This is a hard one for me. As I sit here, eating Golden Flake Sweet Heat™ chips, watching a Night Court episode featuring Dr. Joyce Brothers, and catching up on reading, I am convicted by a piece I just read.
You see, I’m weird. Probably clinically weird, if that’s a thing.
And that’s just for starters, guys. Srsly. It gets worse, as the article I share at the end of this post rolls on. You might relate, you might not. You can probably judge how true this read rings on both counts, y’know?
I’m not sure how weird I am, or even if weirdness can be quantified. (Click the link for my Weirdometer result. As you’ll see, I’m weirder than 66%, at least.) But I am a decidedly strange, eccentric human being, more so than most. I worry that I’m exceptionally bizarre, possibly to the point of being off-putting. That concerns me, because, if I am off-putting, then (I assume) my impact and outreach as a Christian suffers as a direct result. I wish the behaviors that blunt my impact stopped at weirdness, but newp.
Bone-headed, idiot behaviors—like being overtly political, being bad at handling conflict, playing at “selective ‘sin-ranking'” (as if it were an Olympic sport, you’d think), and wrongfully judging others—seem to clutter the path, every place I’ve trod. If we’re being honest, I’ve not exactly been a marketing boon for God.
Yuppers. I’ve sometimes been guilty of all of these “dumb” behaviors, as a human, and a follower of Christ. Every time my number of “Facebook friends” takes a dip, I’m convinced that it’s probably due to being too much of a “Holy Jo[an]” walking Chick tract–or, paradoxically, that it’s due to my having a heaping helping of heathen hagiography. That is what happens, isn’t it? (Please insert your own super-salient point about me over-thinking it, or a reminder that other folks’ worlds don’t exactly revolve around me.)
Hmmm. Maybe part of my “weirdness” involves insecurity. Anyway, I’m hoping my fellow believers will read this and examine themselves accordingly, because Church-y people can be pretty awkward, marginalizing, even cruel. I can tell you that if I had a nickel for every time I’ve done any of the 5 things listed, and pushed people away, then I could probably buy that 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I’ve had my heart set on since 6th grade. Or, alternately, I could snag that ’59 Caddy Hearse with the sick fins, that I’ve wanted since my late teens…and still want. (Yeah. Again, weird.)
I’d also like to apologise to my friends of other/no faith traditions, for all the times I’ve been this particular kind of dumb. Other kinds of dumb, too, now that I think about it. If I hurt, annoy, or otherwise disappoint you, please come to me. Let me know. Suggest an amends that would help things heal between us. Whatever you do, I hope you’ll “not go gently into that good night” without letting me know I’m part of the problem with religious life, rather than that “soft answer” I’m supposed to be that turns away wrath. Deal?
Without further adieu, here are 5 Dumb Things The Church Needs To Stop Doing.
This is a word I needed, today. It offers excellent rebuffs to several extrabiblical beliefs so many people of faith have. God wants us to forgive, over time. As with so many things, it is a process, not an event. Boundaries are important. And I need that reminder that God calls me to ultimately forgive, but forgetting, or pretending harm wasn’t done, is far from what Scripture says God requires. I can even love someone, forgive, and still not be called to active relationship with them, on earth. Whether others “get” that, or not.
Great thoughts and questions about connecting with others, in a way that blurs or erases distinctions between church and home life. John’s a family friend, a deep thinker, and a terrific example of what a warm, caring husband and dad brings to the table. His writing is well worth exploring.
Two quick thoughts…okay, no…3.
1) Thank God somebody else feels split down the middle on “supralapsarianism” and “infralapsarianism”, even if it is 6:45 in the morning! I mean, refreshing to read that someone who I believe thinks well about Christian doctrine* isn’t dogmatically anchored to either place, though I don’t think ill of those who are committed to one conclusion or the other.
2) Hooray! I’m right there with you that depression sucks, that there are no magic answers for Christians who live with a mental health dx, but that God is RIGHT THERE, hurting alongside us.
3) J.S. Park rocks!
