The Kingdom of Heaven is where Everyone Knows the Lyrics to Trap Queen

Someone asked me what the highlight of my weekend at youth retreat was. I had an answer. It was not a very pastoral answer. I thought about lying, but that didn’t seem very pastoral, either. So I said, “When they stayed up past curfew so they could keep singing ‘Trap Queen,’ using nothing but a piano, a single drum, and their voices.” Continue reading

An Attempt to Say Something Not Unhelpful about Sex

Recently, a friend asked how I, as a pastor, have conversations about sex. The implication was, how do I, as a single 27-year-old have any coherent conversation about sex with my peers, who spend a decent amount of their time talking about sex. In general, the answer is that I avoid writing about sex, except to critique the church’s inability to talk about sex.

People in the post-college bracket are thoughtful about sex. It’s not all horror stories and hook ups. In fact, there are mostly not very many of those. But, as one friend said, just by being single, Christian, and older than 25, you’re living “off script.” You’re in the minority of Christians and the Church is using an outdated script to keep you on a path you were never on. I think this is why there are so few single young people in church. There’s not a place for them at the table. Continue reading

Fear of (Someone Else) Being Alone

My stomach rolls a little every time I think about writing about being a single pastor. My gut reaction is always, first, that it’s none of your business. I get defensive because in the church, there’s almost always a degree of judgment about being single. When you’re a pastor, that judgment is compounded with concern, benevolence, and confusion. For me, it comes down to this: being single does not define nor limit my ministry and it’s not relevant to the quality of the work that I do. I don’t define myself as a “single person pastoring,” and it’s offensive and reductive when you do.

For the most part, my congregation is supportive and understands that. But every once in a while, someone makes a comment that hints at how this is a “problem” they can help me “fix.” They don’t say it that way, but that’s what they mean. Someone will comment about my future-husband’s participation in the church or express concern that I’ll date the wrong person. (Did you never date the wrong person? Do you realize you’re speaking to me like I’m 16? You trust me to make decisions about the basic functioning of the church but think I’m incompetent to make intelligent decisions about who I spend time with?)

As much as that makes my blood flame, for so many reasons, as a pastor, I get to approach singleness as a work issue, not a big-C Church issue that defines my relationship to the little-c church I attend. But in the aftermath of Valentine’s Day, I’ve had several conversations with single Christians (all women) who do experience it that way. They all noted how… unhelpful the church is. Church is still, largely, a place for married people. My own congregation has upwards of 30 young adults, but I can list the number of single people between 22-35 on one hand (maybe one and a half hands). The church has this fear of single people, like they’re a liability or concern, and single people feel it.

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What the Church Needs: Calling Bullshit and Imagining the Impossible

This week, while I’m at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, I was asked to respond to the question What do you see in Anabaptism that is needed for the church today? It’s one of the themes for the week; there are lots more people saying intelligent things about it, and I’ve tried to collect some of them here. Given the nature of the question, I’ve put on my rose-colored glasses and examining Anabaptism at its best.

Anabaptism today offers two major contributions to Christian conversation. The first is that Anabaptists have a unique framework well-suited for the theological task of calling bullshit. This task is a theological task, and a critical one in our time—I’ll say more about this in a minute. When I was in seminary, one of our assigned readings was a thin book by Harry G. Frankfort called On Bullshit. I want to read an excerpt from the opening chapter:

“One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit…. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and avoid being taken in by it…. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what function it serves.”

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In Defense of Jesus Memes

“People can come find the church,” she said, “I’m not going to tell anybody to do something if they don’t already want it.”

“But people don’t know what they want!” I exclaimed. “Not in romantic relationships, not in dream jobs, not faith.” Holy shit, I thought, what am I saying? This week, over brunch with a dear friend, I got into a heated conversation about evangelism. We’re both from environments where “evangelism” is a bad word; it means manipulation and fear-mongering. I am not, by temperament, an evangelist, but here I was on one side of a plate of Indian spiced fusion breakfast potatoes, arguing in defense of something that always irritated me.

As I re-read the 2006 survey of U.S. Mennonites this week, I found a surprising statistic:

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Y’all been in church your whole life and ain’t never asked anyone to come with you? I bet you asked people to watch “Game of Thrones” with you.

