Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Kite Runner

I don’t know whether you’ve read the book or seen the movie. I just saw the movie not too long ago, and I liked it very much. I haven’t read the book.

I won’t tell you much about the plot. You can read it on Wikipedia, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book.

The story is about a friendship between two boys in Kabul, Afghanistan. One—Hassan—is devoted to the other—Amir. He would do anything for him. He serves him. He endures pain and suffering for him. And he eventually dies trying to protect Amir’s house from the Taliban.

Both boys grow up. Hassan remains in Afghanistan, while Amir moves with his father to the United States.

Amir returns to Kabul to rescue Hassan’s son, Sohrab, from the Taliban who have made a sex slave of him. He brings Sohrab back to the United States, and he and his wife adopt him.

It’s a powerful story. One of those stories you really can’t get rid of, no matter how you try. Scenes from it keep coming back. What the characters do keeps coming back.

I went through a few weeks of replaying various scenes in my mind, wondering where the power was coming from. Wondering why the movie had become almost an obsession for me.

And then it became clear. It was God. It was God in the love of Hassan for Amir. In his devotion and tenderness and forgiveness. His acceptance of the evil that was done to him. And that Amir does to him. His passive acceptance of this. Because of his love for Amir. His devotion to Amir.

And then it was God in the love of Amir for Hassan, displayed years and years later. Years after he escapes to the United States and then returns to Kabul to rescue Sohrab. To rescue Hassan’s son after Hassan has been murdered by the Taliban, no matter what. He will take Sohrab away from the Taliban, even if it kills Amir. He will act on his love for Hassan finally, even though this could easily kill him.

This story is about love so powerful. So profound. So real. So present. That people will die for it. To be faithful to it. To live this love with integrity. To express this love thoroughly. To take this love as seriously as it has been given.

This is God. This kind of love is God. And living this God-given love out faithfully, this is only possible with God. Through God.

And through courage. Our courage. Without our courage, this God-love is not possible. Without a willingness to perish for the preservation of the object of this love, we become diminished. A shadow of what we might have been.

And so back to performance. Back to the preceding post. What God asks of us is our courage. He asks us to act and in our action place our lives at his feet.

This faithfulness is what he asks of us. The only performance of any importance to him. This courage to love him and to love what he loves. Thoroughly. Completely. With our very lives.

No matter what.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Performance Artists

Recently, I was listening to a pastor friend give a sermon. A normal Sunday sermon. And with the Internet I can listen to pastors all over the world give their weekly sermons. In fact, what with the Internet and my interest in collecting damning evidence on pastors, I could spend all my waking hours listening to sermons on the Internet and not ever get a bit of work done.

If I liked. A fine entertainment. And still have thousands—no doubt tens of thousands of weekly sermons in English—out there that I hadn’t sampled.

But I was listening to this particular pastor who is. How shall I say this? Who likes to be cute. Who likes the role of the pastor as comedian. As comedic character. Who relishes the contrast of his bumbling, semi-literate presentations with the subject—the grandeur of God.

I figure he doesn’t sense that he is up to the grandeur of God himself. So he plays the opposite end of that continuum of being. He plays the buffoon. The clown. A bit of a Honeymooners sort of a character. An Ed Norton of the sanctuary, if you will.

I don’t know which is worse, though, Ed Norton or Sherlock Holmes. Have you ever had a pastor like Sherlock Holmes? Quite full of himself. Full of his rapier-like mind and encyclopedic knowledge. And all of that on display.

And bored? God, is he bored. Bored with his own brilliance. His own brilliant performances. Profoundly read. Supremely articulate. Austere. Extravagantly well mannered and courteous. Never impolite.

I’ve experienced both sorts of pastors and all kinds in between and on either side. And still I wonder what the problem is.

I wonder what may be going on here. Why these people end up being such. Oh. Targets. Such big bright round red targets for me. Why they seem to beg me to let them have it. Let fly with all I’ve got.

