Cultural Arrogance, Christians and Political Independents

Arizona_flagOver the past couple of months I have had two nearly identical situations in which different Christians have said nearly the exact same thing to me. I won’t say what it was but I will say that the nearly duplicate events set me to some thinking. Each situation centered around the other person offering their (unsolicited) opinion that (I’m paraphrasing here): “Of course all Christians in America think like I do and I’m going out of my way to point out that you don’t think like I do”.

I don’t think either person meant to really insinuate that they thought I am not actually a Christian but that was certainly an unintended implication of their statements. Either that or that they think I’m less intelligent than them. Or both.

Essentially, the bigger picture made manifest in these two conversations is that many Christians seem to believe that there is only one way to think. Of course this tendency to sweep entire groups aside is not isolated to Christians. This is the heart of what the two-party system now engenders. But, Christians, of all people should resist such urges. And yet, we seem as susceptible as anyone. Consider, for example,  Arminians and Calvinists continually nipping at one another. I have known people in both camps who have said that if you were in the other camp, then “of course you can’t be Christian”. Poppycock.

Perhaps one of the areas where see this tendency made most evident is with politics. “Of course a Christian belongs to “X”  or “Y” party”. The problem, of course, is that there are Christians in every political party who believe this (Google here or here).

There is a certain type of cultural arrogance on display here. We forget or ignore that, in some theological areas and in politics, we are dealing with interpretations and opinions. Your worldview leads you to believe that political approach “x” is better for society but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those who hold approach “y” are wrong, just that you hold different viewpoints.

We (Christians included) have come to believe that, if only the other group were smarter or would think more critically, then of course they would agree with me because, after all, “I’m right”. But we forget that this arrogance of opinion is no less present in the other group. Instead of admitting that we hold certain opinions, even if we hold them strongly, we turn our positions into “facts” which cannot be disputed. The two-party political system was designed so that those holding differing views would compromise and meet in the middle. Yet both parties now decry centrists as somehow being weak on the party line. The result has been that the far edges of each party controls the narrative and is left with nothing to do but simply denigrate the other resulting in gridlock and a broken political system.

Instead of working together, we demean and belittle the other side of the aisle (no matter which side you’re on) instead of striving for compromise, we dig in our heels. Welcome to politics (and theology) in America.

Christians have no place in such shenanigans. I’m not saying that Christians should not be involved in politics. But I am saying that Christians should never stay with a party of our “party loyalty”. This is fine for career politicians but not for Christians. When Christians pledge party loyalty, we give up our prophetic voice.

We are to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). We add flavor and preserve but we are not actually part of the main dish. We’re there to make it better. We are supposed to be in but not of the culture. We are to strive first and foremost for the kingdom of God and proclaim our citizenship in the kingdom of heaven. We are to work for the good of our cities and this require that we rise above political bickering. We are to call out evil and injustice no matter where it exists and that includes every political party. Ours is a calling above partisanship and ours is a family with people on both sides of the aisle.

Christians should avoid divisiveness. We should find plenty to disagree with in every political party and we should remember that our allegiance lies with none of them. We must stand above the fray and speak the Truth and lead with love. We must demonstrate humility that is demonstrated in a willingness, especially, to work with those with whom we disagree.

It seems to me that Christians should nearly always be political independents. I understand that you believe that your worldview (as biblically-minded as you insist it is) lead you to support one political party or the other. But, remember, it is possible to be a Christians and belong to the “other” party. And Christians should avoid “party loyalty.” When any political party feels like it can “count on” Christians for our support, we are no longer holding them accountable for the betterment of society, we are nothing more than voting blocks (i.e. pawns).

This current political season is a vital time for Christians in America. Many Christians who should be holding hands, praying together and working for justice and peace are more than willing to simply sweep aside those who disagree. May we regain our prophetic voice and shirk the yoke of political loyalty.

Will You Help Us Plant A Church?

o-SUPPORT-FRIENDS-facebookIt’s an interesting phenomenon that asking for help is often seen as some sort of weakness by our culture. We mythologize figures like the Marlboro Man, the independent spirit who don’t need nobody. We idolize the “self-made” man who didn’t have to rely on anyone to get ahead. But we forget that even the “Lone Ranger” didn’t actually travel alone. Tonto was a faithful companion.

We instinctively know that life was not meant to be lived alone. This is revealed to us time and time again in God’s redemptive story. God created a companion for Adam. He promised Abraham a family. He worked through a nation. And, though He saves us as individuals, He saves us into a family. The Christian life is fullest when we bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-2). We weep and rejoice with each other (Romans 12:15). Following Jesus is a community endeavor. We are to “speak the truth to one another in love” (Ephesians 4:15), and it is by our love for one another that the world will know that we belong to Jesus (John 13:35).

Though Christians come from every culture, we are brought in to a new community. We are expected to do good to everyone, especially fellow Believers (Galatians 6:10). Not only are we called to be sensitive to each other’s needs but we must also speak up when we have a need ourselves.

And that’s where you come in.Mosaic_Church_logo-Stack

In July 2008, after serving as a lead pastor in TX, I planted Church of the Cross in Glendale, AZ. We planted a church because we believe that church planting is vital for the gospel health of any city. By God’s grace, we saw exciting Gospel growth and God transformed an initial plant of 12 adults and 16 kids into a thriving, multiplying group of gospel communities on mission. We saw lives transformed and people grow closer to Jesus.

