Archive for the ‘Blogroll’ Category

Prosperity vs. Abundance

Thursday, November 26th, 2009

Prosperity vs. Abundance

By Christian Piatt

(Originally published in PULP)

It’s easy to turn a deaf ear to all the talk about “the economy,” at least until it hits you where it counts. Sure, we all notice when we have to pay more at the pump, or our health insurance costs jump for the 10th year in a row, but these are mere inconveniences compared to what some folks are dealing with.

I’ve been fortunate to work from home as a contract consultant to nonprofits for the past five-plus years. It allows me the flexible schedule I need to help out with the church, spend quality time with our kids and pursue my writing on the side. I’ve often carried more work during that time than we needed to get by, but my reasoning was that the work wouldn’t last forever.

Man, was I right.

This past summer, I lost all of my contracts in short succession. All of them said basically the same thing: it’s not about your work. We just have to cut back, and contractors are the first to go. Some were freaked out about city-county funding being cut, while others saw writing on the wall with their program-related contracts. One employer offered to keep me on part-time, provided that I move back to Texas to take the work.

Though things aren’t fully recovered for us, I’m grateful that a combination of side projects and a new part-time job with a graduate school in Tulsa have helped us keep the bills paid. We’ve undergone some fairly significant lifestyle adjustments, swallowed our pride and accepted help from family, and we have a plan to carry us at least through the holidays.

This whole experience, though, has caused me to reflect on a couple of things. First, though I’m not a fan of accepting help from anyone, it’s a blessing to have it available when we needed it. We realize that, no matter what happens, we’ll only fall so far. We won’t end up out on the street, and our kids will hardly know the difference.

I also am grateful to have a network of friends and professionals who have helped me dig up work from places I would have never found it by myself; I’m also thankful to have the opportunity to call people in positions of power and means to discuss ideas for employment.

Sure, I get work on my own merits, and I certainly wouldn’t keep it if I couldn’t perform. But this series of networks and safety nets is, without a doubt, the very definition of privilege. We Americans are fond of the idea that everyone, given a solid work ethic and enough ambition, can achieve anything. While there may be some anecdotal evidence to support this, it’s certainly a myth to suggest that this means that opportunity is an equally-distributed commodity.

It’s easy as a person of faith to fall back on guilt, and to assume that the “right” thing to do is deny myself those privileges that skew things in my favor. But, on reflection, I think the more just thing to do is both to recognize that privilege, and then to employ it to help raise others up whenever possible.

This may include giving what I can to charity, or returning the favor to those with less of a support system than I have. It might even be as simple as listening to others’ stories of hardship with a little more empathy and compassion. Most important, perhaps, is not to give myself too much credit for my own successes – or at least a minimalization of failures – and instead focus on gratitude.

The scaling back of our budget also has caused me to reflect on the difference between prosperity and abundance. Over the last three decades, organized religion has fallen over and again into the lucrative trap of preaching prosperity. All you have to do is turn on the television nearly any time of day, and you’re sure to find some preacher explaining to you why it is that Jesus wants you to be rich.

Funny, but I don’t recall Jesus or any of his followers racking up the bling. In fact, there’s more than one account of Jesus telling wealthy people that their prosperity could well be the stumbling block between them and a well-developed faith practice.

Jesus did, however, speak of abundance. Because of our consumer-centered worldview, we like to think that this is synonymous with “wealth.” But abundance is relatively independent of the physical world, and rather is a state of being. It is about believing that we have enough, here and now, rather than becoming willing slaves of want.

It’s ironic that having less has made me more grateful for what I do have. But sometimes it takes having the opportunity to stop and reflect forced upon you to gain a healthier perspective.

I go to bed at night with the peace of mind knowing there’s food on the shelves for breakfast, and that the heat will still be on when we wake up. I offer a quiet word of gratitude for the abundance in our lives, even in the face of slightly less material prosperity. I wonder what opportunities tomorrow may bring to pass that privilege and abundance along, and if I’ll have the compassion to act as I should.

Prosperity is often the perfect antidote to help us forget our hardship. Abundance, however, reminds us that there will be enough, especially if we’re willing to let a little bit go for someone else.

