bits and pieces of clouds, ether, maybe even ideas
Monthly Archives: February 2010
February 11, 2009
Live from NPC: Rob Bell
Paper cuts, forgiveness, and chocolate covered turds.
Most of the church leaders attending this morning’s session at NPC probably thought they don’t share much in common with mega-church pastor, mega-celebrity, mega-author Rob Bell. They were wrong. Bell spoke about being criticized – the “million little paper cuts” of criticism that pastors face all the time. He used that common pastoral experience to talk about the “absolute imperative that we become masters at forgiving people.”
Bell recounted the story of a letter he received from a supporter. The note, in which the writer recounted how he defended Bell when another person accused him of being nothing more than “fluff and irrelevance,” was intended to edify and encourage. But he said the only part he remembered was the criticism. This, says Bell, is the definition of a “chocolate covered turd.” It looks sweet on the outside until you take a bite. Then it betrays you.
That’s how ministry is. You may hear nine really good things, but it’s the one critical comment that will eat away at your soul. We tell ourselves that it’s really nothing, that “you just have to laugh about it,” and that those small paper cuts really don’t hurt. But they do. Over time, says Bell, those small wounds build up and we experience “death by paper cuts.”
The only solution is forgiveness.
Bell says that if we don’t forgive three things could happen:
1. We will hold back from our prophetic calling. We won’t exhibit the courage our calling requires to speak the necessary but difficult things. If we’ve been wounded in the past when we’ve been vulnerable, honest, or challenging, we’ll be less likely to do it again. We will have learned “the painful reality that sheep have teeth.”
2. We will begin to list and label people in the church as being for us or against us. This, he says, doesn’t honor people and creates unhealthy divisions in the church.
3. We’ll indirectly seek revenge. It may come out as humor or sarcasm, or even covert gossip, but we’ll want to inflict some vengeance on those who have hurt us.
Drawing on the wisdom of Jesus, Parker Palmer, and Tim Keller, Bell offers an alternative response. We are called to forgive by going through three steps: (1) Name it. We shouldn’t just ignore it or minimize it. By naming why we are hurt we can disarm the wound’s secret control over us. (2) Accept it. Realize that you are hurt and don’t throw the pain back or nurse it secretly on the side. (3) Absorb it. This is the most painful part – what Tim Keller equates with a form of death. It’s really awful to absorb the wrongs others have done to you, but on the other side of that death is new life; resurrection that will empower you to love more like Christ.
Rob Bell ended his session by pushing a shopping cart through the aisles as hundreds of pastors deposited papers into the cart with the names of people and congregations that had wounded them. Bell prayed over the shopping cart and for the hurting pastors in the room.
It was a moving and very healing session. Although he has his critics, Rob Bell proved to those in attendance this morning at least two things: He’s a brilliant communicator, and he has the heart of a pastor – wounds and all.
February 21, 2010
The Fat Lady Has Sung
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
A small news item from Tracy, Calif., caught my eye last week. Local station CBS 13 reported: “Tracy residents will now have to pay every time they call 911 for a medical emergency. But there are a couple of options. Residents can pay a $48 voluntary fee for the year, which allows them to call 911 as many times as necessary. Or there’s the option of not signing up for the annual fee. Instead they will be charged $300 if they make a call for help.”
Welcome to the lean years.
Yes, sir, we’ve just had our 70 fat years in America, thanks to the Greatest Generation and the bounty of freedom and prosperity they built for us. And in these past 70 years, leadership — whether of the country, a university, a company, a state, a charity, or a township — has largely been about giving things away, building things from scratch, lowering taxes or making grants.
But now it feels as if we are entering a new era, “where the great task of government and of leadership is going to be about taking things away from people,” said the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum.
Indeed, to lead now is to trim, to fire or to downsize services, programs or personnel. We’ve gone from the age of government handouts to the age of citizen givebacks, from the age of companions fly free to the age of paying for each bag.
Let’s just hope our lean years will only number seven. That will depend a lot on us and whether we rise to the economic challenges of this moment. Our parents truly were the Greatest Generation. We, alas, in too many ways, have been what the writer Kurt Andersen called “The Grasshopper Generation,” eating through the prosperity that was bequeathed us like hungry locusts. Now we and our kids together need to be “The Regeneration” — the generation that renews, refreshes, re-energizes and rebuilds America for the 21st century.