After adopting four children at once (putting us at 8 children), I made the difficult decision to resign from the church I had poured my life into. We had grown with our church plant but our suddenly expanded family deserved our full attention. We spent most of 2015 focusing on family stability but towards the end of 2015, God began to tug at my heart again.

Now, after nearly eight months of praying, planning and imagining, we are excited and humbled to announce that we are moving to Gilbert, AZ to plant another church. We will be joining our friends Steve and Christine Valero who are also experienced church planters. Mosaic Church was birthed from convictions regarding the importance of applying the Gospel (our need for Jesus) to all of life. This leads us into community where we share one another’s burdens and joys and then overflow in sacrificial love for our communities.

We are raising $100,000 of start-up funding. This will ensure an initial salary base and cover launch costs (such as a quality children’s ministry, insurance, etc.) for the first year as we become self-sufficient. Your one-time or recurring gift will help ensure church stable for the long-term. We need to raise at least $15,000 by the end of July in order to move. Any help is appreciated.

You can give online via PayPal.





You may also give by check. Checks made payable to Mosaic Church may be mailed to:

19619 North 67th Drive

Glendale, AZ 85308

 

 

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We know that you don’t need extra incentives to give. The warm feeling under left rib and knowing that you’ve helped is enough. But because we are so grateful we want to offer a token of our appreciation.

If you give $350, you will receive your choice of one of Brent’s original drawings in a frame. See a sampling of the drawings available here.

If you give $500, you will receive one of Kristi’s original string art pieces. You will have your choice of a “Home” sign in which the “o” is the state of your choice or a “gather” sign.

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If you give $750, you can have one of each.

We can’t thank you enough for your support in helping make this new church a reality.

  • Read the story of our adoption.
  • Read the story of my resignation from ministry.
  • Read some of our spiritual journey in 2015.
  • Read about my call to plant another church.
  • Visit the Mosaic Church website.





The Long Strange Trip Continues (We’re Planting Another Church!)

church_planting-400x300In 2008, my family and I moved from TX where I was pastoring back to AZ to plant Church of the Cross (which has since become Missio Dei Peoria).

In January 2015, a year after adopting four kids at once (putting us at 8 kids), I resigned from ministry in general and specifically from the church we planted in 2008.

2015 has been a whirlwind with a consistent theme from Psalm 46:

Be still and know that He is God.

When I resigned, it was important for Kristi and I that “vocational ministry” not be a career option for an unspecified period of time. With over ten years of lead pastor experience, I probably could have been hired at an existing church. But that just wasn’t right. Throughout 2015, I applied to more than 153 jobs (I stopped counting at 153). Most of those were jobs for which I was well qualified (at least on paper). But nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Bupkiss. A big goose-egg.

That’s not to say that I haven’t worked hard during this time, just that God has not provided full-time employment. Kristi and I both have worked part time for our friends Mark and Jill at Twigs and Twine. This has been a great experience. We’ve learned a lot but we’ve always known that this was not a long-term solution to our situation. It has felt like God was arranging our circumstances so that we would rest in Him even without knowing what was next. To be still. And know that He is God. And we are not.

This is a difficult lesson. It is often uncomfortable but it gets to the very heart of faith itself. Following Jesus means submitting our wills to His and trusting. God has been teaching me this tough lesson over the past year or so.

As I stated, it was important for us to have an unspecified period of time during which full-time ministry (at least in the pastoral sense) was not an option. Not only did we want to see what else God might have for us, we knew that one of two things would happen:

  1. The “indefinitely” would simply progress and we would not ever return to vocational ministry and we would be OK with that, or
  2. God would change our hearts and the “call” to ministry on our lives would return.

As 2015 wore on, the latter happened.

Before I explain what this means, I want to pause for a couple of side-notes.

First, my wife Kristi and I have been remarkably on the same page for every major decision throughout our relationship. This has helped serve as a natural form of discernment for both of us. Believe me, Kristi is not afraid to tell me when she thinks I’m wrong. It is important to me that my wife is on the same page. And she is.

Second, the idea of a “call to ministry” is fuzzy and nebulous at best. But I can say is that our decision to once again consider full-time ministry was not motivated by the fact that I had trouble finding employment. I hope that this goes without saying but I wanted to say it regardless. I have a healthy respect for ministry which requires that it be more than just a job.

In late 2015, not only did I start to miss vocational ministry but Kristi confirmed that I was once again being called to return and that we as a family wanted to give our lives in this way. As we wondered what this might mean for our family, we began talking with my friend Steve about planting a church together in Gilbert.

Steve planted a church called Ekklesia in 2009. Through mutual involvement with the local Surge Network, Acts 29 and Soma Communities, Steve and I became good friends. Around the same time I resigned, Steve shut down his church plant. However, because he’s so awesome, Steve has maintained great relationships with the people of that church, retaining a core group ready to plant another church.

After nearly eight months of prayer and consideration, Steve and I believe that the time is right to move forward with planting a church made up of Gospel Communities on Mission. We are humbled to announce that we are in the initial stages of planting Mosaic Church.