More aural infectiousness for your ear-holes

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Some of you know that I recorded a live album of my spoken word with a couple of jazz guys last summer, but today I decided to try my hand at a solo track.


Since the original trio was called “S’aint Trio,” I’m keeping the same idea going and using the moniker “S’aint,” as in “I ain’t no…”


Anyhow, I recorded this at home on my hand-held recorder and using some loops and such I gathered and mixed on my computer. Interested in folks’ feedback, as I’m considering doing some more like this.


Christian Piatt

Author, MySpace to Sacred Space and Lost: A Search for Meaning

Editor, WTF: Where’s the Faith? Book series

Editor, Pueblo PULP




Four new podcasts to bend your brain

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

If you have been following the three-part “WTF Chat” on my podcast with my WTF? (Where’s the Faith?) book co-creator and co-editor Brandon Gilvin, or if you’ve been waiting until all three parts were available at once, the time has come.

Check out for parts one through three-now available, or as usual, search “Piatt” in iTunes.

I also have a podcast posted about the most dangerous four-letter word in the English language. This is a sermon I offered at Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo Colorado and at Lee’s Summit Christian Church in Missouri, both in August.

Dig it.

Interview with me about music and worship

Monday, October 12th, 2009


Music can be a means of worship, a prayer in itself

Music. With or without words, it’s a universal language that transcends creed and color, dogma and doctrine.

It’s been around thousands of years longer than any of the world’s religions, and in recent decades has become an integral part of many of them.

For some, it is as powerful a form of worship as prayer, and more powerful than anything a priest or preacher could utter from pulpit, altar or revival-tent stage.

For others, it is a unifying force – a communal act that binds together people of varied backgrounds who share a common faith – or fears, or doubts or hope. Although early religions forbade most instruments from churches and didn’t allow song from anyone but the priests or other “holy” men, hymns began easing their way into Catholic, Anglican and Protestant churches several hundred years ago.

Then came gospel, a genre birthed in the fields of Southern plantation owners by slaves who weren’t allowed a church, or even to worship in the open.

Today, there are nearly as many types of Christian and religious music as secular music, and churches that once frowned on anything that didn’t emanate from an organ, harp or choir now advertise praise band entertainment before or during services.

Undoubtedly, some churches use music as a draw or pre-show entertainment – more window dressing than substance.

But plenty have integrated song and instrumentation into the worship experience in a way that enriches it rather than detracting from it.

Dave Foncannon, well-known as a member of the popular Fireweed bluegrass band and pastor at Pueblo Mennonite Church, grew up with the comforting acappella music that is typical of churches in his faith.

He loves it still, and can conjure a crystal-clear image of his mother when he hears “Sweet Hour of Prayer.”

But his soul is stirred by the sounds of strings, too, and the mournful and joyful ways they can blend with human voices. Surely, he says, those creations make God smile and weep, too.

“God is creator, and if we are an image of God, there is creativity that we are supposed to express,” Foncannon said.

“I was the first person to take a guitar into church and do special music.” The reaction, at first, was “cautious, but supportive.”

Today, Fireweed often weaves its sounds into the messages he delivers from the pulpit, if not during services, then afterward. His worship messages often are embellished with his guitar and his voice, sharing favorite old hymns or pieces he penned himself.

When choosing selections each week, he doesn’t consider variety or what he thinks his congregation will enjoy, but “what will take us to where we’re going” with that week’s worship topic, he said.

“Music is one of those ways our spirits can talk to God without words. For me, personally, it can be very spiritual. There are times that I pray just by playing music.”

Power to the people

Ken Butcher, a lifelong music teacher who is retired as a deacon and musical director at Pueblo’s Ascension Episcopal Church, says music “is an integral part of worship for me – and always has been. Music can be a tool for good or for ill, and people have recognized that for centuries. Martin Luther used it as a means of giving power to the congregation – to the people – rather than the choir. It’s a sort of democratizing influence” as well as one that unifies, whether there’s harmony among congregants outside the walls of their church or not.

That’s not to say everyone agrees with him (when they’re not swept up in the music). “The presence of popular music in the church has been an issue way back to the 16th century, because popular music was creeping into the Catholic Church and the pope began insisting on certain standards. We still have that battle, about what’s appropriate, in our denomination,” he said.

