everyone, if the church is teaching the Word of God, helping those in need and making disciples, it’s not for me to judge their tactics. I suppose we could debate that, but I’d rather not. Besides, as someone who has been involved in planning worship, I can tell you that when I laughed at this video, I did so while identifying with most of what I saw–the worship leader in particular.

Okay…Just so you know where I’m coming from. Without further ado, I present to you, Contemporvent!:

You may find that video less amusing than I did. I think the old saying “It’s funny because it’s true” applies mostly because I’ve seen (and been involved in) so many worship services EXACTLY LIKE THAT. But like I said, this was mostly just for fun.

For a most excellent description of how someone can feel lost within a big body of believers, I would highly recommend stopping by my friend Jake’s blog and reading Huge Church: Lost(ish) souls. He pretty much nails it.

Words, Part 2

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Last week I wrote a post entitled Words, where I suggested that what we write must serve a purpose. I received a comment that I didn’t really understand at first because I was reading it within the context of what I had written. The author was kind enough to explain where he was coming from in a later comment, and I couldn’t agree more with his point:

@kelybreez said:

At the risk of being a hypocrite, because I’m usually guilty of anything that gives me pause…

It troubles me when I read something done in the name of “doubt,” questions about God, or the motives of the church or ministers, etc… And the overall feeling is that the person is actually just trying to fit into the trendy, cute genre of “being a questioner.”

It’s great form these days. People read it. People love it. And so it’s cute, and it’s fashionable…

And the writer doesn’t even have to ask intellectually honest questions of themselves anymore, such as, “Do I really have the doubt myself, or am I writing this to sell my blog more?” (and as a result, their novel, or their persona, or whatever it is they’re trying to drive traffic to.)

Or they don’t ask, “Does this question truly help someone work through their doubts and grow into a place of seeking God, or am I just tossing out controversy for my own benefit?”

Again, I’m honestly not trying to be a stick-in-the-mud. I just want us, myself included, to be honest. When we write our words in such a way that they CAUSE more doubt, rather than with the hope of probing doubt (with a growth of faith as the hopeful result)… Well, then I think we’ve missed it.

If our desire is just to rattle people’s cages so we’ll be more popular, then I’m asking myself, Am I being like Jesus?

He rattled cages, yes, but with a loving purpose in mind. Always. (I think.)

Being the sarcastic and sometimes snarky person that I am, I often find myself laughing at things that perhaps wouldn’t be so funny if I took the time to consider if doing so would be at the expense of others. Yes, I post some fairly outlandish things, but I make a serious effort not to be hurtful. To Kely’s point, I have found some blog posts published by Christians to be mean-spirited and sometimes downright cruel. And I have to ask myself the same question Kely posed: “Does this truly help someone work through their doubts and grow into a place of seeking God, or am I just tossing out controversy for my own benefit?”

A couple of months ago, I watched a video on a very popular Christian blog. There was no story to go along with the video, and as best I could tell, its sole purpose was to laugh at the woman on said video because she was praying and speaking in tongues (and causing those around her a considerable amount of discomfort). Based on the comments associated with the post, the blogger’s apparent intent hit its target. The comments were incredibly cruel and insensitive, and I couldn’t help but wonder how the subject of the video might react to reading that post. I’m not going to mention the name of this blogger, and if you mention it in the comments section, I will not approve your comment. That’s not my point. My point is, if you feel it’s necessary to make fun of an alternative viewpoint in order to bring weight to your own, might I suggest you spend your time making a better argument? As Christians, we can laugh at ourselves and we can laugh with (and sometimes at) each other. Jon Acuff and Matt Appling accomplish this consistently and effectively without being cruel or overly offensive.

Warning: Some may find the following video offensive, but if you’ll hang in there, I do have a point:

I am a Christian who writes a blog, but I don’t consider to be a Christian blog. The words God, Jesus, Christ, church or Christian do not appear anywhere in the title or description of this site. Does this mean I think I have a lesser responsibility to represent Christ through what I write on this blog? Yes, actually. I do think that. Because I’ve never represented this blog to be anything more than my own ramblings. Yes, I write about my faith, but that’s not what this blog is primarily about. I don’t think I’m ever un-Christian, but that’s not my only focus here.

As Bob Kelso says, “There is a time and a place for the truth.” If you’re a Christian, you have the added responsibility of speaking the Truth in love. It may not always be sexy or hip, but consider Who you’re representing and to Whom you belong.

Authenticity, Transparency and other annoying Christian buzz words

Google Search: “church authenticity” Results: 2,910,000
Yahoo Search: “church authenticity” Results: 37,000,000

Google Search: “church transparency” Results: 1,600,000
Yahoo Search: “church transparency” Results: 13,000,000

Google Search: “authentic worship” Results: 287,000
Yahoo Search: “authentic worship”: Results: 9,210,000

What can we learn? For starters, Yahoo seems to be a superior search engine to Google.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the church should be about all of the above. But when we say, “Our church is all about being transparent and culturally relevant with authentic corporate worship that draws people closer to God,” to me, it sounds like we think we already are. Or at least we think that’s what we should be. Must we overuse those terms to a point where they begin to sound laughable?

I suppose it is helpful to know our target audience. If we hope to increase the membership of our individual church bodies by targeting Christians who haven’t been to church for awhile, or those who are currently part of another congregation but are shopping around for a better offer, then I suppose that’s a pretty good slogan. But if I had never stepped inside a church building before in my life, I would read that description and think, “What in the hell are they talking about?”

I love the fellowship of believers. My brothers and sisters in Christ support and encourage me. They also give me some much needed accountability. Having said that, I think it is very easy for us to become so comfortable with only being around other Christians that we forget the task at hand, or worse – we become judgemental and Pharisaical.

I’m not a big fan of Penn and Teller. I really don’t care for magic shows of any kind. Not so much because of the negative spiritual undertones sometimes associated with it. The main problem I have with magicians is that they practice deception as a trade. I really hate dishonesty. I certainly don’t want to pay someone to lie to me. I already do that — I am a taxpayer. (Sorry – tangent.) Many of you have already seen the following video. Whether you’ve seen it or not, I’d love to get your thoughts on it and the post in general: