Thursday, July 21, 2011

How to be a hipster Christian (or Pastor)

While remarking on my Pastor's use of technology the other day, as well as his revelation that he was going to switch to the iPhone from Android for extremely dubious reasons, I thought to myself all of the times that I have assisted pastors/churches, and how often they have burned me for having done so. (THAT's an AWESOME run-on sentence.)

To further add to the mix, I've been having conversations with people from other churches in the area, in which the church (or pastor) has tried to spiritualize their attempts to make the church "cool." It was then that I realized: There is a huge drive to try to make Church edgy by approximating the hipster stereotype, which has resulted in a weird mix.

This is a "how-to" guide in how to be the new church. Remember, you aren't part of the new "cool church" unless you fit into this mold:

Section 1: Music

1) You are free to like classic rock as much as you want. However, when it comes to CCM, you are required to find the most obscure band or artist. You are then to claim that they are good enough to herald the second coming of Christ through music. While you cannot use "corporate" or "sell-out" in a Christian environment, feel free to use "not as spiritually motivating" or "doesn't speaks to me" to describe anyone who expresses interest in any mainstream CCM artist. Also, be sure to treat them in a manner suggesting that maybe they just aren't in tune with the movings of The Holy Spirit as you due to their choice of music.

2) Picking friends with similar musical interests. In the name of "reaching out", you will find the most apathetic music listener possible. Find something secular, non-threatening, but somewhat obscure to express mutual interest in. Muse used to be a common one, but they have succeeded, and are now "corporate". Get together with your MIB (Mutual Interest Buddy), and talk about your mutual interests like 13 year old fangirls. Anyone who tries to tell you that the emperor has no clothes is to be looked upon dubiously.

Section 2: Technology

3) You are required to love Apple. Whether you claim to like it in an "ironic", fashion or decide to cross into serious fanboi territory, anything that has an "i" in front of it shall be fawned over like a newborn baby by her helicopter mother. If Apple has stated that they have better technology, claim it as fact. You are not required to have in-depth knowledge of the actual functional differences, but rather, parrot Apple's, and Steve Jobs' addresses and press releases like a mother robin puking up a meal for its offspring. His word is to be treated as god-breathed. If anyone comes up with good reasons as to why a non-Apple product is better, you are required to say that you feel it is easier to use, regardless of having actually used a competitor's product. In that way, you never have to admit that a non-Apple product is superior, and ass-raping your wallet. Which leads us to:

4) Outsourcing technological efforts. As a pastor, you are to be busy hanging out in your local coffee shop (preferred) or Starbucks (just to be ironic), "working on your message". Due to spending all your time coming up with cool promotional materials for your pet church outing, you may need to outsource some of the technological needs of the church to some of the parishioners. If nobody springs to mind, you can give it to the people that know more about what you need, but hamstring their efforts until one of your buddies can give you the solution that you want. The solution needs to either be stuck in your outdated and obscure technological experience to avoid having to learn anything new, or be overpriced to ensure that it coddles your personal preferences in layout. Be sure to not accept a solution because the obscure product you were using before had an on-screen ruler, or some such small-time issue. Remember, the focus here is not learning something new; rather, it needs to cater to your whims, obsolescence and compatibility with the outside world be damned. Actual functionality and security need not be actual concerns. If you are technologically inept, your poker buddy should be able to run it, and should oversee its rollout. It doesn't matter if all of the people that are technological professionals try to tell you that your solution is insecure/behind the times/overly expensive. You are the pastor, the shepard of this flock. You cannot let any aspect of your church to not involve your pet technology. Minus points if it involves a non-Apple solution.

Section 3: Personal interaction

5) As a pastor, you need to have favorite parishioners. You are to claim to be almost eternally busy, except for your favorite parishioners. Feel free to remark on all the cool stuff the two of you did during the week on Sunday while talking in a group with others that would like to spend time with you. But reiterate the fact that you are waaay too busy to spend time with anyone. Repeat every Sunday.

6) Business corollary: If someone of some importance is in attendance at your church, they get automatic access because, hey, it's someone important.