*I don’t agree 100% w/ anyone on all doctrine…including myself 2 years ago. The blessing, &, occasional curse, of my mind, is that it is very changeable. That said, I like a lot of what Park has to say about things, &, not being a contrarian (well…today, anyway), don’t feel the pathological need to lay out any areas where we’re of different perspectives.
bluerbluebluesky asked a question:
Hey JS it’s been a while, hope you’re well and congrats on your marriage (and your new books). Please bear with me, it’s weird writing in being removed from Christianity, but you really do seem like a genuine and real guy and I had really appreciated your words before. How do you stay confident in a good God when He has “fearfully and wonderfully” made you with depression? I can’t understand why He’d watch His kids live with chronic unbalanced neurochemicals that make them suicidal. Thanks JS
Hey dear friend, I appreciate your very kind words and I’m thankful for your honest challenging question.
I think there are really two ways to look at this. One is that God created everything in history, including death and disease and disasters, as a big ball of yarn that will one day be un-done by His glory. The other…
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In 6th grade study hall, of all places, I first committed the sin of blasphemy, without even fully knowing it. Here’s what happened.
At 12, as a new middle schooler, I was poised to enjoy more “grown-up” everything, including more teeny-bopper tunes on 96 KISS, swapping girls-wear for missy styles, and watching more adult television. I especially took in more late-night programs, with more shocking content, like “Friday Night Videos” and “Saturday Night Live”. I’d been watching war movies, westerns, and gangster fare, as well as soaps, Bandstand, Solid Gold, & Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts for eons, so it wasn’t as big a stretch as one might imagine. I wasn’t, therefore, making a leap from “Little House on the Prairie” to “Playboy After Dark”—just a nudge in the direction of the tawdry. ‘Twas more like the move from Johnny Weismuller Tarzan flicks, or “Gilligan’s Island”, to Mr. Roarke’s “Fantasy Island”, for the most part. I’d “graduated” from “G” to “PG”, but, truth be told, I also dabbled a bit in the more (soon-to-be-named) “PG-13” content of late night, too.
So, it was, then, that I was eager to soak up any late night humor I missed, due to overly observant parent intervention and the like. And, while it was difficult to act out Benny Hill sketches properly, out in the back yard, with friends, SNL, SCTV, and other late evening show skits were perfect for backyard repertory performance. Thus, a buddy passed on a little parody ditty, from one of the shows, and I quickly committed it to memory. Had I but shared it with my mother, who, herself, had sung me that dear old gem “Place In France” (with a warning not to sing it to schoolmates or pals, lest I offend), I feel sure that a reprimand for the blasphemous content, followed by a round of admonishment/explanation, would’ve surely ensued.
Instead, I kept it to myself, until a fateful day in a gym class study hall. Would that I had given deeper-than-mindless-preteen-level thought to the parody lyrics. Alas, I did not. As a student of good reputation, 4 years into a near-decade stint at a fundamentalist “skirt school”, it was, by far, the closest I came to being suspended. Here’s the lyric in question, as best I can recall. I think you’ll see how frankly sneering toward the Christianity I typified, at my best, it was.
(To the tune of “Jesus Loves Me”, which somehow makes it worse.)
“Jesus Loves Me, ‘Cause I’m Cool
I Pop Pills In Sunday School
Marijuana, LSD, Help Me Know
Jesus Loves Me”
Are you sitting in front of the computer, mouth agape, shaking your head in horror? I know I am. How could this get any worse? Don’t worry. It can. How? I shared this little ditty with my friend, Aimee—wait for it—in writing. I’m sure you can guess what came next. Yup. Mrs. Wall, my gym teacher, happened to look up, just as I passed this jolly little note. B-U-S-T-E-D. Cold busted.
What followed was my very kind, but firm, middle school principal, explaining to me as I heave-sobbed, that he really should be suspending me for my blasphemous missive. I didn’t (and still don’t) disagree. If I’d had any other infractions, I’m sure I’d have pulled the harsher sentence. What I settled for, instead, was a write-off, and a call to my mom at her office. This was no giggly “Place In France” level naughtiness. Far from it. Why? I hadn’t been mocking silly men, gaping through peepholes, while “inexplicably” (I was barely 12) dropping trou. I had, instead, poked fun at the deity I supposedly worshiped, while making light of druggy debauchery. I felt foolish. Ashamed. Confused.
