Archive for June, 2007

What’s behind spiritual accountability?

Saturday, June 30th, 2007

What’s behind spiritual accountability?

We all have times in our lives of which we are not particularly proud.

In some cases, the people we now know would be surprised to see the person we once were. I was talking recently to a friend about our respective “dark times,” when we treated people in ways that were less than loving, including ourselves.

For me, there was a period toward the end of college and soon thereafter when I was not particularly kind to myself or to those who felt I was worth their time. In a sense, through my distancing behavior, I was set on proving them wrong.

My friend had a similar story, and both of us remarked, gratefully, about how different that part of our lives was from our present reality.

Almost reflexively, and practically at the same time, we both commented that the person we were back then “wasn’t really us.” After staking this claim, I was bothered by it, though I wasn’t sure why. In time, I came to the understanding that it’s actually not entirely honest of me to say “that wasn’t me.” I’d like to say it, but it’s just not true.

In making such a claim, I somehow try to divest myself of the responsibility that “other person” bears for his actions, for the pain he caused others, and for the damage I did to myself. I was that person, and in some ways, I still am.

Though it might be more comfortable in the short term to divest myself of that old persona, in doing so, I risk not learning from it. A sense of removal may save me from some feeling of guilt, but as it has been said, those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.

I think of the apostle Paul, who had a less than stellar record with the Christians before his conversion on the way to Damascus. Before becoming one of the fiercest champions of the early church, he killed Christians on behalf of the Roman government.

Talk about a guy who would rather put his past behind him, rather than acknowledge he had the capacity for such things.

However, in being honest about who we are, both good and bad, we not only have the opportunity to gain wisdom from our past; we also avail ourselves to an opportunity to receive incredible grace.

Paul, I believe, would not have been such a fervent advocate for grace had he not felt that his own grace had been extraordinary. If he had tried to push aside the person he had been before his conversion, the grace he found in his faith would not have been nearly as profound.

It is in accepting that we are worthy of love, warts and all, that we begin to understand what real grace is all about. If we’re only willing to bring those nice, shiny, well-polished parts of ourselves to God, as if we’re on a mission to impress God somehow with how together we are, we just don’t get it.

So where does a community of faith fit in to all of this?

I’ve talked a lot lately with people about the concept of spiritual accountability. It’s one thing to be nice to one another. It’s another to truly love someone. And it’s something else all together to hold each other accountable in love.

If we’re not able to be completely real with one another within a community of faith, including allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in our flaws and weaknesses, then we’re not really trusting one another to help us grow.

Once we get to a level of comfort where we can say to one another, “I’m not perfect,” then we open the door to healing and spiritual enrichment. In bringing even the unsavory parts of ourselves to the table, we give ourselves permission to lay down those things we’ve been carrying for too long, and we allow others the opportunity to love us in spite of, or even because of, our baggage.

It takes a healthy, open and genuinely loving community to love someone, even when they do some things you don’t really like. But for myself, if a church wasn’t making a concerted effort to manifest a glimmer of God’s unconditional love and grace within their walls, there wouldn’t be much point in showing up. But to give them the chance to do so, it’s my job to avoid the ever-lingering “that wasn’t me” mentality.

A few belated reflections on Father’s Day

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

A few belated reflections on Father’s Day

I should note in advance of any comments to follow that I generally resent so-called “Hallmark holidays,” including the ones intended to honor the likes of me. Feeling guilted into buying cards and presents because everyone else is smacks of capitalistic opportunism run amok.

What, you didn’t get me anything? After all, it is Arbor Day. Not a sapling, a package of seeds, nothing?

Enough already.

Now that I have that out of the way, I’ll get back to my point.

Father’s Day has become a particularly complex holiday for me recently. The most positive connotations came a few years ago when my son, Mattias, introduced me to what exactly it means to be someone’s dad. I am constantly reinvented by this amazing new life in our midst, learning as much about myself as I am about him.

To be someone’s dad is both an inexpressible privilege and a skull-crushing responsibility. We joke that the college fund can double as a subsidy for therapy in the event that we screw him up during childhood. Always nice to have a backup plan.

