Fear Of Whales

Archive for November, 2015

“Missional Buzzwords” AND “Good Touch, Bad Touch”

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I was in a frustrating discussion in which a friend and I were attempting to communicate about our opinions of various churches in Austin. He likes one because it was very missional, but felt that the largest church in the area was simply not missional or incarnational at all. I pressed him on it. The church (Austin Stone) has a very annoying vibe at times, and they tend to me more concerned with conversions than I would prefer, but the love the city, and seem to do it authentically.

See I define “Incarnational” as “Having a theology that sees Jesus act of dwelling among us as an example to be followed, so that we too should meet people where they are” it is a antonym of “Attractional” which I define “Having a theology informed by ecclesiology (study of church) that says people will receive ministry at church”

I define “Missional” as “Believing that Mission is the most important aspect of the life of the Christian and the church, such that the church is a function of the mission of God rather than the mission a function of the church”

By those definitions, Stone is both Missional and Incarnational. What’s more, I couldn’t find, the missionality in this other church he referenced. They did some service projects, but that was clearly something they did, not something they were.

calvin-susieHe couldn’t articulate his definition beyond “Having a mission” which is true of any church, and indeed any business. It may or not be a mission you like (perhaps you care more about helping the homeless than making conversions for instance) but there will be a purpose for any group to exist if it expects to keep existing.

As I kept pressing, I eventually learned that to him “Missional” was a synonym for “Good” a “Missional Church” is a “Good Church” a church he likes.

”Incarnational” on the other hand, was also a synonym for “Good”

The “Missio Dei” is a good god, they sing “relevant songs” which are 1000 year old hymns that are good and then the sermon is “Conversational” which you may think means you get to talk, but you don’t. It’s just a sermon that’s not pushy and he likes it.

Did I mention this person writes books and is getting their PhD for the study of the Emergent Church?

I can’t believe I have to say this: But when we coin new terms, it’s very important that they mean something. Particularly something that there is not already a word for. Otherwise there is really no point. Words are used to communicate you see, and if you are not using them for that, you lose.

Good Touch, Bad Touch

But then I got to thinking, (I’m trying to be more open-minded). It may be that there is a worthwhile category there. It’s amorphous, but it may be worthwhile.

When I was a small child my father made sure I watched a long PSA about abduction and molestation called “Strong Kids Safe Kids” which featured a bunch of early 80s celebrities I had never heard of (and how could I? being about 5) but it made an impact and I didn’t get abducted, so it did its job.

hqdefaultIn one segment, the Fonz attempts to break down, in preschool friendly terms, how to tell a “good touch” from a “bad touch”

It turns out the difference is that some touches feel good in your heart, some make you feel “yucky” and some, you just aren’t sure about. Fonzie calls those “Question Mark Touches” and you should tell a grown up you trust to see what they think.

And really, if we are being honest, how much assessment can we do of any personal experience that is any more advanced than that?

The Reality is that we have all had or heard about church experiences that were just yucky, for difficult and unquantifiable reasons that go beyond any specifics we are able to point out. On the other hand we all have, or hope to have church experiences which are good and life-giving (“life-giving” here is a buzzword that means “good”)

Furthermore, no category of Christian experience bears any real significance besides that amorphous judgment: Good Church Experience, Bad Church Experience.

When we say a church is “Missional” or “Purpose-Driven” or “Bible-Based” or “Christ-Centered” or “Orthodox” or “Open and Affirming” we don’t really expect to apply that any church exists which does not try to be all of those things according to their own understanding. All we are really saying with each new buzzword is that we have identified some churches that are yucky using the previous buzzword, and we are trying to not be that.

Well as well you should. Go fourth and be “Incarnational” by avoiding spiritual abuse. Make Fonzie proud.

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November 25th, 2015 at 2:37 am

Where Do You Go to Church, Ryan?

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I get asked this question a lot as I meet Christians from various groups and programs I interact with. The answer is that I’m a member at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Austin… But the reality I sometimes leave out is that I haven’t been there for service since Easter last year.

11075047_2394057049398_1333152147_nI work Pulpit Supply (which is where I preach those sermons you see on YouTube) and that means that I go to a different church every Sunday to preach a sermon as a sort of “substitute pastor”. I made it to church on Easter because it was a sunrise service at 6am and it gave me time to be at a tiny chapel in Cheapside at 11 to preside over Easter for the ten people there. But there is more to my inattendance than that…

Even when I’m not on pulpit supply, like this summer when I was doing Hospital Chaplaincy, I just don’t make a very good church member. I’m too critical, I don’t follow instructions well, I know too much about what goes on behind the curtain. My girlfriend and I tried to stick to a Church this summer near her place down south (since I was in San Antonio). By the tenth week I was pulling my hair out over how much differently I would have done things.