As I’ve hinted before, it certainly has to do with something peculiar in me. No doubt whatsoever about that. Some lack or some defect or some less than honorable motive. But there also seems to be something in them. Something that calls out to the lampooner in me. The general-purpose fault-finder in me.

And I don’t know. I really am unsure of this. But here it is. These people. Most of them. Think what they must do is perform for us. They have got the idea somewhere that what their job is, is to perform. To entertain. To make us laugh, make us cry, make us squirm, make us think, make us admire, make us gasp. Their job is to impress us some way. And their job is to make the performance memorable. Make it compelling.

Their job is to get us to say to our friends, Oh boy, you should have heard my pastor So-And-So the other day! Wow! Was he. Was she. You fill in the blank. Remarkable some way. Extraordinary some way. Brilliant. Funny. Insightful. Amazing. Whatever.

This pressure they feel to perform. I don’t know. It seems off the mark. It seems like God doesn’t really get into this. Isn’t really into performances and performance art and into TV or movies or standup or after-dinner speaking or circus tents or even music videos as the dominant metaphors for how he wants to communicate with us.

And so what I’m thinking is, maybe this is as much about us as it is about them. Maybe their performance neurosis is really the objective correlative of our own performance neurosis. Maybe these guys are just living out our anxiety. Living out our performance anxiety. And therefore doing what we have, through conscious or unconscious hints and suggestions, basically told them to do.

Perform for us, we seem to say. Otherwise, we’ll take a nap. Otherwise we won’t give you our money. Otherwise, we’ll change the channel or the URL and bring up some other pastor somewhere else.

And as I’m thinking about this. As I’m writing about this. I remember a story I read decades ago. A story about a performer who ends up perishing when he takes his performance art all the way home. This is a performer who starves himself for notoriety and fame. Who begins by fasting for forty days and nights.

And who ends by starving himself to death. In a cage in the circus. Finally unnoticed. Unremarked upon in his final performance. And he’s replaced by. I think it was a panther. The name of the story is A Hunger Artist, by Franz Kafka.

And I’m wondering whether there isn’t something fundamental here. I’m wondering whether in a performance oriented culture. A culture in which we measure the value of one another and ourselves by the excellence of our performances. Whether we aren’t actively dismantling.

Every time we enter a church. Every time we ask a pastor to officiate in some fashion. To perform in some fashion. Whether we aren’t diminishing the possibility of the love and the hope and the comfort and the tenderness and the forgiveness and the generosity and the faithfulness that we can only find in God.

I’m wondering whether we aren’t all colluding in distracting ourselves from God. You know? Agreeing to have expectations. Agreeing to play certain roles in certain ways. Agreeing to value certain kinds of things and devalue other kinds of things.

All so that we make it impossible for God to get through. Impossible for God to penetrate all the noise we make. For God to be heard above the circus environment we have constructed around ourselves and within ourselves.

An entertainment sensibility. A performance culture. That demands attention to the performance above all. Above everything. Certainly above the unobvious. Certainly above the subtle. Certainly above God.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Young woman I know. Delightful. Reminds me a bit of my daughter. Perhaps I remind her a bit of her dad. I don’t know. Never asked. Never met the gentleman.

She calls me 007 because I carry a Zero Halliburton case. Looks like it might have secret weapons or money or maybe a sports car in it. The fast life in it. Aluminum. A bit of a sheen to it. And so I call her M. Which relates to her name and so has some basis in fact. And relates us to one another in an upside down lovely fictional and felicitous manner. And so we call one another these names.

Then the other day I learn she has moved. She and her husband. Moved. Oh, I don’t know. Maybe 60 miles. Something like that. Because you see her husband has become pastor of a church. A little church. Where because of all the rain the septic system doesn’t work.

A little out in the country and in a bit of a low-lying place. And what with all the snow and the ice and the rain this winter. Now it’s not only a run-down dinky little church, but it has toilets that don’t flush and water everywhere around it and in some places in it.

