Archive for the ‘emerging church’ Category

BANNED QUESTIONS 40% pre-order discount and other stuff

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

I’m happy to let you know that both BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS are available for pre-order on Chalice Press’ website. The BIBLE book will be shipped later next month, and the JESUS book in June.

Here’s a link to both books on the Chalice site:
http://www.chalicepress.com/search.aspx?k=banned%20questions

You can also go to www.chalicepress.com and search the keywords “Banned Questions” if the link doesn’t work.

If you order either or both books between now and the end of February, you can get 40% off of the cover price by entering the discount code “Banned QB” when prompted. It’s not until closer to the end of checkout that this pops up, so don’t worry if you don’t see it right away. There is no limit on the number of copies for which this discount applies, and you can share this code with other folks interested in pre-order.

Also, note that you will not be billed for the books until they ship, but you still get the discount for ordering in advance.

Next, I’m excited to let you know that, so far we have endorsements from both A.J. Jacobs and Brian McLaren! Very cool to have bestselling authors behind the project.

And finally, keep an eye out for an upcoming promotion that Chalice may be running to give away a few of these books prior to release date.

Thanks for your interest in, and support of, the BANNED QUESTIONS series. I can’t wait to hear what you all think of the books, and in the meantime, please help spread the word on your Facebook pages, blogs, podcasts, etc about this special promotion.

VOTE on the cover design for my new book series

Monday, November 15th, 2010

My publisher and I are hung up on a pair of designs for the BANNED QUESTIONS book series coming out next year, and we need your help. Take a second to check out the two different design options we have for the books and cast your vote for the one you like best:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/7VMX8RF

Thanks,
Christian

Do we even need religion any more?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Do we even need religion any more?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

It’s no secret that organized religion in America has slipped dramatically in the public eye during the past several decades. Though just as many people claim to have some sort of faith in a higher power, since the 1970s we’ve witnessed a steady decline in church attendance.

This isn’t exactly the case across the board. Large churches, with membership over 500 people, are still pretty strong overall, and the more conservative evangelical churches tend to maintain their bases of folks more than the moderate, so-called
“mainline” churches.

There are a handful of reasons why this downward trend has continued for nearly two generations. First, an increasingly mobile population, held together more by technology than by geography, has dissolved many of the physical, social centers that helped make up communities in the past. After all, why go through the painstaking effort of getting the whole family out of bed and dressed when you can just hit folks up on Facebook, or Skype grandma, who now lives more than a thousand miles away?

Second, there’s been a pervasive suspicion of all things institutional that took hold particularly around the Watergate/Vietnam era. Prior to this, most people held something of an inherent trust of the systems of governance and authority, assuming they had the best interests of the general public at heart. But with the scandals, protests and violence of the ’60s and early ’70 came a cynicism about powerful institutions that we’ve never shaken since, and, perhaps, with good reason.

Add to this the breakneck speed of the distribution of information and the lack of filters to contain and/or verify what’s true and what’s garbage before it reaches consumers. On one hand, this explosion of the information age has democratized the information-sharing process; on the other, it’s created more opportunities for gossip, scandal exposes and even outright slander.

The all-seeing eye of the interconnected world misses little these days, and there few things that it loves than watching the mighty fall, especially when there’s also sex involved. So when ministers are caught getting a massage with benefits or predatory priests are found to be molesting boys, it’s sure to make headlines.

Some folks assume that early Christianity was all about establishing churches, but the institution we now see as organized religion didn’t come along until much later. Jesus himself didn’t spend much time in the synagogues, opting instead for small gatherings in homes and traveling the countryside to talk with whomever he came across.
It wasn’t until three centuries later when the Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity as the official religion of the empire that the community of believers began to seriously get both organized and powerful. Though Constantine’s motives for converting to Christianity are arguable, most historians believe the move was more about consolidating power than it was about his faith.

Over the following centuries, the powerful combination of church and state helped spread Christianity to all corners of the world – often at the point of a sword – while the church willingly sanctioned the conquest of nations by rulers who claimed fidelity to the church. It was a convenient, if unsavory, marriage.