So, what is blasphemy? Church teaching on the subject, obviously, hadn’t gotten through to me. In fact, I’m still unsure about what constitutes mocking or blaspheming God, in some respects. It’s sort of like the old saw about “indecency”— I know it when I see it. No sure-fire litmus test exists, for things teetering on the boundary line of blasphemous content & those simply in poor taste. This should be the kind of thing I’d be more clear about, 30 years later, but I’m not so sure I am.
“Monty Python’s Life of Brian“? Probably, although I’m having a hard time thinking up examples. John Lennon’s oft-quoted remark? Maybe. When I ponder how I define “blasphemy”, I think, generally, about speech or behavior that blatantly mocks the God-head, and in some cases, makes light of God’s standards.
That said, in some ways, I have become a bit less rigid. I think of the night at a Bible study, in the past decade, when someone remarked that one could sum up much of Biblical law with the following edict: “Don’t be a ____ (male appendage).” There was a time when the interjection of a profane body-part word, in a christian setting, would’ve stripped my gears. If there had been kids around, I might’ve felt differently. Instead, I didn’t mind so much, and it didn’t feel blasphemous in the least, given the context.
Does that mean I picture Jesus or His apostles with a “swear word jar”, filled to the brim with coin ? No. Does it mean I think profanity is okay, or that I encourage it, in any setting? Of course not. And I still, most definitely, don’t think the late-night tune I wrote out to giggle at with a friend was okay. I can’t explain, though, why some believers see blasphemy everywhere they turn, and see the world as a hatefully mocking, jeering throng, hell-bent on destroying Christendom and all that is holy.
I think God has a great sense of humor, and that He’s not damaged, to any great extent, by people who seek to try to unseat Him from His throne, by making Him the focus of derision & malicious wit. I worry that we followers of Christ sometimes come across as humorless hand-wringers, waiting to make mountains out of mole-hills, at every turn. I do wish to stand up & defend my faith, where that’s appropriate. I don’t want to be the christian equivalent of Debbie Downer. (Waaahh, waaah.) I want to dig deeper to learn more about what the Bible says about blasphemy, and to note where it has fallen silent, as well as where man has created controversies, absent from scriptural teaching.
Oh, and an EPILOGUE, if you’ll indulge me: Many of my life-long friendships were acquired at the aforementioned “skirt school”, which gave me many wonderful adult role models, several of whom I now count friends, Before the school closed, it had transformed into a less legalistic atmosphere (girls in pants & capris, a school “rock band”, even!), and my children were blessed to play several sports there, during the academy’s final year. I continued my classical/college prep education, during my senior year of high school, at a wonderful international boarding school, founded in 1880, and still going strong. I added many great life-long friendships, there, too, as well as new role models who enriched my life further. I graduated a few days before my Nashville “skirt school” friends, packed up my dorm room, and got back in time to attend my old friends’ baccalaureate & commencement. Who did I sit with? My former middle school principal—the same fellow who’d shown me mercy, all those years before. He, too, had moved on from my former school, and had come back to watch graduation of the Class of ’89. Catching up, we discovered an in-common favorite that would’ve been verboten years before, due to its inclusion of numbers with a pseudo- “rock beat”— the Broadway hit I’d just viewed on Jr./Sr. Trip, with my new school— Phantom of the Opera! If you know anything about how I first attracted Mr. Sparks’ attention, you’d know why Phantom became such a big deal to me. That’s a story for another day.