“Of course, music can be a substitute for a real spiritual experience; you can be so swept away in the music that you miss the message. So it can be both a blessing and curse. But it also can be an entree, a way to open the door of receptivity” in a closed mind or heart.

Butcher conducts regular worship services for inmates at Pueblo County Jail and finds that beginning the services with a few hymns eases tension and helps him bring his listeners to a common focus.

“ ‘He who sings, prays twice.’ I use that phrase all the time when I go into the jail,” he said.

“The words can have whatever the meaning that the words have, but the music can add the dimension of emotions to it. It can reflect your mood or change your mood.”

Christian Piatt grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition, where music was a part of the worship scene, albeit it muted, carefully chosen and sparingly woven into the larger tapestry of church life.

His uncles were in Baptist gospel barbershop quartets, he said, and some of the music he grew up is a comforting, nostalgic snapshot from his youth. But it’s not what feeds his creative fire, or his faith, as co-pastor at Pueblo’s Milagro Christian Church.

“Music is my direct line to the divine. That’s how I got invested in organized religion after 10 years away,” he says.

Universal messages

Highly opinionated about the way some Christian music has been used (and what’s good, and useful, or not), Piatt said he seeks out and shares what he believes are universal messages of spiritual longing and fulfillment in the music of secular artists, as well as his own compositions.

For instance, he hears his own inner voice and that of many spiritual seekers in U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

Piatt definitely wasn’t looking to become a co-pastor or musical ministry leader when he met his wife, Amy (Milagro’s pastor). He hadn’t been inside a church in more than 10 years. Soon after they met, she invited him to come with her to a church in the Denver area and he went to appease her, “to show her that I just wouldn’t fit.” The music he heard there convinced him that he did.

The congregation “sat in the round, and there were people like me there,” he said. “I’m not a church-music kind of guy. I was like a rocker guy, and music was a very secular experience for me then.”

He heard some of both types of music, and more, at that church before being invited to play for the group himself. It took some talking from his yet-to-be wife and her pastor, but he finally agreed.

“I almost didn’t make it through my first song because I just burst into tears. I had to excuse myself from the worship service to compose myself,” he remembers.

“I had allowed myself to be vulnerable with this group of people and I connected with something I had walled off for years,” he said.

Later, he sang at a church in Boulder and the pastor there asked him if he would consider a job as musician at church in Fort Worth. Picturing a “megachurch,” Piatt at first said no.

Then Amy received a scholarship to the divinity school at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, so he decided to check out the church he had already judged.

“It was a small, open and affirming church. It deconstructed and reconstructed everything I knew about religion,” he said.

A few years later, he and Amy (who since had married) moved to Pueblo to start Milagro, where he approaches his music ministry in much the same way she approaches her weekly message from the Bible.

“The music has to be about something bigger than one hour in church. It’s about love and God, but also about struggle and pain. It’s about all of those things because we are about all of those things,” Piatt said.

Music reverberates at an almost primal level, he said, because “probably before humans could understand the concept of a creator, there was music. What connects us is stories, and at its best, that’s what music does.”

Two New Podcasts: WTF Chat, parts 1 & 2

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

Parts on and two of my three-episode chat with Brandon Gilvin, my co-creator and co-editor of the WTF? (Where’s the Faith?) young adult books series are now posted. Episode one is about the context of Young Adult culture in today’s culture and a bit about how in the hell we were ever given the opportunity to create a book series together.

The focus in the third episode is on the first book in the series, coming out in February, 2010 (Chalice Press) called Oh God, Oh God, OH GOD about faith, sex, sexuality and embodiment among young adults.

We also talk about the challenges, fun and risks involved in producing a potentially “controversial” series of books.

Check out both podcast episodes, as well as all archived podcasts, by searching “PIATT” on iTunes and other podcatchers, or BY CLICKING HERE.

Are We Too Dumb to Govern Ourselves?

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

Are We Too Dumb to Govern Ourselves?
By Christian Piatt

(Originally Printed in PULP)

As the time draws closer for Pueblo’s mayoral question to achieve ballot-worthy status, tensions have been a little high around these parts. Lines have been clearly drawn on both sides of the issue, and there’s been no shortage of drama, particularly regarding the Committee to Assess Local Mayorship’s (CALM’s) petitions to make way for a charter amendment that would require the city to have a “strong” mayor at the helm.