So, given the fact that the earliest church was more of a movement than an institution, and considering that, later, the real strength of the institutional church was built upon the backs of millions it forced into claiming loyalty, perhaps the institutional church as it stands actually is a bastardized version of what an otherwise peaceful and life-giving community of faith had to offer.

What if, after all the time, money and effort that’s gone into propping up our religious institutions, it’s actually those very institutions that are keeping communities of faith from doing the real work of positive social change to which they’re called?

In the end, every faith community has to continually take its own pulse, asking if the effort and resources being expended are primarily intent on keeping a building or power structure in place, or if those institutions and systems are, as they ideally should be, simply a means to a greater end.

Meanwhile, house churches and loosely networked faith groups continue to spring up, much like the seeds of early Christianity before religious barons ever thought about buildings, polity, conquest or empire. Many would see the collapse of the institutional church as we now know it as a failure of faith and humanity. But what if, after all the dust settled, we were left with something more genuinely focused on mission rather than on institutionality?

It’s hard to comprehend now, but perhaps we’re witnessing an evolution of human faith, shedding one older, rigid skin for a more pliable, adaptable one. Regardless, humanity’s resolve to maintain belief in something greater than itself has endured far worse than a weakened system of authority and some crumbling buildings. We’ll continue to seek an understanding of the divine, with or without the church.

NEW PODCAST: Privilege, Power, Politics and Peace

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The following is an edited-down version of the keynote lecture I gave to the Young Adults Disciples gathering in Las Vegas in October, 2010. The message discusses privilege, what it means to be white, the nature of violence, and how we can creatively respond to systems of oppression and injustice without responding in kind with violence.

There is also an audio clip from an interview of Nell Irvin Painter, author of The History of White People, with Stephen Colbert.

http://christianpiatt.podbean.com/

Peace,
Christian
www.christianpiatt.com

Doing Nothing Does Something

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Doing nothing does something

By Christian Piatt

 

I picked up a book recently by Walter Wink, one of my preferred theologians when it comes to putting action behind the rhetoric of faith. I have yet to read anything by Wink that has not rocked my world and caused me to reevaluate pretty much everything from my beliefs to the way I express them in daily life.

 

His book, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way, was no exception.

 

Deceptively small at a compact 64 pages, every paragraph presents a compelling challenge not only to many common takes on Jesus’ approach to authority, but also to anyone who claims to be a champion of the oppressed, marginalized and neglected.

 

First, Wink quickly goes about dismantling the myth that Jesus was a pacifist. Far from it, actually. Things like turning the other cheek and walking the second mile, in the context of Wink’s nonviolent activist engagement, take on unexpected power, much like a black belt in aikido uses the energy of his attacker to overthrow them.

 

For example, it was legal in the Roman Empire for occupying centurions to force locals to carry their packs up to one mile along the road, but no further. Though taking the soldier’s pack a second mile might seem a meek and nice thing to do, he argues it’s actually a nonviolent act of insurrection. The soldier actually could be jailed or otherwise punished for violating the law banning exploitation of the local people, but how ridiculous does he end up looking, begging for his pack back from a lowly peasant? And if you insist on carrying the burden further, he also runs the risk of appearing weak, empowering yourself with the very weight he once placed upon you as a symbol of his power and authority.

 

The great deception, says Wink, is that we Western-minded folks have bought the idea that we have two choices when faced with violence, injustice or oppression: fight back in kind or do nothing. What is required, he says, is a third option, as modeled by Jesus, one that too often Christians and other people of faith mistake as a call for non-involvement.

 

As Wink claims, doing nothing in response to injustice is to implicitly support the violence already being done.

 

Such creative nonviolent activism is certainly not limited to Christianity, either. Though Martin Luther King is the greatest modern example of this kind of engagement for Christians, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and others have practiced such world-changing commitment to nonviolence over the centuries.

 

Wink also effectively dispels the myth that violence, in any instance, has ever been a more effective tool than a nonviolent response. Ultimately more blood is shed and more people die, even if it’s in our nature to want an eye for an eye.

