The “looking glass self” is a concept taught in introductory level college courses.  I found it in both Psych and Soc.  And though introduced into the discipline(s) in 1902 by Charles Cooley, my real, and most profound, introduction to it comes from a famous sermon preached by Sociologist/Preacher Tony Campolo in his sermon, It’s Friday, but Sunday’s Coming.

I can’t help but think that in the ancient world, all the way up through premodern times (and for a few of us even in the early modern era too), regular folx had no access to mirrors.  You surely would see your own reflection in pooled water, but even that has limited perspective.  Self-image based in a world so entirely devoid of mirrors and electronic cameras and monitors (TV), surely is stunted.  Right?

Or wrong?

Well, it helps a lot to have a rudimentary understanding of “the looking glass self.”

As I see it, there are two main views we live our lives between: self-image and worldview.  (Sociologists speak of the second in terms of “social construct of reality.”  This is “the matrix” you find in the movies, only now we are talking about the real one.

Campolo’s sermon is fantastic on many levels and for many various points.  If you go listen to the full-length original recording, you will find the end portion makes the sermon famous – and you will find the last portion recycled and preached again in shorter sermons on the internet.  But that first sermon covers a lot of ground and opens us to a look at this sociological phenom where Campolo masterfully links it to spiritual matters.

It turns out, no matter what you look like in a mirror or on TV, the you you see in the eyes of people with whom you share important relationships govern your self-image, your self-worth, and your inner peace.  Campolo’s sermon asks you to consider how you look to God, a God who loves you more than you know and whose relationship you find more important than any other.

That’s a great idea!

Don’t you think?

I do.

But Campolo merely establishes a link.  He surely could have explored implications further, and if he had, I think he would have enough material to write at least one more book.

I am a bit leery about going outside the Bible for spiritual guidance.  Preachers do this all the time, and I think their preaching usually (not always, but usually) fails to honor God when they do it.  There is, after all, “worldly wisdom” and godly wisdom (look into I Corinthians especially for more on that).  But sometimes, and this takes good discernment (I say), we find wisdom of the world illuminates God’s will and/or is congruent with it.  The looking glass self seems to be wisdom of that kind.

The looking glass self is a good way to broach topics like image-bearing theology.  We are made in God’s image for a reason – perhaps even reasons, with an s.  There are functions at work in that.  The invisible God is seen in Jesus (and in us).  Of course, sin tarnishes the image in us, but not Jesus.  Still, the creation groans like birth pangs awaiting the revelation of the sons of God (the image bearers), according to St. Paul (Rom. 8).  The world responds to God’s presence which it finds (or is supposed to find) in us.

But there is a social aspect to that as well.

We respond to the image of God manifest in one another too.  When an image bearing creature (a Spirit-filled Christian) looks at you with love in her heart, you feel valued.  The looking glass self perspective says this is where you really see yourself for who you really are – a child of God.  You come to know God in one another!

We see this at work in our family here at the Fat Beggars Home for Widows, Orphans, and Sojourners every day.  We get these little babies from foster care, and we sit in the rocking chair feeding, holding, singing, snuggling, talking babytalk, and all that with the little ones, and it is just natural on the one hand, yet it is supernatural on the other.

The psych and soc researchers study rhesus monkeys and determine that this kind of social interaction is vital to a baby’s development and well-being.  I suggest we piggyback on the link Campolo gives us with his looking glass self observations, and postulate that by God’s creative design, this kind of care for children is a display of his image at work (even though tarnished by sin) healing, growing, and developing humans for life.

If we can establish such links and explore the implications, I think that one of the effects is that so much of the godly wisdom we find in the Bible, wisdom which is foolishness to the world, suddenly has tangible impact on the world.

Now come back and talk to me about family values.

It’s not all some spiritualized, esoteric psychobabble of rightwing conservatives who have lost touch with reality (though there is plenty of that to be had too).  No.  We suddenly have grounds to talk about stable marriages with life-long commitments.  Of communities supporting those commitments and marriages.  Of supporting the children of those marriages and so forth.  Not as some religio/political power play, but as a resource for world peace.

And even more… we find that simply spending time around a table, eating together, sharing a meal lovingly prepared and shared by those gathered (family/church/community) is a stabilizing force.  That Eucharist is one expression of exactly that!  In fact, it is the supreme expression of it.

AND THEN… we can begin to consider how such simple, seemingly esoteric and/or otherworldly wisdom and impact emitting from such simple praxis competes with (if not outclassing) the power sought after and found in money and ballot boxes.

AFTER ALL THAT… then we will be able to sit sober mindedly and discuss wholly other strategies for dealing with the homeless problem.  Strategies which currently seem foolish to the world (and to the church).  Foolishness to the wise and stumbling block to the Jews.  But nevertheless redemption for creation.

Hmmm…  I started with a bit of Soc 101 here.  And I don’t mean to belittle it, but I don’t think that is what the post is REALLY about.  But I think I have shown a true link between this world and the next, one church people should easily find exciting.


Still not dropping it, ya’ll.

Yes… Fat Beggars School of Prophets is like the US Marines. We are looking for A Few Good Men. …and women. Please print off and fill out the application form and mail it into the church address listed on it. There is still time to ring in the Apocalypse, and you can be part of it.

Wanna be on the tip of the redemption spear?  Turns out there is still time to get in on it.  Please consider joining Fat Beggars School of Prophets.  Just by filling out the Operation Apocalypse form and sending it in to the address listed there, you will be putting action into our little relationship here.

Or… better yet… just open your home to a bum in need tonight.  Invite the stranger in and serve dinner.

Let’s take our relationship to the next level.  That might sound sleazy, but it’s almost too easy.  Welcome to God’s reconciliation of all things.  Play your part with the Fat Beggars team.

Should God choose not to empower this mission with the Holy Spirit, it will self-destruct as soon as you forget it.

This is the REAL mission impossible: Bear the image of God in relation to the street homeless in your town and the church you attend.


As a Bible-believing Christian, I understand why you are against abortion.