President Obama’s bad luck was that he showed up just as we moved from the fat years to the lean years. His calling is to lead The Regeneration. He clearly understands that in his head, but he has yet to give full voice to it. Actually, the thing that most baffles me about Mr. Obama is how a politician who speaks so well, and is trying to do so many worthy things, can’t come up with a clear, simple, repeatable narrative to explain his politics — when it is so obvious.
Mr. Obama won the election because he was able to “rent” a significant number of independent voters — including Republican business types who had never voted for a Democrat in their lives — because they knew in their guts that the country was on the wrong track and was desperately in need of nation-building at home and that John McCain was not the man to do it.
They thought that Mr. Obama, despite his liberal credentials, had the unique skills, temperament, voice and values to pull the country together for this new Apollo program — not to take us to the moon, but into the 21st century.
Alas, though, instead of making nation-building in America his overarching narrative and then fitting health care, energy, educational reform, infrastructure, competitiveness and deficit reduction under that rubric, the president has pursued each separately. This made each initiative appear to be just some stand-alone liberal obsession to pay off a Democratic constituency — not an essential ingredient of a nation-building strategy — and, therefore, they have proved to be easily obstructed, picked off or delegitimized by opponents and lobbyists.
So “Obamism” feels at worst like a hodgepodge, at best like a to-do list — one that got way too dominated by health care instead of innovation and jobs — and not the least like a big, aspirational project that can bring out America’s still vast potential for greatness.
To be sure, taking over the presidency at the dawn of the lean years is no easy task. The president needs to persuade the country to invest in the future and pay for the past — past profligacy — all at the same time. We have to pay for more new schools and infrastructure than ever, while accepting more entitlement cuts than ever, when public trust in government is lower than ever.
On top of that, the Republican Party has never been more irresponsible. Having helped run the deficit to new heights during the recent Bush years, the G.O.P. is now unwilling to take any responsibility for dealing with it if it involves raising taxes. At the same time, the rise of cable TV has transformed politics in our country generally into just another spectator sport, like all-star wrestling. C-Span is just ESPN with only two teams. We watch it for entertainment, not solutions.
While it would certainly help if the president voiced a more compelling narrative, I am under no illusion that this alone would solve all his problems and ours. It comes back to us: We have to demand the truth from our politicians and be ready to accept it ourselves. We simply do not have another presidency to waste. There are no more fat years to eat through. If Obama fails, we all fail.
Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd are off today.
Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company
‘I don’t live for the Jesus who eats red meat, drinks beer, and beats on other men.’ – Eugene Cho – God’s Politics Blog
Flock Is Now a Fight Team in Some Ministries
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Diego Sanchez before a bout in Memphis.
* Sign in to Recommend
* comments (295)
* Send To Phone
o Yahoo! Buzz
By R. M. SCHNEIDERMAN
Published: February 1, 2010
MEMPHIS — In the back room of a theater on Beale Street, John Renken, 37, a pastor, recently led a group of young men in prayer.
Skip to next paragraph
Faithful, and FightingAudio Slide Show
Faithful, and Fighting
Enlarge This Image
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Leonard Lane, left, fighting for Xtreme Ministries, a church that doubles as a martial arts academy.
Enlarge This Image
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Before the Cage Assault bout in Memphis, Mr. Lane got his hands taped by Pastor John Renken of Xtreme Ministries.
Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
* Read All Comments (295) »
“Father, we thank you for tonight,” he said. “We pray that we will be a representation of you.”
An hour later, a member of his flock who had bowed his head was now unleashing a torrent of blows on an opponent, and Mr. Renken was offering guidance that was not exactly prayerful.
“Hard punches!” he shouted from the sidelines of a martial arts event called Cage Assault. “Finish the fight! To the head! To the head!”
The young man was a member of a fight team at Xtreme Ministries, a small church near Nashville that doubles as a mixed martial arts academy. Mr. Renken, who founded the church and academy, doubles as the team’s coach. The school’s motto is “Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide.”
Mr. Renken’s ministry is one of a small but growing number of evangelical churches that have embraced mixed martial arts — a sport with a reputation for violence and blood that combines kickboxing, wrestling and other fighting styles — to reach and convert young men, whose church attendance has been persistently low. Mixed martial arts events have drawn millions of television viewers, and one was the top pay-per-view event in 2009.
Recruitment efforts at the churches, which are predominantly white, involve fight night television viewing parties and lecture series that use ultimate fighting to explain how Christ fought for what he believed in. Other ministers go further, hosting or participating in live events.
The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some machismo into their ministries — and into the image of Jesus — in the hope of making Christianity more appealing. “Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too,” said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. “But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.”