 

Sound absurd? Hard to imagine? Wink expects that. As he points out, many of us can’t think of the way he understands the teaching and life of Jesus as really a possibility for us. But ultimately, it depends on how you measure success. If we consider the end of Jesus’ ministry to be his moment of crucifixion, alone, vulnerable and betrayed by those he continued to love, then his life’s mission was a failure.

 

If, however, we believe that one life – perhaps even our own – is worth giving up for a change that brings hope to thousands or millions of others, many of whom we may never meet, then Jesus’ third way begins to look like a path worth exploring.

Story about me and my books in the Chieftain

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

WHERE’S THE FAITH ?

New series of books tackles questions, issues that challenge young Christians

CHIEFTAIN PHOTO/JOHN JAQUES Pueblo author Christian Piatt talks about a series of books he is collaborating on with a variety of authors from throughout the country.

BY LORETTA SWORD

Have you ever questioned the believability of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ? Ever wondered why, if Mary conceived as a virgin, the Bible traces Christ’s lineage through Joseph?

Chances are you’ve pondered these questions and many others about the Bible or Jesus, but never discussed them with other Christians — and certainly never in church.

That’s what gave local author/editor Christian Piatt and partner Brandon Gilvin the idea for WTF (Where’s the Faith), a series of books that pose such questions to a wide variety of religious, agnostic, social justice and other leaders and thinkers — some of them well-known in religious and spiritual circles. The books are published by Chalice Press. Gilvin is the associate director of Week of Compassion, an international relief and aid ministry of the national Disciples of Christ organization, based in Kansas City, Mo.

The books are aimed primarily at young adults — a demographic that churches are struggling to hold onto as their congregations dwindle in all age brackets.

The first book in the series, “OH God, Oh GOD, OH GOD! Young Adults Speak Out About Sexuality and Christian Spirituality,” was released earlier this year and provides “honest and open dialogue about the beauty and gift of sexuality while understanding it in a mature way, including the risks and consequences” but without the moral and doctrinal overtones of most Christian books on the topic, Piatt said.

He and Gilvin edited the book, and Piatt contributed an essay about abortion.

Two more books, which address questions that many Christians ponder but rarely explore  in depth or among each other, will be published next year — the first, “Banned Questions about the Bible,” in February and the second, “Banned Questions about Jesus,” in August 2011.

All of the books “take a more emergent-church approach. There’s no focus on denominations or creeds so much as on content and providing a variety of information, including other sources to study, to help people make up their own minds. We’re trying to present multiple perspectives so people can choose for themselves. It’s about seeking your own understanding of various issues through prayerful seeking, and trusting that if you take the first step, God will meet you halfway and help you find the answers you’re seeking,” Piatt said.

“Churches are dying everywhere, and I believe it’s because there’s been a disconnect between the lives of most people and what they hear in church on Sunday.

“These books are intended to break down the taboo of ‘We don’t talk about that in church.’ In a healthy church, there should be no boundaries, no limitations about what is explored. We’re supposed to bring our whole, human selves to the church and to our faith.”

Another book due out this August, “Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics,” addresses the interconnectedness of faith and politics and explores how Christians can be part of the process without violating their faith or turning their backs on social justice issues and the political process for fear of conflict. Piatt is a contributor as well as co-editor of this volume.

“You People: Faith and Race,” will follow “Split Ticket.” All of the finished books are available through the Chalice Press website or its catalogs, at Amazon.com or through Piatt’s website. Some also are available by special order online from Barnes & Noble and smaller national booksellers, and all are stocked at Cokesbury Christian book stores nationwide. The works in progress will be as well after publication.

Piatt, who founded Pueblo’s Milagro Christian Church six years ago with his wife, Amy, who is pastor there, said the “Oh God” book already has sold more than 1,500 copies — to individuals and to churches that are using them in youth groups and young-adult book-study groups.

“The content is heavy enough that we wouldn’t recommend just throwing these books in a teen’s lap and saying ‘have at it.’ It needs to be navigated with the help of an adult leader,” Piatt said.