The Thomas Ten is in the process of moving to the Gilbert area so that we can devote ourselves to this exciting new gospel work. Since our ministry conviction is based on relationships and everyday life, it is important for us to be where we minister. We are currently raising the necessary funds to launch this new church and we appreciate anything you can give towards this goal.

Once we can get to that side of town, we will move forward with forming Gospel Communities and launching a Sunday gathering. Our goal is to move as soon as possible so that the kids can transition schools smoothly.

There’s still a lot to figure out and I’m sure you have questions. Feel free to ask them. And please pray for us. Please pray for wisdom, for discernment, for joy, for clarity and conviction. Please pray that God would provide the necessary resources and prepare hearts.

  • Visit the Mosaic Church website.
  • Visit the Mosaic Church Facebook page.

the Weekly Town Crier

towncrierWell hi there. How are you? How’s your week been? was it a good week or a bad week? Was it a busy week or a slow week. Did your week leave you feeling weak?

Well have no fear, the Weekly Town Crier is here to inform you on all of the things about which you are ill informed. Or maybe he just collects links of interest and passes them along to you for your interest.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of 2015.

Download a three-volume mix of Jesusy songs I collected.

R.I.P. Louis Meyers, co-founder of SXSW.

R.I.P. Marco Rubio’s presidential bid.

Read Christianity Today‘s piece: “Israeli Christians Think and Do Almost the Opposite of American Evangelicals”.

Read about the Florida Sheriff who has pledged “to arrest CEO Tim Cook if Apple resists crypto cooperation”.

Read as Consequence of Sound considers the legacy of MTV’s 120 Minutes. Remember when the Music Television Network actually thought music mattered?

Read as jazz drummer Jimmy Cobb reflects on the making of some of Miles Davis‘ greatest albums at Uncut magazine.

Read as Paste magazine talks with a proponent of the flat earth theory.

Read as Flavorwire profiles Obama’s SXSW role this year.

Read as Peter Capaldi criticizes their BBC for neglecting Doctor Who.

Read as Damien Jurado talks with Paste and opens up about battle with depression: “I Went from the Light Really Into the Black.”

Read as Salon reports that the estate of Harper Lee has begun actions to cease the publication of the (rightly) ubiquitous mass market paperback edition of To Kill A Mocking bird.

Read Consequence of Sound‘s report that the Eagles are breaking up.

Read Brain Pickings‘ piece: “Neil Gaiman on How Stories Last”.

  • Read as The Guardian considers “Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: maybe a film adaptation just isn’t meant to be”.

Read as The Atlantic considers: “The Trader Joe‘s Lesson: How to Pay a Living Wage and Still Make Money in Retail”.

Read Uncrate‘s report that AC/DC is canceling the remainder of their tour dates as Brian Johnson faces total hearing loss.

Read as The Daily Beast profiles “The Stupidly Simple Spy Messages No Computer Could Decode”.

Read as Ars Technica reports: “Google AI goes 3-0, wins Go match against Lee Se-dol”.

Read as On The Media argues: “Why The Publishing Industry Isn’t In Peril”.

Read as Bryan Cranston tells The Advocate that he’d love to star in a Malcom in the Middle reunion.

Browse “The Scariest Urban Legend From Every State” at Thought Catalog.

Read about the “New company offering same-day in-home releases of new films”from Napster founder Sean Parker which has received the “backing of Abrams, Spielberg.”

Read Techly‘s report that “In Switzerland, It’s Illegal To Own Just One Guinea Pig Because They’re Prone To Loneliness”.

Browse Fast Company‘s list of “7 Interview Questions For Measuring Emotional Intelligence”.

Read Damn Interesting‘s profile of Colonel Sanders.

Crank Out Infinite Geometric Designs With The Wooden Cycloid Drawing Machine” at Colassal. 

Read Brooklyn Vegan‘s piece about an increasing problem: homeowners move into areas with (already) existing music venues and then make noise complaints, and win.

Read “Relevant”‘s report that Hillsong is getting its own television network.

Read reports that Christian celebrity speaker Mark Driscoll will launch his new speaking platform here in AZ on Easter Sunday.

Read The Observer‘s profile of Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band on the release of their magnificent double album The Rarity of Experience. Forsyth discusses the influence of R.E.M, Television, the Dead and wonders on his Facebook page of the interview: “I talked a lot about why the Solar Motel Band is actually jazz band in flannel or something.”

  • Read Pitchfork‘s review of the album: “Solar Motel Band leader Chris Forsyth strikes a near-perfect balance between ’70s rock tradition and present-day experimentation with his signature guitar tone.”

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The Prayer Of The Ugh-Churched

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned against You in my heart and thoughts. I have grown discontent in my journey towards You. I love you still and seek You fervently. In fact, this love for You and desire to grow more like You has fanned the flames of frustration. I want more than church programs. I want the church to live like family. I want to be challenged to grow more dependent on You, not on gifted teachers. I want to be equipped rather than rely on someone else for my spiritual development and I want to be engaged rather than entertained.

Many Christians say they want “real” and “authentic” community but the very structures we adopt for the local church tend emphasize intellectual growth over relationships. We have classes to teach people how  to live in community but we don’t actually expect anyone to be in such a community. In fact, we’re a bit taken aback when we do see it.