No… wait… let me rephrase that…

As a Bible-believing Christian, I completely sympathize with you being against abortion.  (There.  That’s better.  More accurate.  I’m against abortion too, but that doesn’t mean I understand you one bit.)

So… I completely sympathize with you being against abortion, but I don’t get how you (my church) abandon me with five foster/adopted babies all having special needs which become more and more intense each passing year.

THAT, I don’t get.


(This post written from the perspective of one FROM the churches of Christ, a disgruntled church cult member of sorts.)

As told by the scorned, the victimized, the believers-turned-atheist, and generally, all-around-disgruntled, I am finding the new documentary exposé dealing with Hillsong Church provides a You-Are-Here, star on the map of Christendom for me personally, and illuminates the lay of the land in general.  I never heard of Hillsong Church and never cared one way or the other what Justin Bieber is doing before this documentary, but like I am finding depicted there, these things have been influencing me and those around me quietly for a long time.  Once they are brought into the light, I see I am involved in this mess too.

How to make sense of it now?

First off, allow me to speak from personal experience.  This means stepping back – a lot.  It means that my story, much of it up until this week, makes no mention of Hillsong at all, but once that name comes up, there is an instant, retroactive analysis, finding Hillsong under stone after stone all through my story.  And if not “Hillsong” in name (and it turns out there is insidiously far more of that than I would have ever dreamed), it still means the same spirit infecting Hillsong infects me and my church through other channels.

I grew up in “the churches of Christ.”  We were a “nondenominational” sect, though we would not use that word “sect” for ourselves, and by “nondenominational,” we meant something other than it’s more current meaning in popular parlance.  We were separatists in the deepest possible sense of the term.

If you were a member of “the church of Christ,” with super-rare exception, you believed you were one of the few who were truly saved by Jesus, that you belonged to the only true (real) church, and that all, literally ALL, of the others were just posers.  They were dangerous snares sucking people into the devil’s deception.

There was, of course, a smug and moral superiority in that attitude which stunk to high heaven, an attitude which eventually collapsed under the weight of its own stench.  But I ask you to consider the “upside” of that attitude a moment, not to indoctrinate you, but to understand my experience, and thus the bit of illumination I can also bring to the map which the Hillsong Apocalypse reveals for all the world to see.

If you trust and believe that you found THE TRUTH in the TRUE CHURCH which is so clearly defined as separate from all the posers, then you can trust your religious experience is authentic salvation of your soul.  (This had high value in a day when Calvinism held sway and left common believers wondering if they could be, or were, saved.)  You have found the mystery of the kingdom of God, the pearl of great price, the thing even prophets longed to see but could not.  You are now the ultimate insider!

There is a kind of security in that.

There’s a secure feeling when all the other insiders continually help define these boundaries inside of which you enjoy your salvation by demonstrating the false claims of outsiders, thus exposing them as imposters.  This process illuminates the outsiders’ damnation in the wrath of God.  Your sense of salvation is cemented in eternal security.

That is the “upside.”

It’s just a feeling, really, but it is a good one, and who doesn’t chase “good feelings”?  Isn’t that pretty much the driving force behind Hillsong’s “success” with their music ministry?

Of course, getting your good feeling(s) off the expense of damning other honest, spiritually seeking pilgrims has its cruel and dark side, but if you aren’t giving your attention to that stench, being an insider feels really good.  (Hey!  You don’t have to be a Nazi in 1930s Germany to find yourself in denial of certain stenches arising from those smokestacks out there in the woods!)

So, I grew up in THAT church experience.

Over the course of my life, “the churches of Christ” struggled to face our dark side(s) and make appropriate changes.  There was much struggle to keep what was good (not just the feelings, but substance of our faith) while opening ourselves up to humility, to open mindedness – to “grace.”  Not all quarters of the church made these changes, and of those that did/still do, not all changes came at the same time or in the same way, but “change” has come in an effort to be “graceful.”

Let’s consider the music.

I’m jumping ahead to mention this, but Hillsong’s apostacy seems to come through its music, largely.  Therefore, to set the stage for that discussion, allow me to look more closely than usual at the music of the heritage I grew up in too.  

Our effort at “grace” and change has not had some uniform meaning from one congregation to the next, and certainly not for outsiders looking in.  Consider this: churches of Christ are known, to the extent we actually are known, as non-instrumental.  One of our traditionally staunch teachings was that we use no piano or organ in worship.  In fact, we use no instrumentation of any kind.

This was, of course, a deeply held conviction in the church, but it was neither the most deeply held nor was it held devoid of any reason.  Nevertheless, it has arbitrarily become the defining characteristic.  If you ever heard of the churches of Christ, that is probably the first, and often the only, thing you know about us.  We are the church that refuses to use instrumental music.  You probably sense that moral superiority attitude, too.  (We have not been a big draw on new people in several generations now.)

However, over the course of my life, churches of Christ sought so much change, and this is one of the changes which have come down the pike.  It’s not universal, but several – perhaps many – churches of Christ now offer a worship hour featuring instrumental music.

If you visit such a congregation in worship, you will find it is very much like any worship experience in almost all other Protestant churches.  And, in fact, you will probably know many, if not all, of the songs the band leads worship in singing – largely because, as it turns out, they are published by Hillsong!  (But we will get to that later.)

Here’s where the rub comes in, as I see it: The music issue simply is not the defining issue for churches of Christ and never was.  Not really.  Important?  Yes, very, but not the defining thing.

To us, we were “the true church” honoring Jesus properly.  The non-instrumental worship always was an important part of that, but not the end-all/be-all.  It was part of a larger package.  Yet the tail came to wag the dog at several levels.

But then in addition to that, the “grace” found in our change movement suggested that having an instrument in worship, was not a damnable offense.  We simply could not hold that against other churches as being damnable.  You might see it as a mistake, an error, or what have you, but you could not judge others to hell over it.  This just did not make sense of either the Bible (in our most legalistic sense of reading it) or of God’s love.