Despite brisk sales and many positive reviews in Christian and mainline publications, negative reaction from some conservative Christian groups has surfaced, too, Piatt said, but his response is always the same: “Why is it that sexuality can’t be discussed in the context of faith unless the whole focus is abstinence, which we all know doesn’t work?”

He gets few responses to that question, he said, and doesn’t worry about the criticism because “the people who react that way aren’t the target audience for our books.”

The same critics no doubt will see the “banned questions” books, and “Split Ticket,” as too frank and “not nice,” he predicts.

“But we believe it’s more important to be authentically relevant than it is to be nice. Jesus wasn’t always nice. He challenged the status quo and he didn’t tolerate injustice. He encouraged frank discussion about difficult issues. But some Christians can’t tolerate controversy or confrontation at all, and others only get involved — often in an angry, intolerant way — with all the things they are against.”

Piatt said he and his partner in the WTF series, and authors who contributed responses to questions or essays — despite their widely divergent religious beliefs — “all believe that our responsibility is to get actively involved in these things we’re afraid to talk about” so that younger Christians, especially, will be more inclined to form deeper commitments to their faith and to service than to abandon their church, or religion altogether. They can only do that if they’ve reached their own conclusions rather than having beliefs force-fed to them.

At the end of life, Piatt said, what will matter most is not how many souls someone has “saved” or how many foreign missions were conducted, or how big and beautiful the church is because believers were willing to give cash but not their time.

What Jesus will want to know of every individual, he said, is “What did you do for the poor, for the oppressed, for the imprisoned — for ‘the least among us’?”

Doing nothing, he said, only condones the suffering and injustices that humans inflict upon each other.

“Not getting engaged, not dealing with these issues, is not an option if you consider yourself a person of faith.”

For more information about the WTF series, upcoming books, or past titles by Piatt, go to: www.christianpiatt.com, which also provides links to videos of Piatt and some of the other authors and a link to his blog.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell…in Church?

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell…in Church?
By Christian Piatt

Originally published in PULP

Lots of adjectives have been attached to my name in the past, but “provocative” is one that seems to keep sticking. As a writer of mainly theological material, it’s expected that I’ll use certain buzzwords and will avoid some topics that simply should not be talked about in polite company, let alone church.

Sounds like a challenge. I like challenges.

Enter the new book series I’m co-creating and editing for Chalice Press, called “Where’s the Faith?” The acronym by which the series is known is “WTF?,” a brief nod to the provocateur in me. Part of the idea behind this series of books on matters of young adults and faith is to tackle the issues we’re supposedly not allowed to, so of course, the first book out of the gate had to be about sex.

After about eighteen months of planning and hard work, Oh God, Oh God, OH GOD: Young adults speak out about sexuality and Christian Spirituality hit the streets to – at least so far – rave reviews. The common sentiment, at least from those who will actually pick the thing up, is that it’s about time we started talking about things like alternatives to abstinence-only sex education, homosexuality, pornography and other hot-button topics.

For the essay on homosexuality, I was excited to bring on my friend, Shannon, who attended seminary as an openly gay man with my wife, Amy, back in Texas. In his essay, “Growing Up Gay,” he talks in both humorous and heartbreaking terms about what it’s like being a man living in a faith calling, while also being transparent about his sexual orientation.

“I was afraid of being stabbed in the middle of the night,” he writes, recalling his childhood in North Carolina, and “of being kidnapped, of being beaten up by the bully at school, of failing my grade and of missing the rapture. I was most afraid, however, of being different in general and of being gay in particular. I didn’t want to be laughed at and made fun of and called names. Instead, I just wanted to fit in and be like everyone else.”

As one who serves in a local church, I can tell you that working in ministry isn’t exactly the best way to blend in. But he feels led to a life of spiritual service, sexuality aside, and so the long, uphill climb began.

Actually, the phrase “sexuality aside” doesn’t exactly fit the situation, as I learned while watching him struggle through the ordination process. When a seminary student completes his or her graduate school requirements and practical ministry work in our denomination, they may apply to be ordained by a team of other ministers in their region. Our denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), varies widely from region to region in policies, given that we have an intentionally weak central governance structure.