When we say “doing life together”, it usually means superimposing some sort of academic study on to people who may or may not actually grow the most from academic study. We approach the Christian life as if we were simply disciplined enough, everything would be better. We academetize everything to the point that we discourage people who have no business being discouraged about following Jesus. It’s great if you can tell me the declentions of a Greek verb but I’d rather know you were trying to love those in your path as best you can. We make people who don’t like to read books read books other than the Bible so that they will understand the Bible better. And if they won’t even pretend to like to read to appease their leaders, they are deemed as somehow less spiritual and not “leader material”. We ask people to take time away from their families so we can tell them to love their families better. We ask people to meet with other Christians to learn how to talk to people who aren’t Christians. Really? Is this what it’s come to?

I’m sorry but if we can’t talk to our neighbor about everyday life, we’re not going to talk to them about Jesus. And if that’s the only think we ever talk to them about we’re just going to seem weird and they’re going to think that we view them as a project rather than a friend.

We use verses out of context to promote our own agendas like the (hopefully) well-intentioned pastor using Hebrews 10:25‘s admonition to not neglect gathering together with other believers to say that you have to be at every worship service (I’d be happy to elaborate on this at some point, but for now, I’ll say that I’m pretty sure that the writer to the Hebrews did not mean that we should attend a production once a week where we passively listen to a speaker tell us for 45 minutes how to live while a band urges us to sing along to their performance.). We draw lines in the sand that don’t need to be drawn and we call it “inerrancy” (the Bible was not given to tell us the age of the earth and to believe in an old earth does not mean not believing the rest of the Bible). We major on the minors and wrongly divide (I have not applied to several churches because they require someone who believes a Pre-Trib/Pre-Mil eschatology. Yes, I think eschatology is important. No, I don’t think this is something to divide over).

Father, protect me that my frustration does not sprout into bitterness. Surround me with people who want more.

Help us, Father to own our weaknesses rather than pretending they don’t exist. Help us to to find a better way forward instead of retreading the same well-intentioned but dead-end paths. Surround me with people who believe that the church is neither a building and who believe that worship is not an event and certainly not a performance. Lead me to people who believe that growth occurs primarily in community and understand that you can’t program real community. Lead me to people who believe that growing in discipleship is not necessarily the same thing as growing in knowledge about the Bible, though the two are often deeply intertwined.

Father, help us to move beyond cliché understandings of words like “authentic” and “organic”. Fill my heart with love and patience. Teach me as a leader to equip others rather than make them rely on me. Please deepen my own love, not only for You but for your your people. May I come to understand my faith, not as an add-on but as a marinade for life.

May my frustration be an instrument of healing for others. May I never lead out of opposition but from joyful obedience. May my love for you increase and may I become more dependent on You. Grant me wisdom, fill me with joy, lead me to serve and surround me with others who want the same.

Amen.

 

the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyI don’t know about you but I love spicy artichoke jalapeño dip. I mean, with some wavy potato chips or the thicker plain chips. Not the thin ones because the dip is too thick for those sissy chips. No sissy chips up in he-yah. Know what I mean, Vern?

Man, sometimes it just hits the spot if you know what I mean. No? Well, you really should try some.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of 2015.

Download a three-volume mix of Jesusy songs I collected.

R.I.P. Harper Lee.

R.I.P. Umberto Eco.

R.I.P. Samuel Willenberg, “the last known survivor of the Nazi death camp Treblinka.”

R.I.P. Jeb Bush’s presidential bid.

R.I.P. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign.

R.I.P. First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Browse the lineup for this year’s Pitchfork music festival.

Browse Phoenix New Times‘ list of “Arizona’s 30 Most Influential Musicians.”

Learn about caffeinated toothpaste.

Read about Sub Pop Records offering “college scholarships to ‘losers’ and ‘art-enthused misfits'”.

Read as Smithsonian considers “How the Phonograph Changed Music Forever”.

Read as Salon argues: “Stop buying old Bob Dylan albums: “Every time somebody buys a reissue, they’re just taking money away from new musicians”. But I like Bob Dylan and new music . . .

Watch a “1970 documentary about Hunter S. Thompson‘s run for mayor of Aspen”.

  • Read as The Washington Post opines: “If only Hunter S. Thompson could have lived to take on this election”.

Browse as NPR’s Jazz Night In America considers the history of “Jazz slang”.

Read as The Washington Post considers three cocktails that “pair perfectly with classic literature”.

Read USA Today‘s profile of Mavis Staples.

Browse as The Guardian compares streaming services.

Browse Paste‘s picks for “10 Essential Short Story Collections”.

Read as The Guardian considers: “Slave to the algorithm? How music fans can reclaim their playlists from Spotify“.

Read as Consequence of Sound reports that a “Fall Coachella Festival” is imminent.

Read reports that Apple is implementing a trade-in program for iPhones.

Read Vinyl Factory‘s report that new printed city guides for vinyl are being made available for select cities.

Read The Atlantic‘s report on the return of Planet Earth.

Ever wonder why you sometimes feel “phantom phone vibrations”?

Read Smithsonian‘s piece: “Long Before Jack Daniels, George Washington Was a Whiskey Tycoon.”

Read as Gillian Anderson talks about Dave Grohl‘s X-Files cameo and how it came to be.