Section 4: Spiritual-sounding guilt == free work

7) When it comes to helping out around the church, there are those that will genuinely help out with the church. You can accurately call these people "suckers". They will help you doing the same menial job through thick and thin. Even though you know they are proving themselves loyal to work at more interesting volunteer work, make sure you never give them something more important to do, as it will take away from their being low man on the totem pole. Because, hey, if they were capable of doing a better job, they would be, right? After they have proved themselves faithful at doing the same crappy job for several months/years, and even after having filled in on an emergency basis for a higher-up volunteer position they are hoping to do regularly, it is your job to make sure that they stay doing the menial work. Wait for someone to join up that can fulfill the more advanced position.  Make sure it is someone cool enough to be your poker buddy. If that isn't happening, get your non-Christian buddy to become a marginal Christian, or even hire someone from the outside on staff to fill in said position. Dashing the hopes of the faithful is a good way of making sure that they learn humility before God. Or something like that.

8) Innovating church functionality. If someone inside the church has a better way of doing something, by all means, hear them out. After you are done talking with them, call your poker buddy again. Try to remember the gist of what the original person suggested. Remembering important details is actually unimportant. Because you have heard this good idea, conveying that good idea to your poker buddy, and coming up with a solution between the two of you will automatically be a better solution. If need be, make your poker buddy an elder. That automatically trumps any proposed solution suggested by the hoi polloi. You can also claim that "well, that decision was made involving the church elders." This overspiritualization of the matter will make people who take their faith seriously to have no recourse.

9) People who are de-volunteering. If someone who has been volunteering for a period of time declines, for whatever reason (like they need to do anything outside of YOUR church!), be sure to guilt them into coming back. Use phrases like, "shepard/servant's heart", "doing God's work", etc. Remember, to people that place God as the center of their life, spiritualizing their toil at your church is a great way to lock them into doing work for close to free.

If you follow these steps, I'm sure you'll have a successful slave-based church where production is high, you are cool, and free to do whatever you want.

If you feel like any of this is leveled at you personally, I'd suggest you ask yourself why you feel pangs of guilt over this. You might discover some hidden points of pride that might be hindering you and your church spiritually.

Dodge Duck Dip Dive Dodge...

Note:  This is an old post.  The argument referenced in this post is LONG since gone.

I *hated* my Pierce College English teacher. If you ever come across someone there named Mrs. Tierney, please feel free to say I called her a tree-hugging hippy. Her emesis-inducing postulation that nature was infinitely wiser than humans made me grab for the nearest container. Truly a horrible way to start my college education. And yet, some of the things we read in Walden continue to stick with me, no matter how hard I try to beat it out of me. And here we go:

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation."

Some background: In High School youth group (High Impact at COTW), there was a LOT of pressure to fit kids into the ministry somehow. Those that made the decision were almost deified in the youth group. My gifts did not lend themselves to evangelism at all. The feeling was that if you were not planning on being a youth pastor or starting a church to convert the penguins, you were deficient in some fashion.

So, my sense of humor took a very attacking tone. I didn't know why at the time, but I was angry at everyone for making me feel excluded because I intended to be an engineer when they felt that anyone of any intellectual capacity should be going to LIFE, APU, etc.

In 10th grade, Rock Solid was asked to provide the Worship team at Camp Cedar Crest. While up there, I was very clearly directed to examine the hurt I was inflicting people with my pointed sense of humor.

After I returned, for a while, I had to humble myself, and actively seek out people I knew I had offended, and ask their forgiveness. It was a tough thing to do, but I discovered that I didn't want to be that person again.

My Senior year, while at another camp, for the only time in my life thus far, I honestly feel like I heard distinctly from God. It was a confirmation that I was not intended for the ministry at all. The release from bondage that I felt was so extreme that for the first time, I actually thought that God's plan for my life might include using the talents that he had given me.

This included my sense of humor. My earlier experience had shown me that using my outgoing sense of humor to hurt people is a path I never want to go down again. However, my experience Senior Year showed me that God gives us our personalities, desires, and strengths for a reason.

Fast Forward to about five years ago. I was new in town, and, as I've said in previous posts, the people here in Santa Barbara are very close-knit, and I was coming in as an outsider. My lack of social interaction caused me to literally go to bed crying myself to sleep some nights. I knew that I thrived on social interaction.

My former roommate Paul Laufer put it very succinctly, but I'll have to paraphrase: "Joe is, at all times, unabashedly Joe."

I love to include people.

I love to mix people from various facets of my life and see if anything gels.