We actually addressed this in seminary (I’ll paraphrase it as best I can). “There comes a time” said my professor “When you realize that you know too much you have crossed the point of no return, and you can no longer abide to sit quietly in a pew. Every Reference to the Old Testament is now cross referenced in your brain against your education in Biblical Hebrew and the pastors theology includes a telltale sign of that heresy you learned about in Christian History. You can try at this point to not be a pastor, but you can never again be just a congregant” he concluded for the semester with “You might as well face it you are addicted to church”

And it is an addiction. It’s a compulsion. Something I can’t not do even if I want to or bad stuff will happen. It’s often frustrating, and overwhelming, and all-consuming, but I have no choice. I have to preach, I have to write, I have to engage big ideas with little people. It’s who I am, it’s what I’m about. I feel sorry for those of you who just have to sit there and watch me have all the fun.

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November 18th, 2015 at 1:17 pm


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This is another one of those New-Old Posts. I wrote it in 2011, but never let it see the light of day because I was afraid it would make people mad.

The other night I was hanging out with some buddies (Normal people not Christians). We were discussion what we should do for the evening and one of them suggested this "thing" that was being held at one of the auditoriums on campus.

When asked what it was about he said

"I’m not sure exactly, apparently they tell you who you are, based upon modern art and music… It’s like an arts presentation, everybody who goes get’s free Radina’s Drinks"

Immediately I responded, "I’m out! It’s a Time Share Presentation"

My friends were confused" What, You don’t like Radina’s Drinks?"

"No I love Radina’s Drinks" (Radina’s is a trendy coffehouse in town) "What I don’t love is events that have to bribe me to come with food or drink. What that means is they are going to make me listen to something I don’t want to listen to"

"Like a time share presentation?"

"Exactly like a time share presentation"

Well they were not going to have any of me prejudging the event based on a third hand description and the fact that food was being provided. they even teased me a bit "Can you imagine if we get there and it is a time share presentation? and we’ll be all like ‘HOW DID HE KNOW?’ haha" So we went anyway, and resolved that we would leave if we weren’t enjoying it. I thought they might lock the doors on us, they thought that was ridiculous.

Well I still thought I was right but I was curious enough to figure out exactly what flavor of right I was that I went with them, and indeed as soon as I arrived I could tell something was up even though no real estate was readily being sold.

There was a line a mile long for coffee, and homemade cookies for everyone. One of my friends from a biblestudy I go to was there, which seemed odd, as he’s not exactly the type to frequent Arts Presentations (neither is he the type to go places for the free drinks).

When I went to get a cookie I found another friend, a fellow campus minister, we had some chitchat. Eventually I asked him if he knew what he was attending, because I didn’t. and he said something along the lines of

"It’s a presentation! about… What your soul is longing for"

Pausing in the middle in that awkward way people do when they are carefully choosing their words so as to neither lie nor tell the truth.

"Oh" said I "So it’s sponsored by…"

"Yeah!" he said while nodding.

So without thinking I did what anyone would do in my situation as a campus minister who found I’d accidentally been drawn to an event put on by another campus ministry to bribe my friends into saving their souls. I went back over to my friends and shouted

"Called IT!" while throwing up the horns and making a classic "In Yo’ Face" expression

"So It’s a time share presentation?"

"It sho’ is!" (I get ghetto when I’m right sometimes)

"They are selling time shares?"

"Well no, not time shares, but it’s a sales presentation that they’re bribing us to come to"

"So what are they selling?"


"Oh! Well than you should be all about it man!"

"Nooo" I replied "I’m all about truth and honesty and transparency, I want you to believe in Jesus, but I’m not going to lie to you to get you there. Do you want to stay?"


So we all left.

After the fact I realized this was actually a pretty radical and controversial thing to do. I don’t like dishonesty. I like transparency, and I felt personally betrayed and inconvenienced by their behavior done in the name of Jesus so I walked out. But what do you think? Did I do the right thing? Or should I have let it play out?

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November 11th, 2015 at 12:39 am

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Politically Correct “Holiday Bible” Makes No Mention Of Christmas

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6a00e3981f1e3988330105362aa9d1970b-500wiThe other day as I was perusing the small Bible section of my large Christian Books and (Especially) Gifts Store I happened upon a tome that arrested my attention.