The outreach is part of a larger and more longstanding effort on the part of some ministers who fear that their churches have become too feminized, promoting kindness and compassion at the expense of strength and responsibility.
“The man should be the overall leader of the household,” said Ryan Dobson, 39, a pastor and fan of mixed martial arts who is the son of James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, a prominent evangelical group. “We’ve raised a generation of little boys.”
These pastors say the marriage of faith and fighting is intended to promote Christian values, quoting verses like “fight the good fight of faith” from Timothy 6:12. Several put the number of churches taking up mixed martial arts at roughly 700 of an estimated 115,000 white evangelical churches in America. The sport is seen as a legitimate outreach tool by the youth ministry affiliate of the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents more than 45,000 churches.
“You have a lot of troubled young men who grew up without fathers, and they’re wandering and they’re hopeless and they’re lousy dads themselves and they’re just lost,” said Paul Robie, 54, a pastor at South Mountain Community Church in Draper, Utah.
Fighting as a metaphor has resonated with some young men.
“I’m fighting to provide a better quality of life for my family and provide them with things that I didn’t have growing up,” said Mike Thompson, 32, a former gang member and student of Mr. Renken’s who until recently had struggled with unemployment and who fights under the nickname the Fury. “Once I accepted Christ in my life,” Mr. Thompson said, “I realized that a person can fight for good.”
Nondenominational evangelical churches have a long history of using popular culture — rock music, skateboarding and even yoga — to reach new followers. Yet even among more experimental sects, mixed martial arts has critics.
“What you attract people to Christ with is also what you need to get people to stay,” said Eugene Cho, 39, a pastor at Quest Church, an evangelical congregation in Seattle. “I don’t live for the Jesus who eats red meat, drinks beer and beats on other men.”
Robert Brady, 49, the executive vice president of a conservative evangelical group, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, agreed, saying that the mixed martial arts motif of evangelism “so easily takes away from the real focus of the church, which is the Gospel.” Many black churches have chosen not to participate.
Almost a decade ago, mixed martial arts was seen as a blood sport without rules or regulation. It was banned in nearly every state and denounced by politicians like Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona.
Over the past five years, however, because of shrewd marketing by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the sport’s premier brand, mixed martial arts has become mainstream. Today the sport is legal and regulated in 42 states.
Its proponents point to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine showing that mixed martial arts participants suffer a lower rate of knockouts than boxers.
Over the past year and a half, a subculture has evolved, with Christian mixed martial arts clothing brands like Jesus Didn’t Tap (in the sport, “tap” means to give up) and Christian social networking Web sites like Anointedfighter.com.
Roughly 100 young men, many sporting shaved heads and tattoos, attend fight parties at Canyon Creek near Seattle, watching bouts on the church’s four big-screen televisions. Vendors hustle hot dogs and “Predestined to Fight” T-shirts. About half are not church members but heard about the parties through friends, said Mr. Beals, who is known as the Fight Pastor.
Men ages 18 to 34 are absent from churches, some pastors said, because churches have become more amenable to women and children. “We grew up in a church that had pastel pews,” said Tom Skiles, 37, the pastor of Spirit of St. Louis Church in Arnold, Mo. “The men fell asleep.”
In focusing on the toughness of Christ, evangelical leaders are harking back to a similar movement in the early 1900s, historians say, when women began entering the work force. Proponents of this so-called muscular Christianity advocated weight lifting as a way for Christians to express their masculinity.
“This whole generation is raised on the idea that they’re in a culture war for the heart and soul of America,” said Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University.
Paul Burress, 35, a chaplain and fight coach at Victory Baptist Church in Rochester, said mixed martial arts had given his students a chance to work on body, soul and spirit. “Win or lose, we represent Jesus,” he said. “And we win most of the time.”
But on that cold night in Memphis, Mr. Renken, the pastor from Xtreme Ministries, watched as two of his three fighters were beaten, one emerging with a broken ankle.
Another, Jesse Johnson, 20, a potential convert, was subdued in a chokehold and decided not to return home with the other church members after his bout. He stayed in Memphis, drinking and carousing with friends along Beale Street, this city’s raucous, neon-lighted strip of bars.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 4, 2010
An article on Tuesday about some evangelical churches that have turned to mixed martial arts to attract young men misstated the age of John Renken, the founder XTreme Ministries, a church near Nashville that doubles as a fight academy. Mr. Renken is 37, not 42.