On the other side of the parent-child paradigm, there’s my dad and I. We haven’t spoken in more than a year, which is, of course, punctuated by such gloriously contrived holidays as Father’s Day.

Is the sarcasm communicating in print?

The details as to why he and I have not spoken are of secondary importance. This is partly because we each have our own realities to which we cling, and to present only my own interpretation of truth is still a subjectively filtered version of what really happened anyway. Also, regardless of what reality truly is, if there’s such a thing somewhere out there, the result is the same: I haven’t spoken to my dad – or he hasn’t spoken to me – since before Easter of 2006.

There’s nothing like a holiday to help remind you of what you don’t have. If you’re prone to self-pity, holidays can be downright depressing. However, while I’ve struggled to reconcile what family really ends up looking like versus what I carry on the postcards in my mind, a new community has emerged around me.

There’s my “family of choice,” meaning the ones I have more or less chosen by way of marriage and deciding to become a parent. There are the in-laws, often maligned in popular culture, but in this case, a true blessing to me, my son and many others, I’m sure.

Finally, there’s the family that comes with a healthy, vibrant, loving church. This Father’s Day was made even more salient when my wife, Amy, left that very afternoon to serve as a counselor at a junior church camp north of Colorado Springs. It’s hard to share your loved ones as much as you must when your spouse is employed by a church, but if you’re lucky, you get back at least as much in kind as you give up.

I’ve had four invitations to spend time with families and friends from our church this week, keeping me not only from having to cook, but also from having to bear the full burden of parenting a toddler by myself. Sure, I know everyone at our church loves Pastor Amy, but it’s comforting to feel welcome and loved, even in her absence.

In reflecting on the varied emotions I experienced on Father’s Day, I decided that I had two choices. On the one hand, I could sit around and feel sorry for myself because my family of birth is not as close, both physically and emotionally in some ways, as my family by marriage and in the church. On the other hand, I can stop belly-aching about what I lack and live in gratitude for the abundance I find right in front of me.

My family, however you want to define it, is not perfect, and it’s not what Hallmark says it should look like. But, so what? It’s mine, and I shudder to think where I’d be without it.

MySpace to Sacred Space – new book, free download

Friday, June 22nd, 2007

Just a quick note to let you know that I have posted the introduction and first chapter from my new book, MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation, for free download on my website. Just go to, click on the FREE Downloads page, click the link for the file and it should open right up. If you have any problems, please let me know.

This new book, co-authored with my wife, Amy Piatt, is a look into the spiritual, social and emotional lives of today’s young adults. For this book, we surveyed more than 750 young adults online, and we sent video cameras all over the country to allow people to share their stories about faith. Included are individuals, couples, people actively involved in church, agnostics, and even people involved in recovery for severe drug addiction. The stories and results were amazing. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed putting it all together.

Pre-sales for the book have been pretty good, and it went to the printer last week. Though Amazon still lists the release date as the end of July, it should actually ship in the next couple of weeks. It’s now on sale at the Chalice Press website or on Amazon.  Again, see my website for direct links to those sites if you want to order a copy now.  You may also order it from any bookstore.

Thanks, and please pass this on to anyone else who might be interested.


Freakish Toddler Abilities

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

I know how annoying it can be to listen to people talk about their kids, but what happened yesterday was just too weird to keep to myself.

It’s no secret that I’m a music junkie. This week alone, I bought three CDs. One of my favorite things to do is share my new discoveries with my three-year-old son, Mattias. He tends to get caught on a few artists, like Jet for example, but he’s usually open to at least hearing other stuff. As it the case with most toddlers, however, you never really know when he’s listening.

This time, evidently he was.

For what it’s worth I bought records by Andrew Bird, Spoon and Chris Cornell, all of which I recommend, but definitely in the order listed. Though I felt like Cornell’s new album was a bit of a mixed bag, it was the closest to the rock style to which Mattias is generally drawn. So we were listening through his CD for the first time, and had nearly gotten to the end. He particularly liked to “rock out” – his words – to the heavier songs. Apparently I am raising a metal-head.

