Archive for November, 2007

“Fowl Deeds” – A story about our church

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

Fowl deeds

The Pueblo Chieftain Online
Leif Torgerson, 9, wears a sign promoting turkey giveaways at Milagro Christian Church. About 100 birds were handed out Monday to anyone wanting them.

Church continues practice of community giveaways


It’s pretty much the way the congregation operates – enough so that it can enunciate its mission and identification as a church that is “committed to sharing God’s love and generously giving itself away to the world through . . . compassionate service and authentic witness of the Gospel.”

And so it is that Milagro Christian Church, 2111 S. Pueblo Blvd., is dedicated to give something of itself on a monthly basis.

On Monday, the gift was 100 turkeys.

In other instances, the gifts have been free car washes – complete with lunches while you wait – clothes, toys, pumpkins and, at summer’s end, green chiles.

The catch is that there isn’t one. Pastor Amy Piatt always makes it clear that no matter what’s given away, no donations will be accepted. Period.

That’s the “giving itself away to the world” bit that Milagro Church tries to do as a way of life.

The congregation is affiliated with the 750,000-member Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) headquartered in Indianapolis and is one of three such congregations in town.

Typically, then, the congregation – about 60 folks these days – wanted to give turkeys for the holiday, but found themselves a bit strapped for cash. Members agreed to donate turkeys on their own and prayed that something better come along, enabling the church to do it better.

The prayer worked, apparently.

One member of the congregation, Mikal Torgerson, was approached by John Gallegos, the new executive director of the Pueblo Rescue Mission, who had, he said, an excess of turkeys for the mission’s annual Thanksgiving dinner. Indeed, Milagro could use them.

“Call it coincidence if you want,” Piatt said, “but at Milagro, where we believe in seeking God’s miracles every day, this is just another one of those miraculous moments in the life of our church.”

Oh, by the way: “Milagro” is the Spanish word for “miracle.” Not that that has anything to do with it – a hundred turkeys more or less falling out of the sky just in time for Thanksgiving.

And so it was, last Monday, that Piatt, her husband Christian, and other members of her congregation found themselves in the church parking lot, handing out turkeys that some might consider miraculous.

When the supply of frozen birds began to run low – Piatt said 45 were given away in the first 15 minutes – a congregation member offered to match whatever Milagro officials would spend and more turkeys were bought. A later run for another $300 worth of turkeys completed the hour-long giveaway.

“Everyone who showed up in that hour-long period got a turkey,” a delighted Pastor Piatt said the next day.

Her congregation is a little more than three years old, having begun in the pastor’s living room, moving to rented facilities at Colorado State University-Pueblo and, for the last couple of years, to the site of a Disciples’ church that had been abandoned.

Once the congregation had its own building and identity, “It was time to stop focusing so much on growing as a church, and to think more about living into our vision of what kind of difference we should be making in the community,” says Piatt.

That’s when the monthly giveaways began – offering something to anyone in Pueblo who was willing to accept it, with no strings attached.

The pastor acknowledged that there was a learning curve for all involved, including those in the congregation.

“We were a small church, struggling to keep the doors open,” she said, “and it would have been easy to try to use these giveaways as fundraisers. But this wasn’t what we felt called to do. The money was something we just had to let go of and give up to God.”

Though the point of the giveaways always has been giving for the sake of giving, it still was natural for church members to entertain some hope for some sort of return – like increased membership.

Piatt said it was routine for recipients to vow to worship at Milagro the following Sunday, but hardly any followed through.

The pastor noted, however, without the least bit sounding triumphal, that within the last two months, a few more people are showing up for 10:30 a.m. Sunday services.

“It’s rewarding to see some of the fruits of our labor,” she said, “but we always have to keep in mind that this ultimately isn’t why we’re doing this.”

Said the pastor: “Two months ago, when we gave away roasted chiles, we had a line around the building an hour before the giveaway started. If we think too hard about it, it might be easy to start worrying that we won’t be able to keep up with demand.

“That just can’t be our focus, any more than worrying about who comes to church or who doesn’t. It’s our job to keep praying and keep giving.”

And, one might assume, the miracles might just keep happening.

Love can be as close or far as one condition away

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

Christian Piatt column

Love can be as close or far as one condition away

A middle-aged mother faced a reality every parent prays to avoid, the premature death of her son.

