Friday, January 28, 2011

Of Kurt Cobain, The Church and Kentucky Straight Bourbon

I’ve spent most of my vocational life doing Christian ministry on the college campus. I miss it more than I like to admit to my parish. Mind you, it was time to leave that world. I was getting a bit long in the tooth for the lifestyle (travel to conferences, staff training and the gehenna that is constant fund-raising. I got so tired of that I basically stopped doing it.) 

There was also the creeping awareness that the generational disconnect may soon be an issue. I think that awareness started when I made a reference to Kurt Cobain’s journals to a large group of students in 2002, less than eight years after his death. The addled looks told me that nobody had a clue who Cobain was. And this from a roomful of spine-crushingly hip art college students. The pop-culture cycle/attention span was and is getting shorter. Being culturally aware is certainly not the sine qua non of working with college students but ignore it and proceed at your peril.

I’ve spent three years now in the cut and thrust of local congregational work. I won’t patronize you or my parish by telling you how different Red Mountain Church is from your typical gathering of Christians. I’d say the differences are mainly window-dressing. And I mean that in a really good way.

My appreciation for what the visible church is and should be has, how can I put this, evolved and sharpened in the three years I’ve been doing this.

I’m thinking of a friend of mine. A better, more loyal friend I’m not sure I have. He left campus ministry a few years before I did to start work on a new church in a different part of the country. His experience has been alternately inspiring and drive-you-to-Basil Hayden’s. Not long ago we were on the phone and he described a meeting where he reported the progress of his sometimes struggling work to his overseeing regional body (we call that presbytery in Presbyterian-speak.) 

Before he spoke, this group heard from a young man who was getting ready to start a new church in another area of the state. He impressed everyone with his confidence, preparation and here’s-how-we’re-going-to-do-this bravado. The centerpiece of his multi-media presentation was the illustration of a three-legged stool. Each leg of the stool stood for a core principle the church would be built on. Without one, the whole stool would…well you get the idea.

It was my friend’s turn. He stood up and said, “Our church is like a three-legged dog. It doesn’t look right but somehow it manages to keep moving.” He didn’t tell me, but it would be nice to think he then sat down.

It’s almost a necessity at this point for me to wail on my current church/denominational culture as to appear like the lonely prophet surrounded by the clueless and the faithless. Fact is, the church and even my denomination is my home and my family. I love it and despite my frustrations (which are legion) I remain in it and labor for it. Jesus died for the bow-tie wearing, culture-warring, Bono-quoting, soul-patch wearing, fad-obsessed and big church sycophants. And the blog-writing. Good enough for me.

But I realize that my friend is way ahead of me on what the church is. And I have a lot of company. The spit and polish we crave takes different forms and morphs as the cultural zeitgeist does. "Influencing the culture" reads more like, "Hey, we're important".  

The church looks strange and moves slowly. The exceptions that prove the rule become the standard by which those in the church measure themselves and each other. And by these we delude ourselves and, oddly, seek hegemony over others by our devotion to spit, polish and results.

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 
- St. Paul to the Church in Corinth.


  1. Man, the generational disconnect was acute for me in campus ministry, I moved to Portland.

    "Three-legged dog." Genius. I have been both of those guys in your friend's presbytery at different stages along the way.

  2. Ooh! Ooh! Thomas, you got a blog! I'm excited man. Don't stop now.

  3. I agree with Pat...I'm gonna get a t-shirt that says so.

    Man, I used to think I had it all together, then God showed me a mirror...

    Off to sharpen my snow shovel.