The fact is you are not saved by WHAT you know, but WHO.  And therefore, you really can (and do) have some mistaken ideas about Jesus and how to worship him properly, but if you LOVE him… well… he LOVES you too.

This is not an excuse to just chuck opposition to instrumental accompaniment, but it is a reason to stop judging others to hell over it.  There is a fine, but important difference there.

It is yet a further step to say that instrumental music in worship is “okay.”  It is yet another step again to say it is warranted or necessary.  I hope you can see the continuum I depict here.

Meanwhile, churches of Christ began fanning out all over the map in these positions.  Many of us stepped through the door of fellowship with other “churches” and “denominations” saying Jesus does not fault them for getting this wrong.  Others claimed there wasn’t anything wrong with it anyway.  But insofar as that goes, all those within churches of Christ who made these changes were at least on that page together that we no longer judged churches for using instruments.  But only some of us moved further into the change process and began endorsing the changes within our own ranks.

This meant that as a member of the church of Christ, I could hold out a hand of fellowship with Baptists and Methodists and Pentecostals and acknowledge that those people love Jesus which warrants his salvation, and their use (even abuse) of instrumental music does not disqualify the grace of God.  However, I could still hold to the idea that the music is wrong, just that Jesus is graceful with it.  Or I could hold to the idea that we had previously been wrong, not merely to judge others over this, but that the instrumentation is in fact welcome in praise of Jesus.

I sense that by today’s atmosphere, splitting these hairs is an exercise in anachronistic futility to nearly anyone who might read here.  Who cares about this stuff anymore?  It used to be important to somebody, but most of those somebodies are either dead and gone or have moved on to other things by now.

But this is where the retroactivity of the Hillsong insights beg to differ.

While most churches of Christ (even now) continue(d) to worship a cappella in style, there was a social pressure, a sign of the times, which dictated we update our worship songs just like the Baptists, Methodists, and Pentecostals were feeling and dealing with independent (so it seemed) of us.  The only difference being they used instruments, we still didn’t (mostly).

In the 1980s and especially 1990s, the influence of Christian music radio came to bear on the church.

Now… this is where my observations get really tricky.  The thing is this: I rarely – in fact almost never – cared for “Christian music.”  I was aware of it, but… what can I say?  I am an old metal head.  And, yes, there were Christian heavy metal bands around, and yes, I gave some of that stuff a chance and even liked a little of it.  But the mainstream, Christian music was so far off my personal radar, I wouldn’t recognize a song to save my life.


Except in most of the churches of Christ I either attended or visited, we began singing “new songs” which were not typically found in the old hymn books.  I personally had no idea where they came from.  I am not a music artist at all.  I can’t sing or play an instrument.  I just croak out whatever we are singing in church.  I was one of the young people Hillsong was reaching out to, but I happened not to be one they caught in their net.

Thus, I was just oblivious, mostly.

I liked some of the new songs, but I had no idea the average church member was listening to the radio version of these same songs all day every day.  It took a long time before I caught on to that, and when I did, it didn’t seem terribly significant to me.  I certainly didn’t start listening to Christian radio.

But that’s just me.

One amazing thing I am learning in the Hillsong documentary, though, is how close my experience is to those who were listening to the radio.  They were not scrutinizing where this music came from either, what it was doing to them, or why.  They were just slow boiling in it.

Meanwhile, there was a very serious marketing ploy being developed behind the scenes, and now the documentary uses words like “infiltrate” and “weaponize” to describe the process by which these songs came to dominate church worship in churches all over the world.  We were slowly becoming unified in Hillsong music without any critical analysis of it.

It turns out, right when many of us in churches of Christ were getting our minds open to unity with other denominations, we were unifying, in part (a very significant part) not around Jesus and his Spirit, but around the music which was the product of these marketing ploys.  There is a difference, and the good folx publishing the Hillsong documentary see it and articulate it well.  Here are two interesting quotes:

“Are you crying because the Lord is staging some sort of intervention in your life, or are you crying because the cord structure is built to make you cry?” -Kelsey McKinney

“… so critical to their hypnosis.  The music is completely weaponized for whatever the church’s needs are…” -Tanya Levin

(I encourage you to watch the documentary and get a better feel for the context from which I lift these quotes, but they serve my purpose well enough as they are for now.)

There is far more scandal in Hillsong Church than just the music business, and that is worth exploring too.  Turns out child molestation is not the sole domain of sin of the Catholic Church, but really, if you THINK about it, you knew that already anyway.  (We had a child molester in the church of my youth too, but ours didn’t make headlines.)

The music biz, though, that is sinister enough, and I think we NEED to talk about it more because if we don’t, we just give it a pass.  I don’t know anyone who looks at child molestation in the broad light of day and thinks that is just okay.  No.  That is horrible and shameful, and no one defends it.  But the music biz, I fear, not only gets a pass, but quietly becomes the foundation stone the builders accept while rejecting Jesus.

Is there something inherently wrong with any given song published by Hillsong?

I don’t think so.  But the culture being cultivated with it is not the Jesus emblazoned on the tee shirts either.

The fact is this: underneath those otherwise awesome songs is worship of Mammon.  They don’t overtly praise Mammon, but they serve him quite purposefully.  In fact, you can’t run a Christian radio station that doesn’t “make ends meet” and observe “the bottom line.”  The bank wants its investment back.

Ahhh… but you can’t even have a church building without a Return On Investment (ROI).



And if you have been reading here, you surely know that I have been hitting that point too for some time.  In fact, I really saw, perhaps for the first time, that the church of my youth (if not all churches everywhere) can, and should be, plotted on a health-n-wealth-gospel continuum way back when Hurricane Harvey it Houston, Texas and exposed Joel Osteen as one who turns away the needy.  (See a link to that post here if you must.)  Many of us are not overtly health-n-wealth oriented, but the influence seems substantively to have taken hold below the surface at least.

Church has subtly become a business – pretty much across the board.  We are in the business of selling spiritual experiences of various kinds. 