And she says she had such a hard time the other day, what with the moving and the flooding and the new people and the new role and so forth that she asked God for his help because she knew she couldn’t do it on her own.

And so I asked her, What in the heck does your husband think he’s doing? I mean. For that matter. What in the heck do you think you are doing? First of all, you need to put on maybe 150 pounds. Then you need to trade out that wardrobe completely. Where are the grays and the blacks, for example? And the clunky shoes? And the doilies around the neck? And the funny hats? And the button earrings?

But seriously, I say. Why do you want to do that? I mean. This is just asking for it. It’s just asking for trouble. For people like me to torment you and your husband. Why would you want that? Why would you want me, a pastor’s worst nightmare? People like me. To come after you and your husband every Sunday? On email during the week? And so forth.

I don’t know. I’m shocked. I like this young woman. I care for her. She has become an actual human to me. As I say, a bit like my daughter. And here she is pulling a bonehead move like this. Doing something self-destructive like this.

I feel like I want to talk her out of it. Which is of course ludicrous. Which is of course silly in the extreme. But no-no-no-no-no-no! Don’t do that! Don’t hurt yourself that way! It makes me slightly weak in the knees to hear this. It’s a little as if I had heard my son or my daughter had taken on pastoral responsibilities.

No, M, I say. No. Here. I didn’t know you were moving. I’ll help you move back. Tell your husband how sorry I am for him and for you. Tell him I’ll be happy to help you two move back home.

Look here, 007, she says. You work in hospice don’t you?

Yes, I say. Sort of.

Well, same thing. Same type of thing. Some people are just cut out for it is all. We’ve received the call. We’ve made our decision. Besides, I knew what I was getting myself into. My father’s a pastor and his father was a pastor. I’ve been there. Done that, 007. I’ve been around that barn before.

But M! Oh, do you understand that people like me will be coming at you and your husband. People who will make you want to weep! Make you feel ignorant! Make you want to hit them right square on the nose, hammer them on the knee-caps.

People who don’t know when to stop! People who have no sense of proportion! People who have no idea of the damage they do?

Look, 007. I can take care of myself, she says. I’m capable of telling people when they’re out of line. Believe me, 007, she says, dropping her smile. Letting me see that she has a serious soul in there. A determined diamond like soul in there beneath the Midwest farm-girl exterior.

A pastor’s worst nightmare, I say. Do you know what that is?

What is that, 007?

It’s someone who cares for you and cares for God. Cares for you both deeply. And who still won’t cut you any slack. Still comes at you like a pit bull. A pit bull trained to do this. To do this until this is done.

Thank you for your concern, 007. But we’ve made our decision. We will make the best of it. Now I have work to do. If you don’t mind, she says.

You know. Like M will do. When she’s done chatting with 007 and has decided she has more important things to do with her time.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


I’m up to my cerebral cortex in pastors, I’ll tell you. Can’t seem to swing a pointed locution without lacerating one. Cringe sometimes as I’m writing this. When some words feel like they've cut someone.

Conversation with a guy. Well let’s just say of the many pastors I hobnob with, he’s the one I most enjoy. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Women in Love. D.H. Lawrence. Berkin and Gerald. Not that either of us is like Gerald.

But the kind of elemental friendship those two have. A friendship between men that goes deeper than most men allow. Allow as possible. Mostly.

Topic: Resurrection.

An appropriate time to have it, too. What with Easter coming up.

We talk. How shall I say this. We talk about this because we’re Jesus freaks. Because we can’t seem to stop talking about him. Can’t seem to leave the poor son of a God alone.

We talk and talk. It’s a long conversation. Too boring to replicate here. But not for us. Pure excitement. God coming out of the woodwork. Per usual when we talk.

The I AM’s lightning bolts firing up the sky and all the inward spaces. Hearts quickening. Minds racing like a couple of Dodge Chargers up the street. Up Woodward Avenue.