She lost him to AIDS two years prior, but the pain she feels over the loss is still like a fresh wound. Even now, she receives dozens of sympathy and support cards from friends of his.

New cards arrive on birthdays, anniversaries and those holidays with images of family that only magnify her son’s absence, and therefore, her sorrow. Some family members offer comfort from a distance, while others try to ignore the death altogether. Though the judgment and awkwardness is hard, she tries to understand. She struggles with her own degree of shame about it all.

As she begins to learn more about parts of her son’s life he was reluctant to share, she befriends others within the gay and lesbian community who share her sense of grief. For them, her son is one of many friends and loved ones they have lost to AIDS in the past two decades. Knowing they hurt alongside her is of some solace, though she still hesitates to talk about his personal life.

After the death of yet another young friend of her son’s, she shuffles through the handful of condolence cards, wishing to find something conveying the empathy she has for them. She finally settles on one and takes it to the counter.

The clerk behind the register wears a bright smile and a rainbow bracelet. He asks how her day is and she lies, saying everything is fine. Noticing the card, he asks if she has lost someone special.

“No,” she pauses. “I mean, yes.” She explains that although this card is for another family, she lost her own son to AIDS two years prior, the word “AIDS” suppressed to a muted whisper as she casts her eyes toward the counter.

“You don’t have to whisper,” said the man, coming out from behind the counter, offering her a long, warm embrace. “You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I didn’t know that man,” she explains, “but in that moment, I loved him.” She carried that love he shared out into the world that day, resolving never again to speak of her son’s life, or death, with shame.

Another mother confronts her daughter, who has told her she is a lesbian, and confesses that she will never accept her as such. “I prayed she would change,” says the mother. “I felt she was committing a horrible sin.” She even took her daughter to corrective counseling, though it was clear the girl, only a teenager at the time, didn’t feel there was anything wrong with her that needed to be fixed.

As time went on, the distance between mother and daughter only grew, until the daughter stopped corresponding all together. The final words the mother received from her daughter were in the form of a letter that explained the irreparable damage she felt as the subject of her mother’s “shaming words.” She ended the letter with the words, “Heal thyself, mother.”

In 1997, the family received a call about their daughter’s suicide. She hanged herself in her closet, leaving no note. Through friends, the family learned their daughter had been undergoing treatment for depression for some time.

The woman’s parents began to study everything they could about homosexuality and the Bible the following year. “It was a big jump for us,” says the mother of their change of heart. “(But) in the end I found myself far away from the safe place I’d been all my life.”

Since then, she has started speaking publicly about the dangers of homophobia, creating an educational program called TEACH: To Educate About the Consequences of Homophobia.

“Now I know the value – the power – of unconditional love,” she explains, “and though it came too late for Anna, I believe she knows what we’re doing. And she is proud.”

Christian Piatt is the author of “MySpace to Sacred Space” and “Lost: A Search for Meaning.” For more information, visit

Thoughts on satire, pop culture and the Gospel

Saturday, November 17th, 2007

Thoughts on satire, pop culture and the Gospel

I don’t usually use column space to respond to letters I get either in support of, or in opposition to, a piece I’ve written. However, the response I’ve received about my column last week on “The Golden Compass” has prompted me to add some more points to ponder.

To get everyone up to speed, “The Golden Compass” is a movie due out this holiday season that is at the heart of much controversy. The author of the “His Dark Materials” trilogy, the inspiration for this movie, is a noted atheist who many claim is determined to destroy children’s faith through the propaganda in his books.

Last week, I drafted a satirical piece that poked fun at those who have such profound issues with this movie and the preceding books, yet who have not seen either, short of a commercial on television and some e-mail rumor that’s been spreading like wildfire across the Internet. In fact, there was an article in the paper to this effect a little more than a week ago.

While most people appreciated the humor of the piece, there actually were those who didn’t get somehow that it was satire. I got all kinds of angry e-mails calling me a hypocrite, accusing me of propagating a narrow-minded position that did more harm than good.

To those who haven’t read my columns at all over the past two years and just happened to pick this one up with no background, I can understand this misunderstanding. For anyone who has read my columns before, come on, you know me better than that.

There were more than a few responses from the “other side,” criticizing my attacks on people with more conservative ideology. One reader actually compared my satire to the Nazi propaganda cartoons published against Jews prior to World War II.