We used to be church, as in the body of Christ, something completely OTHER than a business, but not anymore.  Even in very recent posts, I have been critiquing all the professionalism of church work these days, all the schooling alone makes my case.  You rack up a debt in school loans, and then you enter church ministry driven my Mammon just to pay back your debt.  Never mind the FACT that Jesus says “forgive the debt” and preaches the Jubilee.  You can preach “grace” if that is what the public is buying, but you gotta pay your bills!

This comes back around to matters of serving the homeless since rather than seeking the image of God in them, forming the image of God in them, and certainly rather than finding the image of God in them, we instead seek to remake them in the image of sober, hard-working, independent, bill and tax paying Americans.  Corbett and Fikkert promote the use of microfinance loans as a way of discipleship, after a fashion.  All this addressed to a church offering small business classes and teaching Capitalism instead of Jubilee anyway.


I noticed church became a business some time back, actually.

The idea of selling everything you own, forgiving debt, giving your wealth away to the poor, counting your riches in heaven, taking up a cross and following Jesus… well… NONE of those things actually have anything to do with the modern church.  Not where I go, not where you go, and certainly not at Hillsong.  At best, those teachings get passing mention, or maybe treated as somehow metaphorical in nature.

Hillsong Apocalypse, in one sense, shows us merely one more chapter in this hypocritical saga.  Between Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart, there is actually a long list of both small and mega church defrocked pastors littering “The Way” with the carnage of their infidelities and greedy practices.  But in another sense, Hillsong’s story of a music empire with its attraction to celebrities, its marketing of “merch,” and the infiltration of every other church around the world with its music show the power of this particular gimmick.

There are other gimmicks too, of course, but it is worth our time to list them side-by-side to categorize them.  You have your send-me-your-money faith healers, your send-me-your-money get-rich-quickers, your send-me-your-money diet planners, and now your send-me-your-money musicians.  It turns out music sells better than prayer shawls and blessed water!

According to the documentary, this one-church music empire boasts an income of one hundred million dollars a year!  The list of celebrities associated with it is long, and though I cannot exhaustively repeat it, I find this sampling there for sure (some you surely admire): Bieber, Jenner, West, Kardasian, Bono, Winfrey, and more!  This is “cool church”!  And it’s cool to be rich.

The name “Jesus” is plastered all over the merch, the arena, and the tattoos, but with the exception of crowd size, there seems little in common with Jesus.  Glitz and glam are not what jumps off the Gospel page at me.

Maybe you cry because the cord structure was built to have that impact on you. 

Hmmm… Come to think of it, there are plenty of songs out there on the Billboard hit radio rotations that move me deeply and yet have nothing to do with Jesus – not even by name.  I never killed a man before, but when Freddie Mercury sings it, I feel it, and when he says, “Mama, I just killed a man,” and “I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all…” I know that feeling too.  When Metallica says, “… the healing hand held back by the driven nail… follow the god that failed…,” I get that too.  But when Oliver Stone wanted to make a movie about Vietnam, he wanted a soundtrack that would break your heart, and he chose Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which is known as “the saddest melody ever written.”   

The saddest melody ever written has no words.  It’s strictly a melody.  It and Ave Maria are the two go-to songs for 9/11 commemorations.  They have cord structures built to make you cry.  Metallica has cord structures built to make you angry.  Queen has all kinds of cord structures, but nearly all of them move you emotionally and spiritually, but that doesn’t make them praise songs or the feeling a gift from God.

I hate to split hairs about unity, but if we are being unified over a feeling which we think is God’s Spirit enrapturing us to heaven when really some musicians and marketers are manipulating us to spend money, then we are unified around a lie.  I don’t wish to reject a good song, per se, but we need to call the bluff on the lie!

I have become concerned of late about Right Now Media as well.  Right Now Media is replacing church libraries of all denominations with their digital upgrade services.  At your fingertips you now have all of the latest in best selling Christian authors and teachers.  But don’t go thinking that is just the same as an old fashioned library.

No.  Much like your google searches get tailored to your taste, marketers are subtly promoting various teachings in the church through their Right Now Media apps.  We are being unified by teachings, but are they godly? 

Who challenges this or that doctrine? 

Who challenges the processes by which they are presented to your church? 

Oh… and notice that both your church and the Baptists across the street, the Methodists down the lane, and the Pentecostals on the other side of town are all using this service and being directed this way or that by the same market researchers back at HQ.

Again, I hate to complain about the service which makes being equipped so darn convenient, but the unity it drives us toward may or may not have anything to do with Jesus.

Just look at the success of Corbett, Fikkert, and Lupton!  Who is challenging the ironically un- and anti- biblical things they teach?  But on the other hand, how many people at your church have read their books and swear by them???

Church is a business today, at least the way we do it.

As one of the commenters on the Hillsong documentary point out, we are not supposed to be making consumers of people, but disciples.  Even within discipleship, there is plenty to iron out!  But when we get these two categories confused, that part hardly matters anymore.

There are so very many different observations I could make and directions I could go with this, and that too is part of the complexity of it.  But I will stop with just one more thought.  Coming full circle from my opening, I notice that so many of the presenters in the documentary are former members, disgruntled, victimized, disillusioned, and hurt.  These are not unbiased voices!  Yet they expose the truth of our churches that the churches don’t tell.  Personally, I believe them and scrutinize the insiders, largely because I too see what these disgruntled members see and experience (at least in part) the things they claim to experience.  

Telling the truth is the job of disciples.  The modern church takes the name in vain.  When we love others, I don’t mean to promote some asceticism, but we are not caught up in our own vanity – in designer clothes, luxury cars, sprawling mansions, private jets and the like.  Instead, we live much more transparent and sacrificially, sharing our wealth freely.

The Hillsong Apocalypse is not simply a cautionary tale about sexual indiscretions and/or crimes (though it is definitely that too), but it is a warning to us all.  And if we listen closely, we find a continuum, sort of a map of the spiritual wasteland of modern America where “church” is doing business, and we can locate ourselves there in the light of revelation.


