Archive for March, 2009

When the worst brings out our best

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

When the worst brings out our best

By Christian Piatt

Originally published in PULP Magazine


I’ve been robbed a couple of times since we moved back to Pueblo, and it never ceases to piss me off. I had the front bumper and the license plates from my old truck taken, along with cash and other stuff, but it was no different in Fort Worth. I lost a few car stereos and an equivalent number of front windows in our few years there. So I don’t hold a particular grudge against the crime here.


Then somebody ripped off the church.


We’ve been tagged a couple of times, being over on the south side near some known gang activity. So far, we’ve been able to remove or paint over it all, but recently someone actually got inside and took some stuff.


Clearly it was someone along, on foot and it a hurry, because they left things like my amplifier, the computer in the office and some other potentially valuable items. But they did take the projector, valued at several hundred dollars, which we learned only on Sunday morning when we went to use it and it was gone.


The entire service was thrown into minor chaos, both because we had to scramble for a replacement and because there’s something very unsettling about getting robbed. Even in a church, where the stuff is communally owned, it feels like a deeply personal violation.


What’s funny is that the projector being gone didn’t torque me as much as when I realized they had taken the little coin bank from the altar, which was in the shape to the church, where kids and others had been putting their change for months to give to our denomination’s new church ministry.


That does it. I don’t care how badly you needed the money, or if you spent it on medical bills or a cure for cancer; whoever did it officially became an asshole in my book at that moment.


I’ve been getting over the anger gradually, but what has made the greatest difference has been the response of the people at the church. Within a couple of days, we had one person donate a permanent replacement projector to the church, and another family offered to pay for one before they knew about the replacement. I encouraged them to put that generosity to good use in one of our other causes, to which they gladly agreed.


We also had a local band offer to do a fundraising concert for the church building, which has undergone no small number of repairs in the last couple of years, just to keep from falling apart. So as I stepped back from my rage about the violation, I saw the grace, love and generosity that overshadowed all of the ugliness.


Now that’s church at its best.


It’s funny sometimes how we have to be faced with a challenging situation in order for the best of us to rise to the surface. For me, the incident certainly brought out less than my best side, so I’m grateful that so many others are more gracious than I.


Now, if we could just tap into a steady flow of that collective spirit, even when we’re not in the midst of crisis, we might just make something of this little blue marble we call home.

Big Fat Jesus Head podcast, Part 2, now posted

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

I posted part two of the Big Fat Jesus Head podcast series last night. you can catch it on iTunes and other podcatchers of course, or go right to it with this link:

Also, if you have not already signed up for my new free monthly E-Zine, “Faith Portals,” just go to and drop your email in the box at the top of the home page.


Church 2.0: Spider vs Starfish (Part three)

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Church 2.0: Spider vs. Starfish – Part three

Originally published on DisciplesWorld’s News Muse blog


I’ve been tossing out obscure phrases like “starfish church” and “church 2.0,” more or less to keep people curious, but these actually are legitimate concepts when considering future models for organized religion.


After World War II, churches were booming, and we could hardly build or expand the worship halls fast enough to keep up. Married couples generally stayed together for a lifetime, people stayed in the same job and the same home for decades, and there was an inherent trust in institutions to care for of us.


Then things changed.


Since the sixties, our relationship with institutional structures has changed, and in many ways, has become more suspicious. From government and religion to corporate America and even the institution of marriage, we approach such systems with an increasingly critical eye.


Along with this skepticism has come a new sense of resourcefulness too. The post-boomer generations have begun to learn to create a sense of community, belonging and “place” where and when they can, unable to consistently depend on institutions, or even their families of origin, to provide the stable foundation they seek.


Enter the Digital Age, which has expanded time, space, communication and community in ways most could not have even imagined before. Though some are suspicious, or even critical, of phenomena such as Social Networking (Facebook, MySpace, etc) tools, they are unquestionably filling a need. With more than 250 million subscribers, MySpace is one of the largest networks in the world.


The curious thing about Social Networking tools – also considered to be a part of Web 2.0 – is that they technically offer very little, if anything. Although Facebook offers users some memory space on a giant computer somewhere, and a few handy applications, the content primarily comes from the users. In the end, Facebook creates nothing except for the opportunity for community to happen.


Amazon, which is one of the biggest Web 1.0 companies, actually has an inventory of products they sell to consumers. Craigslist, on the other hand, which is a Web 2.0 system, helps to connect people who have things others want, like a giant international classified ad site. They own nothing and sell nothing to consumers, but they create a forum within which billions of dollars worth of goods and services are exchanged every year.


Historically, churches have been possessors and purveyors of information, organizing and managing the systems in a top-down structure within which the faithful can acquire what they seek. However, this “Church 1.0” model assumes a general trust in the systems in power, which continues to erode. Our instinct as church is to ratchet down, to tighten the reins as we sense the threat of our own irrelevance.


But perhaps it’s not the message we bear that’s no longer relevant, but the way we impart it. Perhaps the institutions that once represented security and authority to the culture now actually hinder our mission more than they help.


Perhaps there’s something to this whole Web 2.0 thing that we could learn from.


Such systems are not novel. From Apache tribal systems to Facebook and arguably the first-century church, so-called 2.0 systems operate with little or no budget, with little or no paid leadership, and like the early church, cannot be stopped once they catch fire.


Before Church was an institution, it was a movement. Its only purpose for existence was to spread the gospel – the good news – with a sense of urgency more powerful than fear of the risks. And like a starfish, the forces bent on dispelling them only caused them to scatter and multiply.


That is, and was, the essence of Church 2.0 – the Starfish Church. The model is right there in scripture. The children of the digital age get it, but do we?