A word of caution about this sort of “slippery slope” argument: First, consider that the cartoons in Germany were not about a set of beliefs people of all backgrounds maintained, but rather castigation of an entire race of people for who they were by birth. While someone cannot be criticized for who they were born as, they certainly should be prepared to undergo some scrutiny for what they claim to believe, including me.

Also, it should be noted that much, if not all, of the anti-Semitic propaganda in Nazi Germany was state-sanctioned, which inherently means a manipulation of free speech. While some folks may object to my point of view, it’s not propaganda, because I’m free to write what I want. There’s a big difference, and one that is the cornerstone of our democracy, I think.

The point is for people on both sides of the argument to stop and think about what they believe, rather than reacting from the gut. No secular book or movie should dictate our beliefs, be it “The Da Vinci Code,” “Passion of the Christ,” “The Golden Compass,” “Harry Potter” or Kirk Cameron. Jesus challenged us to look beyond the written law even in Scripture, pushing us to find truth within ourselves. It’s easier to find it in a book or on TV, but that’s not Gospel.

I respect those with differing views and their right to air an opposing perspective, but for crying out loud, if you’re going to stand against something, know what it is that you’re condemning first. I can’t say whether or not “The Golden Compass” and the books on which it is based are good, bad, dangerous or a wonderful opportunity for rigorous debate.

Why not? Because I haven’t read them, and the movie hasn’t been released yet. My guess is, however, that New Line Cinema is as thrilled about this sort of uproar as Dan Brown and Ron Howard were about the controversy surrounding “The Da Vinci Code.” It’s the best free press they could hope for.

Each of us ultimately must decide for ourselves which movies and books are appropriate for us and our families. I don’t know if I’ll take my son to the movie or not; I have to know more about it first. But if I can read Nietzsche, who famously claimed “God is Dead,” all the way through college and still have faith, I’m pretty sure it will take more than a two-hour movie about a kids’ book to convince me to claim atheism.

Christian Piatt is the author of “MySpace to Sacred Space” and “Lost: A Search for Meaning.”  He can be reached through his website,

How “The Golden Compass” ruined my life

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

It was a Monday, I think. I was minding my own business, doing my best to be a good and faithful disciple when – WHAM! The entire foundation of my faith came crumbling to the ground.

The culprit was a sinister series of children’s novels known as “His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman. An admitted atheist, Pullman’s books tugged at the very seams of my beliefs. I watched in despair as everything I thought was right and true in the world fell apart.

Of course, I didn’t actually read the novels. Heaven knows what would have become of me if I’d actually cracked the cover of these propaganda-soaked diatribes. Rather, I simply walked by a display of the books at a local store and a consuming shadow enveloped my soul.

Now the Enemy has upped the stakes. New Line Cinema is adapting the first of the three books into a film to be released during – of all times – the holiday season. Have they no shame? No doubt, people will pour forth from the theaters, desperate to dunk themselves in the nearest supply of holy water before their WWJD charm bracelets burn a permanent ring around their ever-faithful wrists.

One might wonder how I came to become such an authority both about a series of books I’ve never read, as well as a film that I, nor anyone else, has seen yet.

Naturally, I got my information right from the only proper source: the Internet. There were a few paragraphs on Snopes, what some might call an urban myth verification-debunking site. The commentary talked about the film and the diabolical tomes that preceded it, confirming that Pullman in fact was an atheist, and he was hell-bent on “killing God.”

If Snopes said it, that’s good enough for me.

As if this wasn’t enough of a mountain of evidence, I got a forward from a friend, who had gotten it from a neighbor’s nephew, who in turn had received a warning about the upcoming movie from a guy named Walter in Fargo, N.D. Certainly, the very fact that so many people are sending this e-mail message along is proof positive that the film is aimed at destroying organized religion as we know it, right?

This isn’t the first time that popular media has been successful in ruining my otherwise perfect understanding of the divine. Only a couple of years ago, Dan Brown prevailed with his minions from the Dark Side in convincing me, if only for a moment, that Jesus may or may not have had some experiences other than those recorded in the Bible.

Yeah, as if.

Just as I had purged myself of these misconceptions; they hit me again with the film. That adorable Ron Howard, forever associated with the pure and lovable Opie character he played on “The Andy Griffith Show,” showed the horns that really lay beneath that thinning swatch of fire-red hair. I might have withstood the blasphemy had it not been for Tom Hanks joining in the God-bashing parade.