The church is shrinking; I know that, we all know that. But the corollary is: Mennonites don’t want it to grow. Continue reading

Merry Christmas and Happy Conversations about Sex and Politics

If you celebrate Christmas on Three Kings’ Day, you’ve got a big present coming. In addition to the crazy relatives, you’ll have a thousand Mennonite pastors at your table talking about gay Christians in the church. Yes! It’s another installment of Church Politics and Sexuality. On January 6, Mennonite Church USA is releasing the results of this summer’s survey of church leaders, which focused mostly on pastors’ views of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered role in three areas: church membership, church leadership, and marriage.

I open Christmas presents early. As one of the 1,323 church leaders who took the survey, I got an early peak at the results. And yes, it was one of the highlights of my Christmas. I’m not going to give away any numbers, but, just to get you excited, I have a few hints. This year’s survey builds on a 2006 survey of lay Mennonites and pastors from across the country. So, drawing on the 2006 survey, here’s a few things to watch out for in next week’s data. Continue reading

“Amazing Grace” and Other Must-Knows for #blacklivesmatter Marches

“Greet the people next to you. That’s how we’re going to dismantle this racist system.” This is how our protest started. For those who have been wondering what it means to march for #shutitdown or #blacklivesmatter or other phrases without hashtags; for those who see the description “largely peaceful”–this is what “largely peaceful” means. It means you begin by finding a friend and promising to lookout for their well-being for the next three hours.

I’m going to give you the takeaway up front: these marches are a theological statement. The church–especially the black church–is so woven into these marches that they are a theological act. When we talk about “creative nonviolence,” it’s not sitting in an office writing books and praying. It’s getting into the streets and introducing yourself to a stranger. Continue reading

On Bullshit (and Other Theological Words)

You may have noticed a crass word in my previous post (since it was titled “Relativism Ain’t Shit“). You may believe that pastors ought not to use curse words. I disagree–in fact, pastors are some of the people best qualified to use curse words. How in the fuck to do we name sin if we can’t say shit like “fuck wealth disparity“?

I’m being a little gratuitous here. Look. Language is the building block of our world. No word is an inherent sin, or wrong, it’s only the way a word is used and put into context that makes it wrong. There is a right and proper time for inappropriate words–mostly, to name an inappropriate action; to express the depth of hurt caused by that action. For example: “Did you hear Monsanto sued a farmer for $85,000 for patent infringement? That’s fucked up.” Continue reading

Relativism Ain’t Shit

One of the most interesting things I do is argue with teenagers. Or, better, watch them argue with each other and offer feedback from the sidelines. This weekend, the teenagers got into it about relativism.

The topic of conversation was the Confession of Faith–namely, how we feel about sin (hint: it’s bad). The Confession says, “As a result [of sin], we are not able to worship God rightly.” One of the teenagers objected: all worship is worship; there is no wrong way to worship. Which, naturally, led us to relativism. What if I wanted to worship God by sacrificing a child?, I asked the group. Well, the outspoken ones considered, if that’s how you worship God, then you call that worship. But, they nuanced–that’s not how the Christian God of the Bible would have us worship. God likes lots of kinds of worship but not child sacrifice (barring the ambivalent case of Judges 11, which we’ll have to save that for later). What about religions where child sacrifice is okay? The kids had mixed feelings, but one strong sentiment was: Do you. I can’t judge. Continue reading

Should Millenials Spend More Time in Church?

This is an article I wrote in response to Kate  Baer’s article “Why We’re Not Going to Church,” published in the Mennonite World Review on March 12, 2013. Here it is again, with a few minor changes.

I’m 24 years old. I’m a seminary student who will graduate in May. I’m applying for pastoral positions in the Mennonite Church. And Kate Baer started a lot of discussions in the last 48 hours, so I want to try and respond.

I agree with Kate that “our generation is tired of culture wars.” Or, as bell hooks writes, “organized religion has failed to satisfy spiritual hunger because it has accommodated secular demands, interpreting spiritual life in ways that uphold the values of a production-centered commodity culture.” And if the way to avoid hypocrisy is to avoid church, to most of us, that seems like a healthy response. Church is exhausting. Defending church — especially to your non-Christian friends — is exhausting. Our generation wants a church that entertains, but we also want a church that is honest. Continue reading