(Disclaimer: This post is intended to be funny.  It’s not the usual post you find here.  Please either laugh or don’t sweat it.  Thx.)

So, I met Breigh at the Chick-fil-A.  Right there in the drive thru, she said (upon servicing me), it was “[her] pleasure.”  I, of course, found her service to be “my pleasure.”  Thus, we pleasured each other in the drive thru while all the other cars watched and waited.

It was the most fun a heterosexual can have with a woman and not be naughty.  

Thank God for Chick-fil-A, and God bless America!

Thank God Chick-fil-A keeps me straight!

(I wonder if I could get a tee shirt with a Chick-fil-A logo and the phrase, “Pleasure me!” on it.)

Can I get an Amen?


(… an Amen… anybody?)


I know!  Right???

But I think you should be pissed too.

Not that pissed should be your go-to, default setting, not that I wish it to be the end-all/be-all.  Rather, there is something deeply, fundamentally wrong with you – WITH YOU (and with me too) – which just cannot be.  We have a kind of indifference pulsating through our brief existence which simply is not worthy of God’s love for us or his world.


Allow me to explain.  You decide for yourself if I am right.

So… there’s this story on CBS News (the Friday night segment called On the Road with Steve Hartman).  Hartman rarely – RARELY – offers a report that doesn’t reduce you to tears, and mostly some tragedy mixed with hope.  Unlikely heroes doing often subtle, but extraordinary things, demonstrate goodness of humanity in all these tiny, anecdotal stories.

If you don’t watch CBS News, if you don’t like CBS News…, I nonetheless recommend you tune in each week for the last five minutes of the Friday evening broadcast.  You will be touched!  I guarantee it.

So… anyway, this last week, Hartman brought us a follow-up story on one of these anecdotes from 2014.  I will not use names, but if you google it, you will find last week’s offering was broadcast on 3-25-22.  It’s about a nurse and her patient, a single mom with an eight-year-old boy.  The mom, in 2014, learned she had terminal cancer and expected to die.  Her nurse entered the room to discuss it, and that is when the unimaginable happened.

This single mama asked her nurse to take and raise her son.

Where else could she turn?

Let me pause right there.  I want to point out things Hartman allows you simply to assume.

This single mama didn’t ask her high school guidance counselor for direction in becoming a single mama.  She did not go to college and major in single mama.

No.  She probably made some poor choices in her personal life which led her to this place, but possibly things happened to her which she did not choose that led her here.  EITHER WAY, she got into this position, not because life was so great, but because it was already so hard!

And then in her mid-forties, she got the devastating news that she would die leaving behind her young son.

AND SHE HAD NO ONE, NOWHERE ELSE to turn to, for this.

THAT is how she saw it.

And this nurse… well… she is an “angel,” as Hartman rightly calls her.  He also calls her “a stranger.”  She’s that too.  Well… this nurse answers the call, takes the boy as her own and raises him for this single mama who cannot go on.

Go watch Hartman’s report.  His version is far more touching than mine!  By a country mile, he wins.  I cannot compete with his recounting.  It is worth your time and effort, and it will inspire you and enrich you to know that humanity can and, sometimes, does rise to these challenges in amazing style.  It will warm your heart and make you cry.  I guarantee it.

And right about there, I suddenly got pissed.

This “nurse” – this “stranger” – IS NEWS!  SHE IS THE GOOD NEWS you and I were supposed to be but aren’t.

This nurse made it on CBS News!

Her LOVE made it on the “fake news” of the world as the realest thing I have seen there in months!  

But there is not one mention of Jesus in the whole report.

And not only that but think about this carefully: part of what makes this story work and touch your heart and inspire you so much is the FACT that this single mama HAD NO WHERE TO TURN.  She was desperate.  She was talking to her nurse, a stranger, and lobbed out there her dire need which anyone with a heart would see is crucial.  ANYONE WITH A HEART would see it instantly.

But in two thousand plus years of Christian history, in the midst of such a “great” and “Christian” nation as we live now, this single mama in that hospital has nowhere to turn and in desperation reaches out to the only kind face she has left to talk to and gambles everything on this “stranger.”

How is it she didn’t think to ask Jesus?  (Or did she??? – and Hartman just fails to tell that part?)

How is it that Jesus, and ANY CHURCH bearing his name, wasn’t BOTH her first thought and hope AND there to answer the call?

How is it that I can be so touched, so deeply, by a “stranger” in a story where Jesus is not revealed as the salvation and the love, the hope and the life?

Will the church watch that story and find conviction?  That nurse, God bless her!, took our job!  That was OUR JOB, and it was Jesus’s glory, but Hartman is on CBS News touching my heart with strangers in a godless world.

Something is wrong here!


(This post sorta (not in full, and not directly) serves as a response to a discussion posed/started elsewhere.)

There is something wrong with the church today.  The church, certainly as I know it (and that is putting it mildly), is missing the mark by a country mile.  Somehow, some way, the church needs her aim changed.


I tried to state that carefully.  My statement is both broad and narrow, but hopefully gives just the right breathing room to the meaning(s) I hope to highlight.  As far as change is concerned, I completely concur.  

I too look around at the church of Lubbock, and from the biggest and fanciest to (just about) the smallest and humblest, they all pretty much enjoy a fancy “sanctuary” – a worship hall of some sort.  They all keep a building erected on a lot (if not multiples lots).  They all require lawn maintenance, building maintenance, security, parking lots and so forth.  Even the small ones with rare (if any) exception.

They almost all employ a staff of ministers or at the least one pastor.  There often is a small army of volunteers, but more often than not a sizeable paid staff too.  These people take vacations, get salaries, and some build up retirement accounts.

Most of these churches use sound systems, fancy lighting, Sunday school curriculum, classrooms, banquet halls, gymnasiums, prayer gardens, a fleet of church vans, and on and on it goes.

The more elite churches have latte bars, bookstores, gift shops, and other business interests.

Many churches run day care and youth activities, some operate clothing closets, soup kitchens or pantries, and a few host thrift stores.