Hanks is just so darn likable, how can I not believe everything he says, even as a character in a film about a novel? I was doomed, once again.

Then there’s that J.K. Rowling, pitching her witchly wares to the innocent children of the world, filling their minds with warlocks, spells and magic. I’ll admit I did go to the first movie, but the popcorn gave me heartburn, which I’m sure was God punishing me.

I’m writing this from within a stack of Bibles – King James version, naturally – at least waist-high on all sides to keep all of the bad mojo out. My only hope is that I can help chalk a point or two up for the good guys by getting this warning out in time.

Don’t be fooled. Hollywood doesn’t want your money; they won’t be satisfied until they own your soul. But there’s still hope. Between prayers, break out your copy of the “Left Behind” movie with that talented young man from “Family Ties” in it, and trust your eternal salvation to someone who clearly has it all figured out.

Christian Piatt is the author of “MySpace to Sacred Space” and “Lost: A Search for Meaning.” For more information, visit

Candidate selector – who’s yours?

Saturday, November 10th, 2007

Pretty cool way to see how your views align with candidates. unfortunately it only showed me how incredibly unelectable the candidates who align most with me are.

Click here to take the quiz

Who is your “ideal” candidate?  Was it who you expected?

Romney-Bob Jones alliance a sign of the times

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Romney-Bob Jones alliance is a sign of the times

When I heard that Bob Jones III was endorsing Mitt Romney for president, you could have knocked me over with a hanging chad.

Jones, chancellor of the uber-conservative university named after his grandfather of the same name, has made headlines over the years for publicly sharing all of his views on what is wrong and revolting in the world.

The list of said “revolting” people, ideologies and behaviors is long. At one time in very recent history, the university banned interracial dating, and has forbidden alumni of the school who are openly gay from attending on-campus events.

More relevant to Romney’s candidacy are Jones’ personal views about other faiths. He has labeled both Mormonism and – believe it or not – Catholicism as un-Christian cults. Granted, Mormonism came along well after the Protestant Reformation, but unless Jones has some insight to church history that the rest of us do not, Catholicism is the very “church universal” from which all subsequent Christian faiths have emerged.

It seems Jones is not content to differ ideologically about dogma; he feels the need to attack those who differ from him, which is most of the world when you think about it.

So why in the world would such a narrow-minded, outspoken hate-speech aficionado publicly endorse someone whose faith he calls an “erroneous faith,” and one to which he is “completely opposed?”

It may be as simple as a lack of a perceived alternative.

Fellow Republicans Rudy Giuliani and John McCain have made few friends in evangelical circles with their relatively centrist social agendas. Both tend to lack the hard-line political credentials to ensure that the all-or-nothing political agendas of the extreme Christian right will take top priority.

Though there are several Protestant Democratic frontrunners out there, the very fact that they’re Democrats rules them out for endorsement. At the end of the day, Romney really is the most viable candidate for social conservatives to stand behind, even if they find his religious beliefs reprehensible.

Romney shrugged off questions about his willing acceptance of the endorsement, claiming he’s running for a political position, and not a religious appointment. However, Romney can no more separate his personal beliefs and values from his politics than Bob Jones can.

It’s an awkward marriage of necessity: one that may yield short-term results, but that may hold grave consequences for the candidate in a general election.

Regardless of the implications this may have for Romney, should he make it past the primaries, it raises a couple points of note about the landscape of contemporary American faith.

First, there is a certain contingency of hard-core social conservatives who will do anything they feel they must to promote their agenda, including getting into bed with people they can’t stand. Second, Mormonism not only has incredible political, social and economic sway, but its relevance seems to be growing.

An acquaintance commented recently on Romney and the momentum he is gaining as a top-tier presidential contender. She noted that, even if Romney does not win the presidency this time, he will be back. If he cannot personally secure the most powerful political seat in the world, he certainly is paving the way for those who will follow in his footsteps, bringing with them a set of beliefs based on a faith about which few of us know very much.

Romney is not alone in forging new territory in this election cycle. Barack Obama gets accused by some, of all things, of not being “black enough.” Hillary Clinton is the favorite punching bag of many from both parties, with plenty on either side of the aisle still not quite comfortable with the idea of a strong woman in the driver’s seat.