My wife, Amy, is out of town this week, so I’m playing bachelor dad while she’s at camp. I took him to Sonic for a cherry Lime-aid because he amazingly made it through a meal at a restaurant without any outbursts. He decided he’d like to sit outside next to the fountain at sonic with which he is strangely infatuated, and it was nice out so I agreed.

Just as we got our drinks, Mattias looks off into the distance and says, “This is five.”

I thought he was talking about the five dollar bill I had used to pay for the drinks, but then he said it again, “Daddy, this is five,” pointing at the canopy above us.

It turns out he was pointing o the speaker underneath the canopy, which I now finally noticed was playing a song from the same Chris Cornell CD we had been listening to in the car.

“This is five?” I asked, “like, this is song number five on Chris Cornell’s CD?”

This is when my three-year-old looked at me like I was a moron.

“Yeah, dad. This is number five.” I checked when I got back in the car, and sure enough, it was song number five.

He then proceeded to sing the guitar leads to a couple of other songs on the record that he had heard only once, followed by the number of the track. He got it right every freaking time.

Little did I know we gave birth to Rain Man.

The relativity of ‘Sopranos’ and ‘Big Love’

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

The relativity of ‘Sopranos’ and ‘Big Love’

This was a big week for television viewers.

On Sunday, the final episode of HBO’s New Jersey mob tale, “The Sopranos,” aired, followed by the new season premiere of “Big Love,” another HBO show – this one about a group of fundamentalist Mormons living in a plural marriage in suburban Utah.

The sixth and final season ended creatively but controversially, with the Soprano family gathered at a local diner as imminent threats on their lives swim all around them.

For some, it was a frustratingly uneventful conclusion to a masterful series. But the screen cutting to black while loose ends linger speaks exactly to what the life of a Jersey mobster is like: Sleep with one eye open, and trust no one.

Several major scenarios played out, with Bobby, Anthony’s brother-in-law, getting whacked, as well as Sil, his “No. 1.” Revenge is exacted upon New York boss Phil Leotardo, and in a round-table meetings of the two families, a reasonable price for the transgression of Bobby’s death is worked out.

From there, it’s business as usual, at least until it’s necessary for the next Wise Guy to take a dirt nap.

Throughout the final episode, a piece of Scripture from Matthew 6 resonated through my head. Matthew says, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The essence is the idea that we cannot “serve two masters.” If money, sex, drugs, work or anything else is our God, there’s little room for anything else.

The creators of “The Sopranos” were masters of revealing truth without beating you about the head and shoulders. You find yourself wondering why this group of thugs would risk their lives, and those of everyone they love, for fancy espresso machines, new cars and terribly tacky suits.

But how are we any different? How much of our own time, energy and souls do we sink into shiny trinkets that we try to substitute for love, fulfillment and peace?

We mortgage, justify and compromise our lives away one bit at a time. Few, if any, of us are at risk of getting rubbed out at work on Monday, but if we invest ourselves in that which doesn’t really give back, ours is a slower, subtler but equally imminent death.

Equally fascinating is the curious code of conduct that governs the Mafia networks, all of which forever verge on anarchy. There is a protocol to follow when whacking a “made” man, as well as how much certain lives are worth, depending on their rank. For a group of sociopathic, thieving, mass-murdering thugs, they have a strong allegiance to what they consider honor.

A similar code of honor is observed in “Big Love,” as indicated particularly by one scene this week. Roman Grant, the vile leader of the creepy polygamist compound in the outskirts of Utah, shakes his head as a fellow polygamist, a man accused of statutory rape, is featured in a manhunt story on television.

“Just watch,” he says, “his transgressions will ruin it for the rest of us.” Meanwhile Roman, a man teetering on 70, is planning to be “sealed” to a young teenage girl in the compound. She will be his newest wife.

I’ve come to realize that the words “at least” are some of the most damaging in our vocabulary. We all have our skeletons lurking in the closet, but we never fail to find someone else who is worse off, saying with a sigh of relief, “at least I’m not that bad.”