In fact, the average church of Lubbock has become quite cumbersome with all the extras which, to someone, are vital.  A lot of these things are geared toward Christian ministry, and helpful to people.  Any single one of these things at any time is good, useful, helpful, and wise.  Yet taken all together, it is still cumbersome and consumer oriented.

When we begin critiquing any, or all, of these special interests, all manner of issues come up for review rather quickly – both positive and negative.  A pastor (normally) is a trained expert in both God’s word and Christian ministry.  He (usually a he) provides expertise after a massive education in Bible and ministry.

That training isn’t cheap.  His professionalism comes at a high dollar price which must be paid for somehow.  That money expense is a drain, a sort of tax, on the church’s larger purpose and mission.  But it’s an expense so easily overlooked as just the cost of doing business.

The pastor then becomes, frequently, the biggest single budget item on the church’s budget.  (Ask any boss, “the people” are the biggest expense usually.)  He needs a home, a car, a retirement plan, medical insurance, plus a salary.  His expertise is worth a lot, though, so it’s also something of an investment.  But this service now has all the earmarks of any other career, only now filtered through a spiritual category.

Nobody wants to lose this investment.  Pastor is a wealth of information and service.  In fact, if he is deemed particularly talented, he might be a draw on sheep for the flock, which has immediate impact on bringing in money.  Of course, he might bring in an income through other means too – anything from book sales to various business interests (ostensibly on the side).  (I heard of one church with business interests in both real estate and a mortuary which funded church operations too.)

But any church beholding to business interests for its solvency is trying to serve two masters – pretty much by definition.  But, even more, I would point my readers to Ron Highfield’s article on the differences between church and parachurch.  (Here is a link.)  In my view, Highfield demonstrates a greater depth of our confusion.  We have been calling this stuff we are describing a “church” when somewhere along the way, it seems we actually abandoned that.  It’s not really church; it’s parachurch.

I would love to see a church repurpose its building.  That sounds very wise to me, and I can see plenty of immediate changes to get enthused about.  That’s just me personally.

However, I entitled this post “reinventing” because even though I see great need for massive change, I want to highlight that making more change for the sake of change is not enough.  In fact, somehow (and I think this creates a whole new debate) we need to actually aim at the target.  “Missing the mark” is just sin.



NO CHURCH IS PERFECT, and that is just as true of the church we read about in the Bible as it is today.  The church does have flaws and always did.  I must temper my remarks with that observation.  So much New Testament is a compilation of St. Paul’s letters, largely to churches he planted, in which at least part of his purpose in writing is to straighten out problems.

Jesus loves imperfect people, and his church is no exception.  We surely must have as much grace with the church as Jesus has, thus my judgment must be tempered.  I will not condemn the church for missing the mark, for that matter, I have sin in me too.

However, this cannot allow us to aim elsewhere.  St. Paul does not write his churches telling them, “You miss the mark here, here, and there, but it’s okay.  Jesus doesn’t care.  Reinvent the church and aim it wherever you like.”  No.  He says nothing of the sort.

On the contrary, he works at adjusting the aim.  He points us to the target. 

I want us to take care that we don’t run off halfcocked and reinvent the church.  THAT, I think, is largely how we got off the target in the first place.  Lots of good, wise ideas went into that cumbersome conglomerate we so easily call “church.”

I come from a faith heritage that staunchly points the church to the Bible specifically to discover her purpose and her composition.  I see tremendous flaws in the way we went about doing that, but I think we had our nose on the right scent in part.  The earlier Protestants called their movement “Reformation” which our movement admired but felt got off course and didn’t go far enough.  We called our movement “Restoration” instead, and got even more biblically specific about adjusting the aim.

In as far as I just painted the picture of that effort, I agree with my own heritage.  (Highfield comes from the same movement too, btw.)  I don’t wish to overly burden this post with my critique of my own church heritage, so in the broad strokes, I will just say that we treated the Bible as if it were the US Constitution and applied something of the same principles to the church.  In my view, we thus relied on the American can-do spirit rather than the Spirit of God, and that, of course, is deadly mistaken.

Rather than treating the Bible as a set of instructions by which we will do great things for God (and I think there are instructions involved, btw), we simply must find a hermeneutic of trust, where we are obedient, of course, but where we rely on God and pursue his aim even when it appears counterintuitive.

The fact of the matter is that God turned the whole world upside down with a common execution of yet another young, Jew-boy who trusted his life in God’s hands uncommonly.  We need change in our church, most definitely, but it’s not a matter of repurposing and reinventing.  Instructions, and thus following instructions, play a part, but there are many more dimensions to salvation in God’s hands than that.

I personally think there is A LOT down that narrow path to explore.  Even if I continue to ask, “Gotta verse for that?”, there is more inside God’s will than outside it, and we have the Bible to lead us there.  Somehow, and I think you WANT to believe this just as I do, there is MORE packed up in the “widow’s two mites” than there is in all the great sums offered by the rich.

The redemption of creation is the end goal here, y’all.  (Leonard Allen, in his book, Things Unseen, if not other places too, describes how detrimental it is for the church to lose her “language of the eschaton.”  I think he is right about that.)  When we keep in mind that our work and purpose is all geared toward the total and utter reconciliation of ALL THINGS, we surely look at the devices and techniques of empire and find there is too much mistrust and self-preservation there to ever reconcile creation to God, and thus we must not rely on empire’s tools and techniques.

Even more than a critique of empire, I suggest that the redemption for which we find ourselves aimed is too big, too mysterious, and too complex for us to achieve.  The best we can hope for, I think, is that we might finally trust God to achieve it through us.  He is faithful, and he demonstrates what his Spirit can do with a dead body and an empty tomb.  (They don’t teach that can-do spirit in any school anywhere in the empire.)


Let’s TALK!!!


Alright!  Alright!!  Alright!!!

Settle down, Beavis.

(Sorry, I need to console my inner psych patient.)