In case you’ve been napping for the last few months, he’s a basic rundown:

CALM was created several months ago to press for the charter amendment to be included on the upcoming November ballot. It is clear from the wording of their proposed amendment (visit to read for yourself) that the type of leader they seek is historically described as a strong mayor.

In response to CALM’s actions, the City Council assembled its own “Blue Ribbon” panel of advisors, who then proposed their own model of leadership, which included a “weak” mayor.

Though there are many details differentiating a strong mayor from a weak one, the main distinction is that, with a weak mayor, we would maintain the existing city manager position to do most of the real work of governance. The weak mayor, which would be a member of city council, would effectively be a step up from the current council president, charged mainly with diplomatic and other symbolic duties.

Council took some time to decide whether to put their own weak mayor option on the upcoming ballot, as their action seemed to be a response to CALM’s proposal. In the last couple of weeks, a question arose about whether CALM’s amendment would make it after more than a thousand of their petition signatures were disallowed by Pueblo City Clerk, Gina Dutcher.

Says Roger Gomez, CALM’s Executive Director and current Owner/Operator of Steel City Dogs, “We ended up handing in 4,575 signatures. The expected signature disqualification rate for an average petition drive is about 20%. The City Clerk’s Office ended up invalidating over 35% of our signatures…”

Asked if they could provide the extra signatures in a week, CALM quickly mobilized and collected 644 more names in two days. The signatures were verified as of Tuesday, August 18th. Now the voters will have three choices in November: a strong mayor, a weak mayor, or keeping things as-is.

Though it might seem potentially frustrating to have Council openly working against CALM’s efforts, the benefit has been a more informed public. “We are delighted,” says Gomez, “that so many voters we have talked to have been able to distinguish between our strong mayor platform and the new weak mayor platform adopted by the City Council. The voters are very aware and they asked a lot of specific questions about structure and cost.”

Regarding cost, one argument for the strong mayor option is that it should cost less. Whereas in the weak mayor system, one council member serving as mayor will be paid more for added duties, while also employing a full-time city manager, the strong mayor would replace the city manager role, leaving Council as-is. The proposal is for the strong mayor to be paid $50,000 a year less that the city manager position too, and though some fear that additional positions under the mayor will be created, many current duties and positions currently under the manager simply would be shifted over to the mayor’s office.

Asked why Council would pick now to jump into the ring on this issue, Gomez was clear.

“I believe the weak mayor alternative is an attempt to dilute and possibly confuse the voter on election day,” he says. “The Pueblo voters have been watching this debate and they know the difference. That does not mean that over the next two and half months our opponents won’t try to blur that fine line with a weak [mayor] ad campaign.”

So why the objections to a strong mayor in the first place? The answers vary, even within Council, though the majority of council members oppose CALM’s proposal. One common argument is that an elected official is accountable first to the voters rather than to Council, which theoretically makes them more susceptible to corruption.

Another, more concerning, reason has come out in commentary from City Council members themselves. In a City Council Work Session held on the evening of June 22nd, Councilman Mike Occhiato referred to the median family income and education levels as cause for questioning whether or not a capable candidate could be fielded from Pueblo. He also states:

“There’s always the ability to hire someone within a relatively short period of time, or to bring someone up from the ranks within the professional pool of professionals who actually managed a department head versus the gene pool that a strong mayor might have. And I say ‘gene pool’ because strong mayors in larger communities [pause] a lot of the department heads that have those positions are not filled by people with competent ability.”

Occhiato continues, “We just don’t have the ability to pick someone out in the community, unless he’s unemployed, to run the community. And that’s exactly what’s happened. I know there’s a joke going around the community. If the strong mayor would pass, we’d wanna be at Gina [Dutcher]’s office the next day to see who lines [up] for [pause] trying to, uh, become the mayor. Those that would be unemployed.”

Get it?

Where did this mentality in our city come from that suggests we’re not capable of sustaining a reasonable democratic system of governance? Following this line of thought, we’re just smart enough to elect those currently in power, but beyond that, we cannot be trusted to choose or participate wisely.