But this also means that, while some states or regions will gladly ordain openly gay ministers, others are less affirming, or even tolerant. No surprise that Fort Worth, Texas, fell into the “less affirming” category. Basically, they take the Bill Clinton approach to this issue, which is “don’t ask, don’t tell,” at least during the ordination process. This creates a system that, put simply, asks people seeking a life in ministry to lie or obfuscate to their peers.

Everyone on the ordination committee who knew Shannon knew he was gay, and if you meet him, it’s not exactly hard to figure out. I mean, the guy has a poster of Barbara Streisand in his entryway, for God’s sake. But he was advised to make his sexuality a non-issue as he moved through the process, buying into the game long enough to get his certification, at least.

Easy enough for someone who is straight to say. As a left-handed person in a right-handed world, I notice how very little righties think about being right-handed. But we lefties encounter things every day, from scissors to keyboards and so on, that make real the bias of the world against our nature.

I can only imagine the anger and disappointment Shannon must have felt in being told that something so central to his identity was a “non-issue.” On the contrary, his sexual orientation had everything to do with his ministry. Not that he wanted to start a “gay” church or anything, but it pointed to the very issues of justice and compassion of which he has become an unfortunate object lesson, far too many times.

So he came out to the committee and forced its members to deny him ordination because of his orientation, which they did. Several times in years since, he has considered leaving the ministry, though we encourage him to hang in there. After all, why would the systems ever change if there’s no one on the inside trying to break down the old walls of intolerance?

It’s tragic, though, that his road is so much harder than ours, simply because of who he is. What in the world would Jesus think?

First vid: We’re ALL Social Justice Christians

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Rob Bell’s “Resurrection”

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Jesus is standing in front of the temple in Jerusalem
the massive gleaming brick and stone and gold house of God
and he says destroy this temple
and I’ll rebuild it in three days

the people listening to him said how are you going to do that?
it took 46 years to build this temple!
but he wasn’t talking about that temple
he’s talking about himself
he essentially says, listen
I’m going to be killed
that’s where this is headed
because you don’t confront corrupt systems of power
without paying for it
sometimes with your own blood
and so he’s headed to his execution
if you had witnessed this divine life extinguished on a cross
how would you not be overwhelmed with despair?

is the world ultimately a cold, hard, dead place?

does death have the last word?
is it truly, honestly, actually dark
and so whatever light we do see
whatever good we do stumble upon
are those just blips on the radar?
momentary interruptions in an otherwise meaningless existence?
because if that’s the case then despair is the
only reasonable response

it’s easy to be cynical

but Jesus says destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it
he insists that his execution would not be the end
he’s talking about something new and unexpected
happening after his death
he’s talking about resurrection

resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world
because this world matters
this world that we call home
dirt and blood and sweat and skin and light and water
this world that God is redeeming and restoring and renewing

greed and violence and abuse they are not right
and they cannot last
they belong to death and death does not belong

resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters
in this body
the one that we inhabit right now
every act of compassion matters
every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters
every fair and honest act of business and trade
every kind word
they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world
nothing will be forgotten
nothing will be wasted
it all has it’s place

everybody believes something
everybody believes somebody
Jesus invites us to trust resurrection
that every glimmer of good
every hint of hope
every impulse that elevates the soul
is a sign, a taste, a glimpse
of how things actually are
and how things will ultimately be
resurrection affirms this life and the next
as a seamless reality
embraced
graced
and saved by God

there is an unexpected mysterious presence
who meets each of us in our lowest moments
when we have no strength when we have nothing left
and we can’t go on we hear the voice that speaks those
words

destroy this temple and I’ll rebuild it

do you believe this?
that’s the question Jesus asked then
and that’s the question he asks now

Jesus’ friends arrive at his tomb and they’re told
he isn’t here
you didn’t see that coming, did you?
he’s isn’t here
there is nothing to fear
and nothing can ever be the same again
we are living in a world in the midst of rescue
with endless unexpected possibilities

they will take my life and I will die Jesus says
but that will not be the end
and when you find yourself assuming that it’s over
when it’s lost, gone, broken and it could never be
put back together again,
when it’s been destroyed and you swear that it could never
be rebuilt

hold on a minute
because in that moment
things will in fact have just begun

Pew Study Affirms: Younger people love God, but not church

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of decades, the recent results of a study by the Pew Research Center should come as no real surprise. In fact, at the risk of being self-referential, it confirms much of what my wife and I wrote in our book, MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation, more than two years ago.The Study arrives at a few key points, which include the facts that younger people are as interested in making space for both God and prayer in their lives as the generations that precede them (in some ways more so), but they increasingly don’t see the church as the necessary mediator for that experience.