The other day I published a post on “dirty looks.”  (It was well received, thanx.)  In that post, I suggested you go sit on a park bench with a bum (yeah, I said “bum” (not to further dehumanize “people suffering homelessness” (you do that enough without using the term already), but to make you uncomfortable as I use the term you mean when you label bums “people suffering homelessness.))


Yeah.  This is a bit offensive.  But then my blog stinks, in case you haven’t read that.  (If you want to, click this link.)  I don’t have some love affair with awful, putrid smells.  I prefer a sweet smell of a flower or of baking bread just like the next guy.  But I also see that some humans just plain stink, yet this is no excuse for excluding them.

I recall a psych patient who came in for an extended stay at our psych hospital who refused his shower for months as he struggled with his psychosis.  He belonged with us too, but his smell was horrendous.  Still, in time, the kindness we showed him helped, and eventually he returned to his right mind and smell, and none of us regretted the sacrifice we made to help him get there.  It took months of sacrifice with no guarantee of success.

So…  How do I represent?

I suggested you split a sandwich with a bum for fifteen minutes out of your whole life.  Fifteen minutes of sacrifice from your whole life.  Fifteen minutes from your whole life where you join a bum in her humiliation, shame, and pain getting lectured by the expert in “dirty looks.”

Fifteen minutes.

Your whole life.

… “God’s work.”  (Yeah, if memory serves me, I called it “God’s work” and though the post was well-received, no one refuted this statement.  It’s God’s work.)

Fifteen minutes.

Your whole life.

So… I am just wondering…

How’d it go when you did it?

You did do it… Right?

God’s work.

Fifteen minutes….

You ran right out and did it.  I have faith in you.  I TRUST that you did it.

Had a few days now, and you did it.


Hey!  Don’t knock it!

I’ve had at least two respondents to this blog who felt the call of God, who this blog challenged, and they were moved to hit the streets to see what’s up out there.  Two who responded to me!  And you know… for every bear you see in the woods, there’s two more you don’t – as a rule of thumb.


I was feeling really impassioned when I whipped that post out the other day.  Real impassioned.  I almost wrote about what was stirring me up, but I wrote and published that impassioned post instead.  And it was well-received (at least by today’s standards (this blog used to get a lot more traffic in years past).)

Here’s whazzzup:

Mrs. Agent X took some of our young, foster/adopted children to a dental appointment the other day, and at least one of them experienced an episode of… of… of… well, I am not a qualified doctor, but let’s call it a panic attack which led to a psychotic breakdown.  The one child suddenly acted out in a major display of chaos, causing Mrs. Agent X to have to run after the child and restrain him until help arrived.  It also set off the behavior in one or two of the other children, making them unruly too.

I don’t wish to make unnecessary excuses for the behavior of my children, and no doubt my poor parenting choices have a negative impact on that too.  I am no expert parent be any stretch; I’m just the one who stepped up to the challenge for a bit more than fifteen minutes of my whole life, who went so far as to give my love, my home, and my name to this child, but not your expertise.

I don’t mean to make unnecessary excuses for the behavior of my children, but you surely realize they didn’t come into foster care because it was just so good with their birth parents!  Every one of my kids came into THIS WORLD hooked on dope.  Umbilical cords shriveled up like diseased vines through which oxygen and vital nutrients competed with alcohol, cocaine, meth, and anything else that would get a mama high.

Do I sound a bit raw?


I (not to mention Mrs. Agent X who was actually there for the event) went through a series of emotions upon hearing about trip to the dentist and more emotions when I came to the aid of the child later.  But when Mrs. Agent X described to me the “dirty looks” she saw on the faces of other people in the dental office, I felt betrayed.

The expressions on the faces of others there toward my wife and kid registered as disdain, as putting distance between them and us, and as judgment for poor parenting.


There was no debriefing session where things got explained.  There is a lot of bias on the part of Mrs. Agent X as well as any bystanders, meaning she could have misread those expressions of love as disdain.  She absolutely COULD have.


Somehow, I doubt that’s the case.


If you haven’t already found a bum on a park bench to share a sandwich with and fifteen minutes of your life, put that on your to-do list this weekend.



I took a second degree in “manufacturing” several years ago, at least that is what it was called.  The idea of factory work was not my goal, but that degree plan came closest to fitting my aims, and as you can imagine, I learned a lot about “efficiency.”

RUTHLESS efficiency.

Ironic, though.  My degree plan was a rather inefficient way of reaching goals, yet as a means to an end, I studied efficiency extensively.

It gets even more ironic, because before I graduated, I took a job in a small factory as a flunky technician (the idea being it was temporary), but only one month in, the factory production hit a slow season, and they pulled several of us techs off the line to help in the administrative office with mailers.

Here’s the most ironic part of that:

As I sat there applying stamps and address labels to thousands of envelops all day during that slow period, I was stationed just outside the conference room where I could plainly hear the training session going on inside for the company execs and department heads.  They flew in a special consultant to teach these professionals to fine-tune the operation with JIT and other manufacturing strategies of efficiency.

That’s kinda the beating heart of factory work.  Bosses are sitting around constantly looking for ways to streamline efficiency.  

Think about this:

My company was paying this hotshot consultant a fee, plus travel and hotel expenses (meals too, I am sure – and I bet he rented a car!), to outline, over the course of three days, ways of making the factory run more efficiently.   I don’t know how much money my boss paid to have this man do it, but he surely thought he would get a good ROI for it.  Meanwhile, I was getting paid $15 an hour to sit there licking stamps all day, but I had earned an A in the exact course this guy was now teaching, just the previous semester, and I think we must have used the same textbook!

So, I was sitting there listening to a complete review of every little detail, still fresh in my mind, being overpaid to lick stamps while they could have paid me half this guy’s fees to do the very same thing, and we would have all got ahead for it, and would have been far more efficient!

I, though, dutifully kept my mouth shut.  Perhaps I should not have, but I did.  I speak up for Jesus all the time, and that gets me into plenty of trouble, so I try to choose the chopping blox where I stretch my neck, and I figured for one thing, this guy was already here by the time I realized what was happening.  If I could have got in on the bidding back during the planning session, I surely would have spoke up then.  But it was too late now.