A few months back, a Bible study friend wondered aloud something I think many Gen-X & Y believers have probably wondered to themselves, whether privately, or in a more public setting. To paraphrase, are we in some way, fashioning a hipster version of the faith— especially in eschewing or questioning long-held traditions or interpretations of the faith? I then wondered, myself, if my own personal religious detours from the mainstream were truly based on more than self-serving whim, or the desire I fear I sometimes have to simply be a contrarian, for the sake of some glorified notion of rugged individualism, rather than an evolving, God-revealed theology.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it is a healthy, spiritually profitable course of action (for both individuals and bodies of believers) to question what are man-made religious constructs, versus those truly revealed in scripture. My generation, and that of my adult children, seem particularly critical of the conventional christian milieu many of us were raised with. This seems so pervasive, at times, that I wonder if we are not sometimes merely arguing for argument’s sake. After all, how can an adult be truly free, the thought seems to be, if one winds up drawing the same conclusions as our Silent Gen/Boomer Moms & Dads? Some of this, understand, I see as de rigeur. It is only natural to define oneself, including one’s beliefs, in contrast or opposition to those one was raised with as normative. I do think, though, that we need to be careful with this very human tendency, myself included. (Something about babies & bath-water, here, I think…)
Scripture instructs the relatively young, whose folks are likely to still be alive (maybe middle-aged, & younger), to utilize our elders in the faith, for their wisdom. That becomes hard to do, if the thought of being spiritually advised by a male or female elder elicits an automatic eye-roll. It doesn’t mean we need to ape every bullet point on the elders’ outline of beliefs & traditions, but if the only palatable theology is the spiritual flavor-of-the month, and the only acceptable version of the Saviour is some hipster/outlaw “Jesus-In-Blue-Jeans”, I’m not convinced that’s a novel improvement.
This is no argument for “Christ Classic”, as a brand. I think it’s endemic to every generation to test what aspects of the faith of our fathers (& mothers) holds true, & which are tradition without true meaning. What I struggle with, though, is the notion that focuses so much on Jesus’ humanity, as a counter-cultural icon, challenging the religious status quo—the rebel with a cause—that we negate or minimize His divinity. Do we do this, I wonder, out of a desire to make Jesus relatable? Do we Hipster Christians, with our relaxed, post-teetotaler stance, our thumping praise band, & aversion to overly “church-y” lingo/attire (which, btw, I’m “cool” with), take things so far that we water down the moral absolutes that the Biblical Jesus stood for, so that we can, instead, be all-embracing, avoiding any passe, “judgmental” trappings? Are our only choices to make Jesus into a slam-dunking Saviour, “hanging” out, or an overly rule-bound pseudo-Parent, euphemistically “harshing our [lifestyle & spiritual] buzz”? Why do we feel this urge to make Jesus our peer or older bro, & to take most of the beliefs we saw, growing up in the church, & turn them on their heads?
Why do we have the compunction to take anything our parents espoused, & not only question it, but have a welling disdain for it, almost as our default setting? Is it just a part of that normal process of individuation, whereby we decide, for ourselves, what beliefs to cling to, from our upbringing, & which to discard, or could it be something more?
Do we, for some reason, feel the need to be apologists for a Christ & Christianity that are maligned or misunderstood, by society, at large? Do we think that re-inventing Jesus as a hip, counter-cultural icon—a one-of-a-kind philosopher-loner—that he’ll be more marketable among our “cool kid” friends? I’m not sure I know.
It seems I have more questions, at times, than answers. I know one thing, though. The older I get, the more open I am to receiving spiritual wisdom from my nearly 72-year-old mom, who embraces much timeless religious tradition, yet has some rather independent, novel spiritual thought, as well. I can tell you that I did a certain amount of harm to myself, spiritually, as a teen & young adult, largely because I stubbornly wanted to define myself as anything but conventional.
I’m becoming convinced that we’d all benefit from worrying a lot less about how to market our beliefs, to make them seem attractive & easy, & far from old-fashioned (hello—Jesus lived a couple thousand years ago!), or cool, & really just dig into timeless truths, no matter what our age. Christ doesn’t need for us to re-invent Him, or turn Him into something He’s not. That means maybe Hipster “whatever, man” Jesus has probably gotta go.
That doesn’t let tradition apologists off the hook, either, though. Just as those of us under 50 probably don’t have the right to update the Saviour’s “look” or out-look, neither do the other generations get to create a Christ who meets their political or rhetorical whims, either. We younger ones may have some legitimate gripes, there, especially where Jesus-As-Whipping-Boy has been applied. The tendency to create Christ on our own terms, as middle-aged & younger gens, sometimes arises out of painful, bitter memories of Christianity used as an excuse for very human excesses & abuses.
Note: I found a trove of images related to “Hipster Jesus”, including several where the Saviour is swilling PBR & brandishing smokes. I decided to go with more “middle of the road” pictures, as these left me uncomfortable, but I may return to them at some point, in a separate post.