I love saying what everyone is dying to, but can't bring themselves to say.

I love releasing the tension in a room by talking about what everyone is thinking about.

I love to make people laugh.

To that end, I've found that the best fit for my sense of humor and personality, besides being pointed at someone, is to bring the surreal and unexpected into a given situation. I imagine that strangers walk away from a chance encounter with me going "WTF was that?" Not in a bad way, mind you, just with a chuckle and a shake of the head.

And my fearlessness to be in a difficult social situation, whether at the center of attention, for bemusement/possible scorn, or to launch into the unknown, has served me well.

I've gotten up in meetings and asked difficult questions that everyone wanted to know, but were all too afraid to ask.

While working for the Navy, during a crowded lunch room during a three-day meeting, I asked if I could sit at a table with two gentleman I didn't recognize. My Team Lead informed me shortly after that the two gentlemen were the Program director for Land Attack (PMS 529) and a one-star admiral (to be fair, the admiral was in civilian clothes). We had a good lunch, despite my Team Lead sweating bullets three tables away. (He thought I was going to whip out my thoroughly tasteless Helen Keller Jokes.)

The Walden quote from above has gotten me thinking about marriages. It's been said that women enter into marriage hoping their men will change, whereas men enter into it hoping the women do not.

There is a very (unhealthy) stereotype in most churches that the women will eventually "domesticate" their partner, and mold their men into being more like them. This can be seen in various cute quips and jokes that go back and forth, remarking on the establishment of women as the puppet master of the husband.

For the most part, it is only humor.

However, there are those marriages where the husband, in his efforts to appease his wife, has given up all vestiges of having anything he finds interesting. The ironic part is, in most cases, the wife is still not happy with him;  now he's boring.

During a particularly dry point in my dating career, my good friends Jeff and Sarah loaned me a collection of pastor's take on the initiation and continued success of healthy marriages.

Surprisingly, it didn't contain the expected recurring theme of: "whatever the wife says goes." Most of them discussed the distinction between compromise versus collapse when it came to concessions when dealing with conflict; the need to provide the other person with boundaries to respect, as opposed to being a shapeless mass of goo. Being who you are, and yet supporting the other person.

I came to the realization that with my first girlfriend, in my eagerness to be supportive, I neglected to give her anything she could respect. My newfound realization to be true to who I was fit well with my earlier resistance to High Impact's pressure to force people into the ministry.

Let's go back a three and a half years ago. I was seeing this young lady, who, while a lovely girl, was exceedingly quiet.

Any conflict we had she would internalize, and she thought she should take any trampling of her personality as her burden to bear. I felt like I was dating someone that I could accidentally hurt to excess, and she would never let me know.

I came away from that relationship with a newfound respect for the verse "like iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another".

Not to say that she wasn't capable of it, but I doubted that I would ever be able to sharpen her without absolutely breaking her spirit, and I didn't think she would be able to correct me unless I made her so mad she couldn't see straight. It wasn't healthy.

This got me to thinking about the verse again, and how it might be likened to sparring partners (don't worry Petrie family, I'm not advocating any actual violence). But sparring partners are used to toughen up a competitor, but they are matched up by weight divisions.

You wouldn't take a heavyweight sparring partner and match them with a lightweight fighter.

In the same fashion, I know I need someone who can let me know when I've hurt them, and isn't afraid to tell me how they feel about it.

So why do we have all these disparate parts of my life in one post? Why post all this internal monologue concerning things that people could very well not care about?

Tabitha and I had a rough fight last night. It seemed small enough, but I didn't realize the full implications, or why it affected me so much until I had a chance to think about it.

The long and short of it had to deal with two situations in close proximity to each other. One of which I was being my loud self, and she tried to reel me in. The second dealt with a drive from LA to SB in which literally nothing was said.

I love being loud, happy, inviting, surreal, and sometimes embarrassing. It's who I am, and, unless I want to live a "life of quiet desperation", it's who I need to be.

I could quash that side of me, but that would leave her little to respect if the result of any argument was the removal of large sections of my personality. My experiences at High Impact showed me the importance of being myself, and the passive/aggressive nature that I exhibit when I'm being railroaded into something.

In the same light, I also don't want to quash her. I want to hear from her when she's upset. I want her to tell me when I've made her mad.

The entire car ride over, I was giving her the chance to speak when she was ready. I had told her what I thought, and didn't want to railroad the conversation.