Thus, I saw the great irony there that no one else ever has, even today all these years later.  That place was inefficient in its best professional efforts to be more efficient!


But I also recall feeling ambivalent about studying all that efficiency in class too.

I’m betting most people (and by “most,” I could be speaking to as many as two or three) reading here, never took a course in manufacturing, much less a degree.  You probably never gave much thought to production processes, especially as they happen in factory settings.  But…

But… I bet everyone reading here has given much thought to efficiency in their own settings.  If you ever sat down and wrote out a budget for your money or your time, you gave thought to it.  If you ever provided patient care to a waiting room full of people, you considered it.  If you ever cooked lunch for a potluck, you had to think on it.  If you ever read a business article, you gave it thought.  (Olives in in-flight salads for United Airlines???)  If you ever thought about the differences in Pizza Hut pizzas and Dominoes pizzas, you gave thought to it.

But factories are sorta like microcosms in that they are worlds unto themselves while creating worlds for the rest of us.  (Yeah.  They create worlds.)  And in order to do it, so much imagination is devoted to efficiency that it gets sorta scary – well it scares me, anyway. 

It’s like you gotta surgically remove the soul from a living organism, yet keep it alive and functioning, so that you can make it efficient.

Factories cannot function for long unless they make money.  And so efficiency always, always, always serves Mammon.  If Mammon doesn’t get his pound of flesh, you can’t continue to operate.

I, of course, use explicitly Christian/theological terms to describe what in everyday language is termed “the bottom line.”

I appreciate the convenience, the precision, even the technical artistry of engineering that modern life provides me.  It’s almost magic.  I can purchase two practically identical pairs of Levi’s jeans, and the variances are imperceptible.  I can put an Edelbrock high rise intake manifold on my Chevy small block 350 with a 1/8th inch gasket, and it fits perfectly, providing a tremendous boost in horsepower.  

I could go on and on in all directions with such observations.  Yet, I don’t care what your experience, your training, your education has taught you, I figure you understand that these amazing products are amazing in their own right, but they also allow me to create and project a self-image of my own making, a sense of style and power, an image of independence, heritage, speed, and so forth. 

I am a self-made man, unique, and independent, thanx in no small part to the efficiency of factories.  

I could have gone a more iPhoneish direction, and probably more readers would more readily identify.  (How inefficient of me?)

But there is something soulless in all that efficiency.  (If you recall counting olives in salads, perhaps you also remember factory worker suicides in China too?)  For all my own sense of uniqueness, my personal sense of taste and style, how many OTHER PEOPLE wear the same Levi’s and/or drive the same car?  (I am fooling myself and others as well thinking I am so special!)

It’s not just in factories generating this consumer’s world either.  As I have already pointed out, it’s in banking too.  It’s in Amazon, IKEA, the mall, and the army.  It’s wherever Mammon runs the operation.  

I have studied this stuff academically.  As amazed as I am by production and the efficiency by which it is achieved, I am mortified by it too.  

You know what is not efficient, yet still is creative – in fact world-creating?


Love is completely inefficient.  Yet Love created the world in which we create worlds for ourselves.

Oh, if you look at “life” through a Big-Bang, Darwinian lens, then of course you try to explain the biosphere with efficiency.  But think for a moment of all those “wasted” sperm cells that don’t penetrate the egg.  Think of all those sleepless nights rocking a baby and feeding her.  Think of all the times you have to “remind” your child “we aren’t here to get you a toy!”

Efficiency is not the devil.  I don’t claim that.  There are lots of places where efficiency is appropriate.  But efficiency is an all-too eager slave of Mammon, and will drive you like a slave too, if you don’t resist.

Here’s why I consider all this stuff (and it may prove inefficient of me to meander all the way through these thoughts to get to this point, but I will roll with that): I think this efficiency notion drives our appeal for “effective charity.”  

It’s not enough to give alms anymore.  Those days are past.  Now we must seek “effective charity” in “best practices” found, not in the Bible – but in economic developers and such.  

Notice, if you will, Jesus NEVER makes a case for “effective charity” which does not “enable” poor choices.  Ten lepers get healed, but only one returns to say thanx and give God the glory.  He fed five thousand with a few loaves and fishes, but they gathered up twelve baskets of leftovers!

So wasteful by efficiency standards!

The Father of the prodigal son gives the boy his inheritance early, before he dies, and it is absolutely wasted on poor choices.  Even the boy, upon returning to the Father, does not hope to work off his debt, but merely to work a bottom rung, dead-end job, because even that is better than what his wild living has got him.  Yet the Father has none of it.  Not even the part about work at all.  For the Father, the son who “was dead” is now alive, and so we must party.

Whatever else you learn from that story – AND THERE ARE A LOT OF LESSONS JAMMED UP IN IT WITH GREAT EFFICIENCY – you surely cannot escape the fact that Mammon is not the bottom line in it.

So wasteful by efficiency standards!

But… I will say something else too: Charity is not all just about “helping others.”  Not in any conventional sense at all.  In fact, that whole bit about “effective” charity, says more about the misguided aims of those trying to be charitable than about any success they have.  (How much has Corbett, Fikkert, Lupton – and friends – actually changed the world since they started publishing about “effective charity”?  Is there less homeless now 20 years later, or is there more???)

“Effective charity” aims to streamline your giving, ostensibly to make needy people efficiently independent.  It’s an aim that very efficiently misses the mark.  That’s just sin!  The quicker needy people don’t need your help, the more money you get to keep, and the less your love for them inefficiently drags on your greed.  

Basically, it’s just conscience salve.

On the other hand, charity especially giving until it hurts (dying on a cross, anyone???) is an incredibly inefficient thing to do.  It’s sloppy, dripping with blood and water, with tears and agony, enduring shame because it refuses to grasp at greatness.

But you know what else it is?

World redeeming/world creating.

It’s LOVE that does not answer to efficiency or Mammon.