Read as AV Club urges us to reconsider “the grim and gritty Dark Age of superhero comics.”

Read Live For Live Music‘s report: “The Leaked Tracklisting For The National‘s Extensive Grateful Dead Tribute Is Incredible”.

Hear “a giant 800-track alt/indie-focused 90’s playlist in chronological order”.

Read about the new vinyl-pressing plant promising tw0-week turnaround.

Read CNN‘s report: “Beyoncé offered security for concert by Louis Farrakhan“.

Browse as Consequence of Sound considers “Which Artists Are Still Holding Out on Streaming”.

Browse “Relevant”‘s list of “8 Biographies Everyone Should Read”.

Read Paste‘s report: “Pixar Made an App That Helps the Blind Experience Movies”.

Read Fact Magazine‘s report: “Discogs sold 6.6 million records in 2015”.

Watch Bill Gates DJ on Jimmy Fallon.

See shoes that grow with you.

Read “Relevant”‘s piece: “Justin Bieber: Without God I’d Be a Terrible Person”.

Listen as the BBC discusses poetry form.

Read as Lucinda Williams discusses her discography with Spin.

Browse Flavorwire‘s picks for “The 10 Albums You Need to Hear in March”.

Ever wonder: “How Does ‘A Wrinkle in Time‘ Look on a Map?”

Read Paste‘s: “4 Questions for Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver”.

An Introduction to the “Ugh-Churched”

ugh-shirtI am Ted Wiggins and I speak for the trees!

No, that’s not right. I am Brent Thomas and I speak for . . . well, I might not speak for anyone other than myself. However, I have the hunch that I speak for a growing number of Christians who are increasingly frustrated by American Christianity.

Discipleship is the primary task Jesus left His people (Matthew 28:18-20). This simply means helping ourselves and others become more like Jesus. This is the fundamental task of Christians and encompasses all of life including all of our relationships. We are publicly trying to live out the ways of Jesus and striving to help others (no matter where upon the faith journey they might currently find themselves) to see the beauty in doing so (This is different from evangelism. Evangelism is not a thing in and of itself but is a subset of discipleship. Maybe more on this later.).Many churches grasp this, using pithy, easy-to-remember phrases like: Make, Mature and Multiply (Disciples), or Gather, Grow, Go.

Few seem to argue the fact that the core of Christian Living is discipleship. Over the years, I’ve asked over a hundred people: How well do you think the American Church as a whole, has done at the fundamental task of Discipleship?

I have yet to have a single person tell me that “as a whole,” we’re rocking it. Several people have been able to point to specific times when they have been spiritually cared for and encouraged and seen significant growth but these cases seem to be the exception rather than the norm. No one has argued that, “as a whole,” we’re doing well. There was one guy who was adamant until I realized that he was arguing that Young Life did a great job of discipling, not the church.

93434191-einstein-tongue_custom-36fb0ce35776dc2d92eda90880022bf48a67e192-s6-c30And yet it seems like just about every church is doing the fundamentally the same things. You remember how Einstein defined insanity, don’t you? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. That seems to be the current predicament for American Christianity. Sure, the flavor might change but nearly every church seems to have the basic, Sunday-driven, education-based, program-driven structures. Two or three songs, a sermon and some more songs. Some churches are showy-er about it than others. Some churches have different emphases within those parameters but nobody seems to question the basic. passive, education-based approach.

But there is a growing number of people who believe that the Christian life is more, not less than the modern church experience. Many people sincerely want to follow Jesus and find a divide between how we see that suggested in the New Testament and how it is largely practiced here in the United States of 2016. Drawing from researchers like Thom Rainer and others who discuss the “pre-churched,” the “de-churched,” the “un-churched,” etc., I have come to think of this group as the “ugh-churched”.

The “ugh-churched” as I understand them, are not abandoning their faith nor do they want to abandon church participation. Much ink has been spilled rebuking people who say that they love God but feel no need for church. These are not the ugh-churched. The ugh-churched, if I may speak for a category I’ve just made up, believe that the current model is lacking at best and broken at worst. The ugh-churched believe that so many modern churches rely on programs because real relationships simply don’t exist.

But it’s a catch-22, isn’t it? Many churches see the New Testament’s expectations that we will “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:1-2), that we will rejoice and weep together (Romans 12:15), that we will speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:25), that we will live as family and so we create programs in which these things are supposed to occur but these things do not occur in programs because programs are not relationships. People oftentimes don’t know how to have these types of relationships because they’ve been caught in programs. A growing number of people have become disillusioned with the current approach and long for Christianity to be lived out in the context of meaningful, challenging relationships. Though there’s lots to do in the American Church, it just doesn’t always seem worth the time and energy and many are left wanting more.

As my friend April recently said:

I’m at a point in my Christian faith where I don’t want to go to a church with a “tag line” or catchy mission statement. I’m so over it, like way way over it. I want to go to a church that really wants to be the Church and not some cool kids club, that strives to be relevant, or hip, or urban, or progressive, or liberal, or seeker sensitive, or “down to earth”. I’ve found that there’s a lot of flavor out there without a lot of substance (kinda like Doritos). Hoping God will bring us into a community of believers who want to do honest, raw, life together for the long haul. Keep our family in your prayers, and keep me in your prayers that God will show Himself to me in his people and that I would be encouraged.