The relativity of the values that guide our lives often are only as strict as is necessary to allow us to keep doing what we really want. The irony is that, when we decide without God’s wisdom what’s best, we are sure to miss the mark.

We may not get whacked, and we may not go to jail, but if we sense a curiously heart-sized vacancy inside, a good place to look for it is where we spend most of our time and energy. We’re sure to find it there.

Spoken Word and Jazz this Friday

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

For those in the southern Colorado area, we will continue our jazz and spoken word series this Friday from 8-11PM at Cafe Zajj, at the corner of 2nd and Main Street in Pueblo.

As always, the event is free, open to all ages, and generally is filling up by the time we start. So make sure to come early, grab and dessert crepe or sandwich, and your favorite coffee drink. We’ll spin some verse and break out the improvised jazz in ways you’ve never heard before – that is, unless you’ve already seen our gig!

Jazz sax phenom Barclay Moffitt will join us once again, as well as other musicians by invitation. If you think you have the stuff and would like to join us for a future event, show up, bring a sample of your work and we’ll see about getting you on next month’s roster.

See you there…

Christian Piatt, Author

Lost: A Search for Meaning and
MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation
Now on sale at:

Hearing a still small voice: Yours or God’s?

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

Hearing a still, small voice: Yours or God’s?

A historic set of events has taken place this week.

For the first time, candidates from the Democrat and Republican parties have been invited to participate in televised forums about matters of faith.

I was pleased, not only that the forums took place, but also that female religious leaders were included in the conversation. On a personal note, I was especially excited to see Sharon Watkins, the general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), our denomination, representing us as one of the panel members.

Because each candidate only was allowed 15 minutes to speak, and because politicians have an innate tendency to over-long answers, most panelists had the chance to ask only one question during the hour. Watkins, participating in the Democrat forum, posed a question to Sen. John Edwards that caused him – and the rest of the audience – to pause, laugh and really think about her words.

“As a person of faith,” she asked (and I’m paraphrasing), “how do you pray, for what do you pray, and, when you listen in prayer, how do you discern the difference between God’s voice and your own, mistaken as God’s?”

Edwards answered as candidly and as well off-the-cuff as could be expected. “Most important,” he said (and again I’m paraphrasing from memory), “I ask for God’s will in my life rather than my own, and those two things are in conflict with one another on a fairly regular basis.”

I admit that I’ve not been a personal champion of Edwards’ candidacy, but of all the participants, he certainly was the most personal, the most candid, and the most relatable.

Listening prayerfully is hard enough sometimes. It’s far too easy to fall into “output” mode, beginning and ending with our own monologue to God, cutting off our prayer time before we’ve ever taken time to sit quietly, listening for answers.

But how do we know when it’s really God? Sitting in silence, it’s so easy to have random thoughts, images and even voices run through our imagination. When a particularly desirable thought pops up, there’s not much to keep us from saying, “Yep, that’s God all right, telling me exactly what I wanted to hear.”

Do we sit around, waiting for tongues of fire, burning bushes, visions or booming voices from the clouds? Do we test God by demanding outward signs, hemming God in, setting the parameters within which we will allow our communication with God to take place?

Part of the problem can be the overwhelming static of daily life. We get so used to the endless stream of white noise that we often don’t know what to do with silence. If God’s voice indeed is still and small, do we ask God to crank it up a notch, or do we start by actively seeking quiet time and space?

In considering this question, I think back to a joke I heard once about a man who was drowning in the ocean, and he called out to God to save him. Soon, a boat comes by and throws him a line, but he refuses help, insisting that God will save him. Another boat happens by, and again he rebuffs their efforts to rescue him.

Finally, the man drowns, and as he stands before God in heaven, he’s ticked. “Why didn’t you save me?” he asks. “I prayed for your deliverance and you let me die!”

“Geez, what do you want from me?” says God. “After all, I sent you two boats.”

Looking for answers from God? Listen to those people of faith around you. Read Scripture. Learn to spend time in silence, and just as Jesus – and in this case, John Edwards – did, don’t forget those resonant words from the Garden of Gethsemane:

“Not my will, but yours be done.”