Part of the reality of this new diversity in our leadership is that good people will be castigated for things that have little or no bearing on their qualifications for office. On the other hand, unlikely alliances will continue to emerge like the one between Romney and Jones that once seemed impossible, yet may now be essential for both.

For better or worse, this places a greater responsibility upon the public to discern which criticisms and which endorsements hold water, and which should be dismissed as opportunism or simple bigotry. Those who are inclined simply to follow the recommendations of the local or national media, special interest groups or the guy next door may get much more than they bargained for.

Christian Piatt is the author of “MySpace to Sacred Space” and “Lost: A Search for Meaning,” and is a columnist for the Pueblo Cheiftain newspaper and DisciplesWorld Magazine.

How do we respond to violence? (My DisciplesWorld Magazine column)

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

How do we respond to violence?

Christian Piatt

In April 1945, Lutheran pastor and noted pacifist Dietrich Bonhoeffer was led naked to his execution in the gallows of a Nazi prison camp. He was 39 years old.

Though formal charges against him included trafficking Jews across the border to Switzerland, the ultimate justification for his death was his involvement in plans to assassinate Adolf Hitler. One of the central tenets of Bonhoeffer’s faith was submission to God’s will. How that is manifest in a world crippled by violence is an ongoing debate.

Bonhoeffer presented what he considered to be a theological dilemma when he said, “Responsible action is how Christians act in accordance with the will of God. The demand for responsible action is one that no Christian can ignore. Christians are, therefore, faced with a dilemma: When assaulted by evil, they must oppose it through direct action. They have no other option. Any failure to act is simply to condone evil.”

This principle of Christian justice raises debate about what constitutes appropriate direct action. To stand by while grave injustices are done is inherently un-Christian, according to Bonhoeffer. However, as arbiters of peace, how can we justify responding to individual or systemic acts of rape, genocide, and other human atrocities with more bloodshed?

I acknowledge an ongoing inner conflict around this issue, with which I have struggled for many years with respect to gun control. As a civil libertarian, I believe the government’s legislation of individual rights often is in opposition to the intent of the founding fathers. As a pacifist, I shudder at the consequence of the constitutional right to bear arms.

One reality of civil liberties is that any permissive system is vulnerable to abuse. Even Bonhoeffer’s dilemma has been co-opted by those who would stand on it to justify acts like the bombing of abortion clinics. The debate, then, comes down to whether the loss of personal liberty outweighs the ability of the greater society to conform human behavior to the majority’s value system.

Those who choose to lean on Bonhoeffer’s dilemma to justify a violent response to grave injustice should heed a word of caution, however. What Bonhoeffer claimed is that, when we recognize transgressions of justice, we must respond by taking action. This is all that he claimed in this statement. To jump to the justification of the use of force is a misappropriation of his point.

It is true that Bonhoeffer called us to action, though he did not say what sort of action is necessary. In the particular context of Hitler, he determined that an assassination attempt was his only option. Even in doing so, he recognized the sinfulness of his choice and submitted to God’s judgment for the consequences of that choice. He felt compelled, but he was anything but divinely justified in his choice.

Reality suggests that a nonviolent response to Hitler’s acts of evil would not have led to the desired change. It was, in fact, on the field of battle that the Nazis ultimately were weakened to the point of submission. One can look back now and easily justify the means by which we achieved a more peaceful end.

I would argue, however, that justifying human behavior based on outcomes is not what we are called to as Christians. Like Christ, we are called to action; but also like Christ, we are called to peace rather than violence. In doing so, we give up much control over the result of our actions, which none of us likes to do.

We jump to justifying the greater good in using force, whether it’s through capital punishment, preemptive strikes in Iraq, or challenging the corrupted government in Sudan. After all, wouldn’t Jesus have been justified in rallying forces against the Roman Empire? Certainly, history would have looked upon a Jewish revolution sympathetically. Even the majority of Christ’s followers expected such an overthrow, right up to Jesus’ final days.

But it never happened.

In the short term, some may have viewed Jesus’ peaceful confrontation of the Roman Empire as a failure. But in the greater context, long after the empirical reign dissolved, Christ’s gospel message endures.

Violence never redeems. It may yield the immediate result we desire; it may even save lives. It is a natural human response to injustice but, in my estimation, it never has been, and never will be, justifiable from a Christian standpoint.