The problem is that we’re left with cliché’s like “authentic”, “genuine” and “organic”. They sound great but have largely lost their meaning in the current church context because every church uses these terms but seems to mean something different by them and the result is has simply become a standardized approach to how we “do church”. This is why many of the ugh-churched feel increasingly disenfranchised from the American church; they want more, not less. They want substance over performance and they believe that following Jesus is about more than superficial slogans like “Win at Life”.

This means that we must stop doing church the way we’ve always done it. Far from being threatened by the ugh-churched, we should revel in the desire for deep and meaningful community faith. This is an exciting time for the American Church. We are faced with an identity crisis and we have reached a tipping point. How will we emerge? Will we embrace the growing desire for simplified schedules and deeper relationships or will we create another church program?

 

 

the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyDo you remember that time we were together at that place and we did that thing? Oh man! It was the bombdiggity.

Wait, you don’t remember it? Are you sure? It was bombalicious, yo.

You’re sure, because it was bombtastic. Truly and for reals.

No? Not ringing a bell?

Sorry, wrong number. Sorry to bother you. Perhaps I can offer you some online thought-provoking entertainment? I have collected some links. Why don’t you grab a container of your favorite beverage, put your feet up and peruse.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of 2015.

Download a three-volume mix of Jesusy songs I collected.

R.I.P. Dan Hicks.

R.I.P. Giant Sand.

Meet the 107-year-old’ man who’s “secret to a long life is four bottles of red wine a day”.

See some amazing “these Tiny Hand-painted Wes Anderson Sets”.

Read Rolling Stone‘s interview with Lucinda Williams in which she “Talks Meeting Dylan, Southern Identity, Shopping Online”.

Read Washington Post‘s piece: “A Stanford psychologist explains why spacing out and goofing off is so good for you”.

Read as The Guardian considers” “Villain or victim, Shakespeare’s Shylock is a character to celebrate”.

Browse “10 Paradoxical Traits of Creative People” at Fast Company.

Read about a rare, unreleased Rolling Stones album that was recently stolen.

Read as Warped Speed considers why having a beard is good for your health.

ReadWilliam S. Burroughs on Creativity” at Brain Pickings: “The price an artist pays for doing what he wants is that he has to do it.”

Take a Peek Inside Neil Gaiman‘s Library”.

Read/watch as The Chicago Tribune profiles a new documentary about John Prine.

Maybe movies should end whenever a character says the title out loud“.

Read as Slate wonders “Why Can’t Apple Figure Out Television?”

Meet the man who created Papyrus, the world’s second-most hated font.

Read about the “First U.S. Doctor Sentenced for Patient ODs”. “A California doctor was sentenced to 30 years in prison on murder charges Friday in connection with three overdose deaths from medication she prescribed.”

Read as The Guardian considers “From Berlin’s warehouses to London’s estates: how cities shape music scenes”.

Read about the priceless antique Martin guitar Kurt Russell smashed during the filming of Quentin Tarantino‘s Hateful Eight.

Read as “Andrew Zimmern Explains How to Acquire a Taste”.

Watch Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy sing Stephen Colbert a lullaby.

Read as Inc. wonders: “Why Are Millennials So Unhappy at Work?”

Read: “Proust on What Art Does for the Soul and How to Stop Letting Habit Blunt Our Aliveness” at Brain Pickings.

Ever wonder “What happens to a tiny town when Walmart disappears?” Find out at The Washington Post.

Looking for a new career path? “Stone Temple Pilots Launch Open Audition for New Singer”.

Read as The New Yorker wonders if we’re maybe missing the point in our hatred of Martin Shkreli.

See “What $1 USD Gets You In Food All Around The World”.

Read “Relevant”‘s report: “The Pastor of China’s Largest Official Protestant Church Has Been Arrested”.

Read The Guardian‘s piece: “In 1971, librarian Marguerite Hart asked famous names in the arts, sciences and politics to write to the children of Troy, Michigan, encouraging them to cherish their new public library.”

Read Consequence of Sound‘s report: “Josh Brolin to star in George Jones biopic from Straight Outta Compton writer”.

Browse “America’s Largest Collection of Early Tavern Signs”.

Read “Relevant”‘s report: “Seal Will Play Pontius Pilate in Tyler Perry’s Televised Passion Play”.

Read Ars Technia‘s piece: “The NFL wants you to think these things are illegal”.

Watch the Harlem Globetrotters interrupt Jeff Tweedy at AV Club‘s offices.

Read as Glenn Danzig discusses his recent Portlandia appearance with Rolling Stone.

Learn “How to Read a Book a Week”.

Read Sojourner‘s piece: “Why I’m a Politically Correct Christian (And You Should Be Too)”

See David Bowie‘s art.

Watch a guitarist play “the World’s Last Playable Stradivarius Guitar”.

Read Stereogum‘s report that Belly are reuniting.

See “Gorgeous, Extremely Private Writing Retreats” at Flavorwire.

Read Paste‘s report that Beyoncé told Coldplay that she did not want to collaborate with them.

See the “Last Known Photos of Jim Morrison“.

Read as Alice Cooper reflects “on His Dinner With David Bowie and Ray Bradbury“.