Council’s decision to impose their own opposing option on the ballot is yet another example of this. Kudos, however, to Councilmen Thurston and Atencio for standing up against the way this matter was handled, regardless of their personal feelings. In an August 25th Chieftain story, the two “said council had no business bringing such a question to the public.” They went on to say that, had Council done the same as CALM and gone to the public, gathering signatures for their proposal of a weak mayor ballot option, they would then have been happy to support it.

The ballot options are sure to be a hot topic of conversation in the coming months, and I’d expect that, one way or another, we’ve yet to see the most dramatic developments in this political soap opera.

Stay tuned, stay informed, and most of all, mind your gene pool, Pueblo.

You can’t say that in church!

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

Request for Qualifications – Draft

Smells Like Spirit

By Christian Piatt


(Originally published in PULP)


I’ve been co-editing a new book series for Chalice Press, a Christian Publisher connected to my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Yes, that’s really the denomination’s name, including the parentheses. Don’t ask why.


Anyway, I recently traveled to Indianapolis and Kansas City to speak to a few hundred folks about the new series titled WTF? (Where’s the Faith?)


We Disciples seem to have a thing for parentheses.


Obviously, the title is provocative, which is purposeful. The series, created by young adults, primarily for young adults, is intended to speak to them where they are. This includes addressing a lot of things in a lot of ways that most folks in church have never been comfortable doing. So the relatively cheeky title does serve a purpose beyond unadulterated obnoxiousness; it’s supposed to break down barriers.


True to form the first book, due out early next year, is about faith and sexuality, and is called Oh God, Oh God, OH GOD! Trust me, you’re not the only one who’s a little bit amazed we even got that one past the editorial board, but kudos to them for having the barnacles to print it.


So you’d think that anyone aware of the connotations of both the series title and the first book would have at least a basic idea of what they were in for coming to one of our workshops. But my partner in crime and co-editor, Brandon Gilvin, took even me off guard when he said the word “blowjob” in the middle of our church event.


The room got pretty quiet for a minute. Then, thank goodness, we really started talking, which was the whole point to begin with. It should be noted that he didn’t just blurt out “blowjob” for no reason. He actually was making a point about some college girls who came to his counselor girlfriend some time back to ask her which was worse: kissing a boy or giving him a blowjob. This, they said, was a conundrum because “kissing a boy is so intimate.”


The point was made that there is more brushed under the rug in faith communities than is talked about with care, thoughtfulness and candor. A few people never lost the look of shock from their faces, but no one left. Maybe they just wanted to see what we would say next, but to their credit, they hung in there.


Afterward, I had several people come to me and thank me both for the books and the discussion. People confessed everything from personal struggles with pornography addiction, to eating disorders, and the level of honesty became nearly overwhelming. 


It was clear that people have been dying to talk about these kinds of things with people they can trust, who won’t judge them, but who will listen and respond with compassion and love. Though this was only a small step, it’s amazing to think that saying a word like “blowjob” in a faith-based workshop could be such a cathartic and healing experience.


As they say, God works in mysterious ways – I guess even through a couple of heretics like us.

Why standardized testing in our schools SUCK

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Why CSAP Sucks

By Christian Piatt


(Originally published in PULP)

If the ridiculous school supply and uniform bills weren’t enough to signal the beginning of school, there are plenty of other signs that the academic season is upon us: nervous-looking kids; slightly euphoric parents; bulging backpacks and the telltale crossing guards posted at strategic locations around town.


We also know it’s back-to-school time since we’re finally getting a glimpse of the CSAP test results from last year. The CSAPs – which stands for “Colorado Student Assessment Program” – is given to most students on most grades throughout the state, supposedly to track student progress. A love child of George Bush and his No Child Left Behind legislation, the CSAPs and similar testing batteries across the nation have drawn mixed reviews.


In general, the sentiment toward the tests is negative, but the problem is most folks agree we should have some sort of accountability for student achievement; the problem is that no one seems to have a clue about how to make the tests better.


For starters, the tests historically have compared apples to oranges, holding one third-grade class’ scores up against the third-graders that follow them the next year and so on from grade to grade. But aside from any kids who failed and had to repeat a grade, these are entirely different students, so it’s impossible to get much useful data this way.