And where we get to is this. We don’t know what the nature of the resurrection. What the nature of a new earth and a new heaven. Will ultimately be. What new vistas will open once we close our eyes for the last time.

Is there a parallel universe? Is there a replacement of this earth with a new one? Is this one destroyed? Or is it transformed? What would a new heaven look like? What is the current heaven like? Are we humans no longer human? Are we something else? If so, what else? Are we matter? Are we the sort of matter we are now? The same tissues? Or is there a different physics? A different biology? A different chemistry? A different spirituality? A different relation between matter and spirit?

What would one do all day? The same kinds of things one does now? If different, how? Would we converse with other orders of being? What would other orders of being look like? What would we say, for example? What would we think and feel, for example? Would we get to speak with God? Would we get to converse with Jesus? Would there be football? Would there be drag racing of the mind? What would the women look like? Does Marilyn Monroe live there?

We aren’t provided answers. Only a few hints. A few suggestions. Several visual images and metaphors. That’s all. And people.

Some people make up vast imaginative landscapes. Tolkien-like worlds, where everything’s worked out. But as I say. Lovely imaginative exercises. But really quite off the point. Quite definitely off the beam.

No. The real thing for us. The only bit worth this sort of elaborate mental focus. Is the I AM himself. The living God himself. Looking for him. Expecting him. Searching for and finding him here. On this earth. In this life.

Finding him in this world. Enjoying him now. Following him here. Opening our hearts to him in this defeated looking winter’s end time. This bare sticks and mud and lingering and dirty great mounds of snow time.

Because we can’t know more than this. Can’t know more than him. He hasn’t told us, after all. Only winked. Only tipped his hat in a general direction. And asked us. Look ladies. Look here gentlemen. Be satisfied for now with me. With what we may do together. With how we may love one another today. In this world. This place that yes.

Yes. Is ragged looking now. But wait. Be patient. It won’t be long. And it will all blossom. It will all unfurl. It will all open again into promiscuous color and smell and sound and celebration.

Trust me. Follow me into this moment, where everything is possible. Even here. Even in this place of trouble. Where there is also paradise.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Pastor Chit Chat

Lunch the other day. Pastor chit chat day. Pastor chit chat lunch.

More Christlikeness. More talk about this. A pastor friend saying he doesn’t want to be like Christ in the sense that Christ is God. Of course not. That’s impossible.

Therefore he cannot mean that. What he means, after interminable chit chat, is that he would like to be generous and forgiving and loving and patient as Christ is. He is a follower of Christ, after all. So of course he would like to be like him in his human characteristics.

He wants to be like the human half.

And so I ask. Is that the right half or the left half? Is that the top half or the bottom half?

He just looks at me.

Christ is God through and through. He is human through and through. Do you believe this?


Then let’s not talk about Christ’s human half. Okay?


Then he brings up the fruits. He talks about the fruits of this theology. He asks if I detect any arrogance or any sense in him of someone who thinks he has the power of God. Or is trying to obtain the power of God.

No, I say.

Well, then, he wants to know. The teaching can’t be terrible, since the fruit is fine.

You mean we can teach anything we like, as long as the results are good, I say.

No, he says. Thinks for a bit.

Christian means “Little Christ,” he says.

No it doesn’t, I say. Look it up. It means slave of Christ. Follower of Christ. Not little duplicate of Christ.

He looks at me.

But a follower of anyone wants to be like the person they follow, he says.

Oh, I don’t know, I say. I don’t. I’m a follower of Jesus, but I don’t have any desire to be like him.

Let me ask you something, I say.


When we say we want to be like someone, what about that person do we want to be like?


For example, Jesus’s beard. When we say we want to be like him, are we likely to mean we want a beard like his?


Or the color of his eyes?


His celibacy?

No, not me.

Isn’t it true that when we say we want to be like someone, we mean that we want to be like them in some essential way?


Don’t we mean that we want to change ourselves so that we are like some different or differentiating characteristic of that person?