It was plain and unadorned. A simple red book with the title and nothing else. I was immediately offended by the cover, because it was politically correct, and didn’t say anything anyone should be offended by. And even though it was November 8th a mere 46 days until Christmas, there was no hint of green, no holly, no nativity scene. Nothing like anything else in the store.

If you are a good Christian like me, You know that between All Saints Day and Epiphany, everything in the world has to be red and green and make explicit reference to Christmas by name. It does not matter if it is at church, or in government or at the tire shop, if anyone does not say “Merry Christmas” to you it is persecution. It says so in the Bible.

But it doesn’t say so in THIS Bible.

I bought it. And I immediately took it home and read it cover to cover, because I feared that this would be a dangerous book that would hurt the fragile consumerist faith of younger weaker disciples. And I found to my horror that all my fears were confirmed. This abominable politically correct translation of the once-holy-scriptures has scrubbed any reference of the word “Christmas”, from it’s pages.

And Jesus, who Real Christians like me know, would always greet everyone he met for a third of the year with either “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Birthday Me” does not breathe a word about his birthday, in four gospels full of plain, offensively inoffensive, red text.

tacky_christmas_decorations_640_16This plain red Bible makes no mention of Easter either, or Veteran’s Day, or any other Proper Church Holiday but other “Happy Holidays” and feast days are all over this book. Just none of the right ones. That’s why I call it the Holiday Bible. It mentions Sabbath, and Passover, The Day of Atonement,. There is a holiday for tents, a holiday for trumpets, a Feminist holiday for a politician I’d never heard of named “Esther” and  nothing but a footnote for Christmas among this multicultural postmodern jumble of Hippie Parties.

There are one thousand one hundred and eighty nine chapters in this book (I counted). Only one of them gives any hint of glory to the Lord of all the earth in the way everyone is required to by telling the story of a baby who was born in a manger. It’s in Luke 2. And even that chapter leaves out most of the important stuff.

The Red Book I looked at was a NIV “New International Version” but the corruption had somehow spread to every Bible on that little shelf. No “Merry Christmas” could be found on any of them except on the packaging.

I fell down and wept. I looked and looked through tear soaked eyes, but my blessed Christmas was nowhere to be found. No shopping advice, no Christmas trees. Just pages and pages of ways to do justice and give and receive mercy. They even got to Granny! I called her and checked our KJV Family bible from 1611. I could not believe my eyes.


As I drowned my sorrows in a delicious Triple Venti Starbucks™ Gingerbread Latte with extra sprinkles. I realized that my enemies had won. Sure, I had lied to them about my name to get them to say “Merry Christmas” when they gave me the cup, but one person can only lie, and shop, and manipulate so much to get something done.

It looks like whoever is responsible this crazy red book is going to have their way in society after all.

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November 8th, 2015 at 8:03 pm

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Ministry is Like Pandemic

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I have written often about my love for games, and made even more references to games that are important to me or inform my theology. I particularly love good games that force players to work together and make interesting decisions. I’ll get snobby about games that are too simplistic or noncompetitive.

IMG_3414-620x350So among my favorite games is a game called Pandemic, which pits players against the board itself on a  quest to cure 4 diseases before supplies run out. The catch is that is too many outbreaks occur before the cure is found, everyone loses. That means every move is a choice between patching problems before they destroy you, and actually doing work to win the game. The goal is to allow just enough fires to burn at a time that they do not blow up.

It’s a great premise for a tense game, but it is also a great illustration of real life. And it doesn’t get talked about enough.

In our world of meritocracy and perfectionism (or bitterness and jealousy, if you prefer) the rhetoric is that if something is worth doing it’s worth doing right. But in the real world there are usually 100 things worth doing, and at least a few things that are not intrinsically worth doing at all except that somebody will punish you if you don’t.

School is a great example. Despite my nerdiness, I was never above about a B student on average. I was the kid that every teacher would take aside to give the same speech “If you only applied yourself you could be getting straight As.” But I didn’t want straight As. I wanted to build fighting robots. So I did just enough to get the grades I needed.

It’s a good thing too, because even though all my teachers were sure that attitude would get me nowhere on Wall Street, it is absolutely crucial in the Ministry. Perfectionism kills clergy. And if I had trained myself for decades not to be satisfied until everything is completed to the letter, I would be in sorry shape for the church.

Instead Ministry is like Pandemic. There will always be people upset at your last sermon, or in need of more pastoral attention. There will always be maintenance concerns and financial needs. The goal cannot be to have them all resolved. The Goal instead is to plug enough of those holes to stay afloat, and then do the work of the ministry, equipping leaders for service in the Kingdom of God.

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November 4th, 2015 at 10:32 am