Recently, the bureaucrats and administrators have wised up at least a little, and they’re now tracking cohorts. This means we get to see data from one group of students as they progress throughout their academic career. But this still has huge flaws, particularly in a highly mobile community like Pueblo. In some schools, where the mobility rate exceeds 100 percent, most of theses aren’t the same kids from beginning of year to end, let alone from one year to the next.


A more reasonable solution is to implement a longitudinal system that follows each individual students from kindergarten to graduation. This would require more consistency from state to state, but it’s really the only way to use the tests to tell if a particular student is where they need to be or not. 


Another issue is the test’s sensitivity, on two levels. First, though some strides have been made to try and make the tests culturally sensitive, there are still issues surrounding the assumption of prior knowledge, much of which comes from a middle class, primarily Anglo background. Simply put, middle class kids have seen and done more than poorer kids, which gives them an advantage over kids who may have never left their home town.


A second sensitivity problem is more technical, primarily regarding the higher and lower extremes of the scale. In general, all we hear about is whether or not a kid performs at or above the “proficient” level, which constitutes two of the four possible quartiles within which scores can fall. Each school can see scores in a bit more detail, but for a child who began as a non-English speaker, or as functionally illiterate, a gain of a year or more may not even create a blip on the score chart. Some concessions are made for “special needs” students, but this hardly addresses the fundamental flaw, which is a test that is akin to taking a chainsaw into surgery.


Finally, there’s the problem of what the tests actually measure. The testing protocols, which are timed, try to tell if a child has mastered a set of skills necessary to solve a problem, whether it is a math proof or answers at the end of a reading passage. For the kids who get the right answers, all is well, but for the rest, the tests really tell us nothing.


For example, say a child misses all five questions at the end of a story passage. Though we can see they got all the wrong answers, did they fail because they didn’t understand the story? Maybe they misunderstood the questions? Or perhaps the directions for what to do in the first place? Did they read too slowly to even get to the questions? Did they have so many words they could not decode in the story that they lost the story’s point? Did they lack the vocabulary to comprehend three dozen words in the first few paragraphs?


We have no idea.


That’s because these are achievement tests, which do just that: measure overall achievement. If, however, we really wanted to mind some valuable data from this effort, we should be conducting diagnostic assessments. This not only tells you where a child does well, but where, across the board, they are weak. This helps teachers target the low points so that the entire end-result can come up, and so that some problems for which kids may compensate early in their school careers don’t suddenly blow up in their faces come junior high or high school.


Some are calling for the whole testing concept to be trashed, which would be a mistake. The problem isn’t that we’re testing our kids; it’s that we don’t know how or why. For now, though, the CSAPs and their counterparts in others states score well below proficient. 

New Live Concert on my Podcast

Friday, September 18th, 2009

I traveled recently to Lee’s Summit, MO for an event where I was leading some workshops, speaking and such. On Sunday night, I got to close out the evening with a concert for a couple hundred very welcoming folks. It was probably the highlight of the weekend for me.

I love getting to share music and spoken word with people, and though some of the stuff I introduced may have been a new experience for many in attendance, they all seemed to have a good time.

Check out the podcast by searching my name on iTunes, playing it on the streaming audio player on my website (, or hit the link below to go directly to the podcast site.

All episodes of the podcast, including the concert, are free. Let me know what you think.


Two new webinars, open for registration

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

My first webinar (online workshop) on “how to use Facebook as a ministry tool) was great fun and well-received. since then I’ve gotten several requests to host this workshop again, so it’s back along with an exciting webinar on how to select a literary agent an, ultimately, how to get published!

If you want to learn more about the events, go to, or email me directly at


Using Facebook as a Ministry Tool

Wednesday, Sept. 30th, 1pm (MST)

Learn the basics of “2.0” social networking, how to set up a Facebook account, take a tour of Facebook and learn strategies for using it as a tool to connect with people throughout the week, beyond the  walls.

From “Writer” to Agented and Published “Author”
(w/ Lit. Agent Anita Kushen)

Tuesday, Oct 6th 11am (MST)

Join the conversation with Author Christian Piatt and Literary Agent Anita Kushen about what it takes to move your passion for writing to the next level. Learn valuable information like how to find and select a literary agent, and how to become a published author.