What is Christ’s most differentiating characteristic?

What do you mean?

Isn’t his most differentiating characteristic his divine nature? His unique divine nature?


Well, then, I say. You must mean that you do want to be like God.

No, I don’t.

Yes, you do.

No, I don’t.

Yes, you do.

No, I don’t

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Guest Preacher

Sunday, a student. Relative of the pastor. The senior pastor’s recent son in law. Seminary student. Speaks. Ahhh. It was lovely. Outside, the sun was up. Water trickling into the drains. The snow banks and ice dams shrinking. And inside. Holy Spirit sweetness. Holy Spirit numinousness. Holy Spirit intimacy.

Spoke about our identity. God’s identity. Jesus’s identity. About relationship. About love.

About how Satan—the pretender, the deceiver, the liar—convinces Adam and Eve that they can be like God, if only they would disobey God. That God isn’t who they think he is, and they aren’t who they think they are. They are capable—and rightly so!—of being like God himself. In their knowledge and in their beings capable of taking on a Godly demeanor.

Said how we are the adoptive children of God. How Jesus is God’s Word to us. How God in his nature—his triune nature—is relational. How we are made to be relational. How we know God through Jesus. Jesus, who is God’s final Word to us. Sacrificial. Loving. Forgiving. Full of kindness and grace. Serving. Healing.

How our identity is in our relation to God. How our identity is not essentially in the familial, work, and socio-economic roles we perform. Our many or few accomplishments. Rather it is in our childish role in relation to our father God. Our simple adoration of him. Our simple impulse to follow him. Gather around him. Be with him. Converse with him.

And of course this is so. Is what I’m thinking. Of course we need reminding. We need to be brought back to this. This simple understanding. This profoundly simple way of being. Led away from our troubles, our concerns, our worries, our plans, our habits, our obsessions, our tangential ramifications. And be brought again before God. Again before Jesus. To be in his presence. His splendid presence.

And this is of course what worship is for. To be brought back into intimacy with God. To be brought back individually and corporately into a heightened awareness of his presence. His hovering over us. His hovering in us. His presence all through us and among us.

And this is what is called for. Is what I’m thinking. What I’m feeling. This is what God calls his ministers and pastors and priests to do for his people.

To remind us. To call us. To lead us gently into the Holy of Holies together. To bring us into God’s holy presence together. To help us discern God’s presence among us.

To help us open ourselves to the Most High. The Lord of Lords. The Alpha and the Omega. The Author of all things. The Creator. Love himself. To help us kneel before him and experience the overwhelming blessing of his love and his healing and his peace.

To help us open our hearts to God. Open our hearts to his Holy Spirit. And encourage us to make our hearts hospitable. Make our hearts commodious. Make our hearts welcoming homes. Make our hearts like the hearts of little children who don’t know any better. Who don’t know any better than to ask the Holy Spirit to live in their hearts always.

And as I’m listening to this young man and allowing his words to penetrate down into my heart. As I am meditating on his words. And as they are resonating within me. As they resound like the words of a William Blake poem in my heart. Like several of his Songs of Innocence in my heart.

As this young man speaks to us of these things. I am hopeful. I am delighted. And at peace.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Pastor Paradigm

One of the things I think I’m saying is the church has gone haywire. Not only recently. Not only in the last few years. The last few decades. The last few centuries.

What I think I’m discovering is the paradigm is wrong. The concept of the pastor. The priest. The minister. The singular head of a congregation. The singular head of a church.

The idea that here’s a person who knows it all for us. Who intermediates between God and us. Who is the Biblical authority for us. Who is the Holy Spirit authority for us. Who is the Christian reasoning and feeling and experiencing authority for us.

The idea that here’s the person God invests with his presence uniquely. Or at least unusually.

The notion that here is Jesus’s stand-in. His surrogate. Listen to him, because he speaks for God. His life is sanctified by God. His being is particularly infused by God. And therefore we should listen in particular to him. More closely to him than we would to most others. More closely to him than we would to ourselves. To God in ourselves.

