Recovering Fundamentalist? What is that?

FI Fundamentalist

Writing a Twitter bio is an interesting experience. In 160 characters you attempt to summarize yourself. This is the first place that people on Twitter will look to make sense of who you are, and why you’re saying such crazy things.

Some bios are littered with hashtagged bumperstickers of the #affiliations and #viewpoints! of the tweeter. Some are artful attempts to say something meaningful. Some are flavorless trendy-buzzword-smoothies. Twitter strategists (Yes, that is a thing) will tell you that a well-crafted bio can get you more followers.

For me, trying to shoe-horn something meaningful about myself into 160 characters is painfully hard. I want to just throw up my hands and declare to the anonymous internet crowds, ”Go ahead. Read my 200 blog posts. Watch some of the 150 hours of video of me speaking. Then, you’ll just be starting to know who I am and how I am growing and developing.”

But of course, that’s a crazy request. Not even my wife—who loves me most—has read or watched everything (or, honestly, even a fraction) of what I have online.

Despite that, I buckled down and wrote one. It’s my attempt to say something helpful about where I’m coming from. There’s one part of it that repeatedly gets the most questions.

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For when fear is holding you back.

FI Fear Holding You Back

When a brief overheard comment twists your stomach in knots, know there’s something there to pay attention to.

Last week Tony Kriz did a reading for his new book, Aloof: Figuring out life with a God who hides. I’ve been getting to know Tony lately through a project we’re both involved with, and I wanted to support his book launch.

During the signing, woven into the banter, I overheard the troubling words. The comment? Tony’s been getting a lot of “hate mail” about this book, emails from Christians who find Tony’s premise threatening, or unorthodox, or even heretical.

It was a sentence or two at most, but I could feel the fear in my gut and down the back of my neck. My mind swirled. I’ve had hate mail too. One particular experience washed back into my conciousness.

Years ago I was unknowingly the star of a “hate video.” Someone anonymously filmed me speaking and leading worship at a youth event. My face, my worship, my spoken words became the backdrop for an angry screed on everything wrong with the church. The makers of this video didn’t just disagree with my words and strategies. No, they knew my heart, knew my mind, knew my intentions. They condemned me as an agent of Satan, at best helplessly deluded, but more likely a knowing accomplice in a grand plan to infiltrate and tear down God’s true church.

It was crushing. I’m a pastor’s kid who grew up in the church. Unlike many, I grew up loving it. I’ve only ever wanted to be a part of the church, and to use my gifts to help the church grow and be more effective. I really believe that Jesus is what everyone needs most. To be condemned, not just disagreed with, but comdemned as a heretic? It hurt so badly.

When I overheard Tony’s comment, this old experience came pouring back into my mind. I became profoundly present to an obstacle that was taking up an enormous amount of space in my mind and heart.

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Throwing out the vendors in your heart.

FI Throw Out the Merchants

I was sitting in my office next to a man who was weeping. Terrible and selfish choices made years before had caught up with him. He lost his career, his livelihood, his family, and his dignity.

He was absolutely certain that God was punishing him. He begged me to help him find some penance. He wanted to read the Bible more. He asked me to help him learn Greek, so that he could read the Bible with better understanding. Would I to connect him someone who could teach him how to pray, you know… the right way. He asked me to find him places to volunteer in the church. He was going to give more financially.

The grief and fear was palpable. I tried talking about what Jesus had already done for him. I tried to speak forgiveness and grace to him. In his certainty he could not hear me.

He was convinced that if could do the certain sacred things in the right way, God would be pleased with him. God would forgive him, Maybe God would even bless him and restore what had been lost.

I’ve never been in quite the same situation since, but in twenty years of pastoral ministry, I have learned that this man’s story, while extreme, was not unique to him. His practical theology, shared by so many, was that a relationship with God was all about making the right transaction.

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The promise religion can’t keep, that Christmas does.

FI Christmas Promise

This week around tables and living rooms across the world, families gather. Christmas eve. Christmas morning. Christmas dinner. The long, lazy days after Christmas. Sitting together sharing stories, gifts, and great food. At least this is what we want, right?

Some families have this experience. Some don’t. Some of us wish we had people to be with. Some of us get to be around people, but not really with them, spending hours with people we don’t really connect with out of some kind of obligation.

At Christmas, some feel joy because they are together with people they loved. Others feel sadness because they aren’t, or don’t get to be. At this season, most everyone is responding to a deep desire in our hearts. What is that desire?

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Where do you look when your foundation is shaken?

FI Logos Stable

I was on a ladder, standing about six feet in the air, when the whole thing just folded up underneath of me.

It’s one of those ladders made of four segments which you can fold in different ways. I had it configured as a 12’ straight ladder, leaning against my house. Apparently I had not done a good job locking the middle joint. I learned that because my bucket of tools and I took a unexpected slow-motion trip back to the ground.

There’s a particular queasy feeling that seizes you when you thought you had something solid holding you up, and then it turns out you don’t.

That feeling that the foundation has fallen away is all around us right now. Promises were made. Work hard and you can be anything you wanted to be. Get into a good college and you’ll get a good job. Buy a house, pay your mortgage faithfully and you’ll be set for retirement. Be a good, honest citizen and you’ll always be treated fairly. Attend a good church, get involved, give a tithe, and the church (and God) will always be there for you.

All the promises have been broken.

The economy crashed. Good people lost their jobs and then their homes. Smart people are carrying years and years of college debt and can’t get good jobs. More and more stories of corruption, exclusion, and hatred fill our news feeds. Even the church hasn’t proven to be a safe haven when bully pastors, oppressive theology, exclusionary community and outright abuse shaped the experience of so many.

The institutions we have trusted for a sense of security have shown themselves untrustworthy. When the undergirding of your life falls away, where do you look for stability?

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