Afterward, I realized I was still upset because I HAD wanted her to speak up. I had already told her how I felt, and I wanted her to feel confident and safe enough to let me know how she felt.

The whole reason I fell in love with Tabitha is because of her ability to tell an inappropriate joke. I love her confidence, I love her enthusiasm, I love her ability to point out when I've messed up, and to tell me how she feels. My frustration is in her reluctance to bring it out fully. My hope and desire is for her to feel safe enough to be able to express the amazing person she is with full confidence of my support in any situation.

I want to go through life together. I want her to be just as excited and confident about life as I hope to be. I want her to allow me to fuel her interests as much as she encourages me about mine. I want to be weird together. To have a passion and love of life that is infectious to all we touch.

The title of the post is a quote from the movie "Dodgeball". I include it because it because there is another quote that I think is relevant to this situation: "You gotta grab life by the haunches and hump it into submission!"

Me and my brother (ok, ok mom, my brother and me)...

So on Saturday I had to drop Tabitha off at her Choir rehearsal (The APU 30th anniversary UCO concert). We hadn't planned ahead too well, and, as Tabitha hasn't been doing good with staying awake late at night while driving, suddenly realized that I would either have to drive to Azusa and back to drop her off, then drive to Azusa and back to pick her up, or stay in the area.

On such short notice, all of my friends in the area had plans (how dare they!). So, in a last ditch effort, I called my uber-social brother John. As expected, he had plans with the Orange County Wine Society. However, after a brief pause, he said he would find out if there would be space for me to join him.

About 20 minutes, he texted me and said I was cleared to come on down one way or the other.

Let me back up a long bit:

Growing up, my brother and I have NEVER got along. I mean like...ever. Everything was a battleground: bicycles, nintendo, nintendo controllers, computer time, model trains, legos, imaginary friends (mine could TOTALLY beat up his...), etc.

I think the only time we ever got along was when I got my wisdom teeth removed, and was sedated for half a day. However, I do suspiciously recall it was about that time my favorite monopoly piece went missing.....

It got so bad that one of John's close friends at the time, a very nice kid from a very nice household, often went home crying due to the viciousness of our arguments.

While I was in Jr. College, and working for the Navy, we shared a roof again, and, let me tell you, it got baaaad.

Yet through it all, there are certain snap points that I look at where, despite the hostilities we were currently engaged in, I was extremely proud of my brother, or hurt for him beyond words.

One time we were with CPAC at the beach. John was in training for Annapolis entrance (which he SHOULD have gotten into...don't get me started). My good friend Janelly, someone I'd known for a year and a half at that point, was a paragon of athletic excellence (or so I thought), said, "Hey, I'm going to go for a run down the beach." John said, "I'll join you", loaded up his camelbak, and they took off. I goofed around in the water for a bit, then came back to the towels, only to find Janelly arriving, walking somewhat slowly. "Where's John?" I asked. She replied "I couldn't keep up with him." My jaw hit the floor. Janelly is the kind of person that you envision running marathons casually. John ran in about 30 minutes later. (My brother kicks ass. )

As stated, my brother attempted to get into Annapolis. For those of you who don't know, this is a very big deal. The physical requirements, along with letters of recommendation and community service are extremely stringent. I remember swing dancing at Java the Hutt on campus at Cal Poly Pomona when I got the call that John hadn't made it. I collapsed onto a bench, trying to fight back tears.

Since then, my brother has come back with a vengeance. John has a major gift in business: my brother is one of those people that can sell ice to Eskimos. Going through his house, he can casually rattle off the number of times he has gotten a company to either spend their money to make him happy, or knock off a few hundred/thousand on a sale. He's has a wonderful life for himself in Orange County, married a lovely young lady, has a pudgy cat, a career that is rocketing higher and higher, and a wine cellar that is not to be believed.  (Seriously...300 bottles of red, 150 white, and a liquor collection that rivals most bars in quantity, and beats most in quality.)

It was an interesting day when I discovered that I could hang out with my brother without worrying about whether or not we might be getting into another fight.

However, driving down to Costa Mesa Saturday night, realizing that John had turned his remarkable charm to make space for me, I realized that the nature of our relationship has changed. It's no longer a case of not dreading being around him; I'm now looking forward to spending time with him.