Because he has God’s authority among us. He or she has God’s presence hovering over him. And in him. And all through him. In a way and to an extent that we run-of-the-mill Christians. We mere mystic believer priests who sit in the back of the church and chew gum. We unwashed, poor, working class, middle class sinner Christians. Do not.

You can see it. It’s everywhere if you know what you’re looking for. How for example the priest or minister or pastor expects and the congregation expects him or her to preach for twenty or thirty or forty minutes about what we should do with our lives. Or about what the Bible means. Or about the pastor’s own faith journey. As if we were all waiting out here for a revelation. For the pastor to enlighten us about God.

As if we all were putting our lives on pause to have them be informed and changed and refitted and refashioned and rehabilitated by the pastor in his or her weekly address to us.

I don’t know about you, but this seems like a lot of hogwash. I mean. Who did Jesus say was first in heaven? In the Kingdom? The priests? The ministers? The clergy? The pastors?

Who should we look to for guidance after Jesus? Did Jesus say to look for the priests, pastors, ministers? The clergy? Did he say I will send Peter to you, and he will be your guide, philosopher, and friend? Or some surrogate of Peter’s?

I don’t think I find that anywhere. I find him saying that he’s sending the Counselor. The Holy Spirit. And that we should seek him out. Should look to him for guidance. Should look to him for God’s authority. God’s presence.

So what’s up with these pastors? What’s up with this paradigm that all of us sinner mystic believer priests and the pastor-minister-clergy-priests have gotten ourselves locked into?

The damage is everywhere. Speak to a few fellow Christians in the back of the church. Real damage there from pastors. Speak to a few pastors. Real damage there from Christians in the back of the church. In the sense that they believe what we believe about them. They believe that they are special. They are chosen. They are annointed. They are invested.

Can you imagine what that does to a person? When everyone around you constantly reinforces this ridiculous idea? This unBiblical idea? This grandiose idea? And can you imagine trying to live up to this impossible idea? Can you imagine the self-torture that goes on? Or alternatively the arrogance?

But most of all, I’m concerned with us. We mere Christians. We merely sinful struggling mystic believer priests. Because there are so many of us. Because in terms of a class of damaged Christians, we sheep outnumber the priests and pastors and ministers and other religious types about 100 or 200 to 1.

To the extent we buy into this privileged pastor nonsense, we do not look for God ourselves. We do not believe the Holy Spirit has invested us uniquely with God’s presence, with God’s Word, with God’s love, with God’s own delegated authority.

We do not seek God with all our heart and mind and strength. We let Mikey do it. We delegate the knowledge of God, the understanding of God, the seeking of God, the things of God. To someone else. To the pastor clergy minister priest.

To the person in charge. See him or her up front? To the person leading the whole business. The person calling the shots and standing by design next to the Holy of Holies. Next to God himself.

And we. We the unwashed. Stand or sit or kneel. At a great distance from that. From God. Down here in the sputum and blood and mucous and dirt and and excrement and vileness of ordinary life. The quotidian banality and boredom of regular life. The profane abandonment of unGodly life.

And this is wrong. This way of living and thinking and feeling and being with God is wrong. Life in God is the full tilt boogie life. We all stand in the Holy of Holies. Co-located and co-habitant with God.

And don’t you let your pastor or your friend or Lucifer or any unholy voice inside you say different.

Jesus has given us life in him. Not life in a pastor. Not life according to some priest’s understanding. Life in Jesus Christ. Life according to him. Life authored by him. Life in full only with and in and through him.

First God, for he is our root. Then Jesus, for he is our vine. He connects all of us to God. Individually and corporately. And all of us to one another.

And then us. All of us. For we are the branches. All of us. Equally. The people of God.

All of one being, each with its different nature. All partaking of God's life. All alive in God's grace and love--his Holy Spirit--which he pumps like nutrients and the water of life itself into us each moment.