Read Fact Magazine‘s report: “The Pirate Bay now streams torrents in your browser”.

Read AV Club‘s report that a Saved By The Bell-themed restaurant and bar is coming to Chicago.

Learn “How to Make Your Own Moonshine Still from Hardware Store Parts” at Man Made.

Read as Stephen King confirms rumors of a Dark Tower movie.

Read about the Titanic replica set to set sail.

Read Vinyl Factory‘s report that The Gap has now entered the vinyl market.

Read as Noisey considers which musicians have the most positive Twitter followers.

Read Kanye West‘s comments about his new album: “It’s Gospel with a Lot of Cursing”.

Read about the lifetime collection of 1000,000 records now up for sale.

Read reports that the eighth Harry Potter book is on its way.

Read as Peter Gabriel wonders what is the point of music at The Guardian.

Read Pitchfork‘s report that Bruce Springsteen is releasing an autobiography.

Read as “Justin Vernon: Bon Iver Is “No Longer Winding Down” at Stereogum.

Read about “Woodstock Organizers Exploring 50th Anniversary Concert”.

the Weekly Town Crier

London's Town Crier copyThough I have not yet made it over to the Welcome Diner, I welcome you to the Weekly Town Crier. This is the spot on the Interwebs where I regularly collect and distribute links of interest to people of interest. The goal is to think about a wide variety of topics in such a way that we’re all the better for it. Now, go, browse, think, talk with those you love and those you’ve just met. Make the world a better place.

Buy my art here or here or contact me directly to purchase originals.

Visit our family blog: “The Thomas Ten.”

Browse Large Hearted Boy‘s list of “100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads.”

Listen to a mix of some of my favorite songs released in 2015.

Browse my 42 favorite albums of 2015.

Download a three-volume mix of Jesusy songs I collected.

R.I.P. Toyota’s Scion brand.

R.I.P. Maurice White, founder of Earth, Wind & Fire.

R.I.P. BMX legend Dave Mirra.

Read about the man helping classic punk and hardcore bands get years’ worth of royalties.

Trumpdonald.org.

Read an article claiming that intelligent people have messy rooms and cuss like sailors.

Read Hypebeast‘s report that “Pepsi Is Opening a Restaurant in New York City”.

Read NME‘s report about the petition to get Snoop Dogg to narrate Planet Earth.

Read about sake flavored Kit Kats being introduced in Japan.

See a $30,000, bottle of 75-year old scotch.

See police sketches of famous literary characters.

Visit the website for The Seer, a new film “Portrait of Wendell Berry“.

Read about the study that “Finds That if You Spend More Than an Hour a Day on Social Media, You’re Probably Not Sleeping Well”.

Read Paste‘s report: “Lego Has Finally Released A Wheelchair Figure”.

Browse “Relevant”‘s picks for “12 Francis Schaeffer Quotes That Will Challenge the Way You Engage Culture”.

Watch as a “Custom 3D Printer Turns Songs into Ceramics”.

Read about the history of “The 27th Letter”, the ampersand at Poetryfoundation.org.

Read as Spike Lee reflects on the role of Michael Jackson being cast to a white actor: “The Legacy Has Been Hijacked”.

Browse the “the Greatest (and Only) Stray Shopping Cart Identification Guide Ever Made”.

Read about “What Happened When Muhammad Ali Met Malcolm X” at Time.

Read as The National Post considers “How comics became literature”.

Read as The Atlantic reflects on Groundhog Day.

Read about “How Gin Became The Meth of 18th Century England”.

Read as Daily News Feed argues: “Americans Becoming Less Christian, More Atheist”.

Read Paste‘s report that Elon Musk’s “Hyperloop” transportation system is more than just a pipe dream.

Read as The Atlantic wonders “What Happened to Nina Simone?”

Browse The Telegraph‘s list of the world’s “most ‘hipster’ neighbourhoods”.

Browse Atlas Obscura‘s list of “Awesome Places (Arguably) Ruined By Popular Books”.

Read as T.S. Eliot considers what makes great detective fiction at The New Yorker.

Read as The Atlantic considers the National Endowment For The Arts and the question: Who should pay for the arts in America?”

Read Consequence of Sound‘s report: “Dolphins love Radiohead“.

Watch Stephen Colbert interview motivational speaker, Joel Osteen (whom I refuse to link because I will not be a party to his increased wealth).

Read The Seattle Times‘s report about Mark Driscoll planting Trinity Church in the Phoenix area.

Read CNBC‘s report that Amazon is planning on opening hundreds more brick and mortar bookstores. Read as The Atlantic wonders why.

Read as Sojourners wonders: “Should Christians Be Socialists?”

Browse Paste’s picks for “The 6 Best New Albums of January 2016”. What were your favorites?

Read as The Guardian considers which book the most people lie about having read.

Read Market Watch‘s profile of “the atheist capital of America”.

Read as First Things considers “David Bowie‘s Search For God”.

Read as Aquarium Drunkard considers “The Darker Side of Diddley“.

Browse The Daily Beast‘s picks for “The 40 Most Intriguing Musicians of 2016”.

Read “Relevant”‘s report: “Televangelism Has Started to Come to Netflix”.

Read as Salon argues: “No, America is not a Christian nation”.

Read Paste‘s report that Batman and Wonder Woman are becoming Barbie figures.