There are tons of reasons for this, including general mistrust of and disaffection with institutions as a whole. Since Vietnam and Watergate, our perceptions of institutions have been in precipitous decline; add to that daily news stories of corporate malfeasance and millions of layoffs and you have a villain in the making.

And let’s not revisit the scores of religious figureheads who have succumbed to temptation and corruption, and the institutions that too often have tried to justify, minimize or even cover up the problems. On top of all of this, our understanding of community has become more disparate and virtualized with the advent of social networking. Though some may see this as a poor substitute for “real” community, at least it’s something.

After all, where were all these people when front porches were replaced by attached garages? Or when nuclear families gave way to professional upward mobility? Or when more than half of our parents got divorced and moved hundreds or thousands of miles apart? to blame social networking for the dissolution of physical community is to focus on the finger, ignoring the thing it’s pointing to.

But I digress…

A changing/evolving sense of community aside, there are some other interesting differences between younger people today and those older than them, summed up well by this paragraph in the Pew Study:

In their social and political views, young adults are clearly more accepting than older Americans of homosexuality, more inclined to see evolution as the best explanation of human life and less prone to see Hollywood as threatening their moral values. At the same time, Millennials are no less convinced than their elders that there are absolute standards of right and wrong. And they are slightly more supportive than their elders of government efforts to protect morality, as well as somewhat more comfortable with involvement in politics by churches and other houses of worship.

Though some may read these more “progressive” social values as an indicator of younger people straying from the moral values imparted by traditional church, we in mainline and more moderate to progressive independent congregations should see this as a tremendous opportunity for relevance. But be careful not to read this as an opportunity to pack your pews with youth and young adults. It’s more about a chance to connect over shared values of social justice and change, and in so much as we can be an agent or facilitator of that change younger people seek in their communities, they may find a great ally in the church.

But they still may never come to worship. So what’s it going to be, church? Real, relevant, gospel-inspired change, or survival of the institution of church as we know it/ There’s a real possibility we may not be able to have both.

When I speak and lead workshops for congregations and denominations, I often pose this question: if you could fully live in to you church’s mission today, but if the cost would be shutting your doors forever, would you do it? Of course this is a hypothetical posed in extreme language on purpose, to push people within the church to consider what’s really most important to them.

Consider Jesus (I know, a radical concept). He never had a church building, no budget and no salary. He walked around, noticed needs before him and went about meeting them, then he called others to do likewise. He shared wisdom through story and didn’t worry about retirement packages, balance sheets or mortgages. He focused instead on living out what he believed every day, and left the rest up to God.

Now, I’m not one to leave myself out of the group that this challenges. Though I don’t get paid by my church, my wife does, and the prospect of giving that up and simply walking the earth and meeting needs – especially with two kids – seems nuts. And I’m not saying this is necessarily what we’re all called to as church leaders, but it’s a question worth asking.

If, like the rich man in the Gospels, we’re coming to Christ and asking what is required of us, what will be our reaction if the answer is “leave everything behind and follow me”? What if the trend of younger people walking away from church is the kind of necessary pruning back that scripture calls for, rather than the cultural crisis of faith that many churches label it as?

Yes, there is still a need for communities of people offering one another love, wisdom, support and mutual accountability, to challenge people to put their faith into transformational action and to give them the tools to do so. And insomuch as institutional church can facilitate that, I believe there is a place for it in today’s culture. But the degree to which the existing buildings, paid staff, boards of directors and bylaws will – or even should – be a part of that, I’m not so sure.