Browse photographs of Kurt Cobain‘s “most intimate belongings”.

See “The Difference Between Empathy and Sympathy Explained Perfectly With a Simple Animation.”

Read Noisey‘s report that Martin Skhreli has threatened to slap Wu-Tang Clan‘s Ghostface Killah and read about Ghostface’s response: ““I’ll Break Your Heart In Four Days”.

Browse Paste‘s picks for “The 10 Most Underrated Breweries in America”.

See the “Guitar Pee Urinal” that “lets you play a guitar solo as you tinkle”.

Read comicbook.com‘s report that MacGyver is getting a reboot.

Read Consequence of Souns‘s report that John Kasich has promised to “reunite Pink Floyd if elected”.

Read Pitchfork‘s report that “The Flaming Lips and Kurt Vile Were Answers on “Jeopardy!”

Read NME‘s report: “Romantic comedies encourage female viewers to tolerate stalking”.

Read Time‘s report that “McDonald’s Will Serve Happy Meals With Books Instead of Toys”.

Read as The New Yorker considers “Why Apple and Beats Should Sell Turntables”.

Read Brooklyn Vegan‘s report: “Rivers Cuomo, Ben Gibbard, Andy Partridge & more wrote songs for The Monkees‘ first album in 20 years”.

Read as Rolling Stone argues “In Defense of the CD”.

He Shines In All That’s Fair: Thoughts On Common Grace, Creativity and Introducing My Music Mix

He Shines3The doctrine of common grace, like many doctrines, can be a contentious one. The basic issue centers around whether or not God is “pleased” by the actions and creations of those not numbered among His people? Because, Christians are in the continual process of aligning themselves, including what we do/can and can not take pleasure in consuming.

While the issue at hand may not seem immediately apparent to those unconcerned with pleasing God in everyday life, the issue may be summarized as something like this:

Christians understand sin to be the heart of idolatry and includes anything antithetical to God’s character. It is, by definition opposed to God since we believe that He is the sole source of all our hearts seek. So to look for fulfillment, security, joy, etc. outside of Him is in fact, opposing Him. It is a question of the posture of one’s heart.

Christians are thus left in the perpexing situation of what to do with anything not done from a heart’s posture to bring glory to God since it is thusly, in some way opposed to God?

Or is it?

What about things that in and of themselves might be benign? Moreso, what about things that somehow point to God’s character, even if they creator doesn’t know it or intend it? Music? Art? movies? Books? Poems? The very creative process remind us of a God who brings order from the chaos and flowers from the ashes. But what if the creator isn’t thinking of this or might even be opposed to such a worldview? Can Christians take pleasure in art made by n0n-or-even-anti-Christians?

As Richard Mouw summarizes the situation in his book He Shines In All That’s Fair: Culture and Common Grace:

How do we take with utmost seriousness the need to be clear about the lines between belief and unbelief, between those who live within the boundaries of saving grace and those who do not, while at the same time maintaining an openness to – even an active appreciation for – all that is good and beautiful and true that takes place outside of those boundaries?

While some in my own past theological streams argue that the doctrine of “common grace” is not appropriate, Mouw and others have come to believe that it is not only acceptable but appropriate for Christians to celebrate beauty and cultivate creativity. Wondering at a painting, being swept up in a piece of music, moved by a string of words or ideas, marveling at a sunset, hiking a mountain, smelling hops, tasting coffee, laughing, singing, crying, these are glimpses of God’s grace. They remind us of His goodness, of His character.

For many well-intentioned Christians, the fact that such glimpses are not sufficient to bring someone to salvation, they are not worth our while at all. Or more severely, they should be condemned. How else could someone come to believe that burning music albums brings glory to God more the creative process they contain?

I’m not making light of the struggle many Christians face as they try to align their consciences with God’s character as they choose what to watch, read or listen to. I’m simply trying to make sense of how we’ve come to a place where “American Christianity” rejects so much artistic expression without creating anything worthwhile of our own?

Do we believe that the terrific painting by a non-Christian somehow less valued by God than the horrible painting by a Christian simply because of the intent of the heart? Is there not inherent value in both? The value may be perceived differently by the eyes of faith but the eyes of most people would rather look at a great painting than a bad one (now is not the time to enter into the subjective nature of much art).

This may seem like a rather nebulous rambling (even for me), especially since I’m not here today to really look for answers to many of these questions. I’m simply giving you a context for the three-volume mix album that I’ve come up with. All of these questions and more have been rattling around my head for years, especially as I listen to music. Which I do. A lot. So over the years, I have kept various private playlists of songs which have presented me with an unexpected glimpse of God. A bit of grace in the everyday. Not every song explicitly mentions Jesus.

Some songs are by Christians. Some songs are meant as worship. Some songs are meant as evangelism. Some songs are by more skilled musicians than others. But, not every song here is even by someone who would claim to be a Christian. Some have said these songs are not even about Jesus (though they don’t mind them interpreted as such.). Not every song is to be understood as a theological statement or even representative of my own personal beliefs regarding God (specifically Jesus). And, please be forewarned, there is at least one “F-Bomb” for those sensitive to such things.

But over the years, every song here has, at some point, reminded me of, encouraged me on or challenged me in my own journey of following Jesus.