Thursday, December 31, 2009

#114 Church marketing

Christian culture is obsessed with church growth. Churches want badly to "get their numbers up," so some churches hire marketing teams to assess their fitness (their actual term) and tell them how to be culturally relevant. The goal is to get people in the door and make them come back.

They put espresso stands in the lobby and get some ambient lighting so Kids These Days don't feel like they're in one of those churches full of dorks. They don't want to be like those churches with fluorescent overhead lighting cause that's super lame. Those churches sing hymns and their pastors wear suits, and church marketing statistics say only old people like those. The church marketing stats also say that people decide if they'll come back to a church within the first three minutes of their visit, so they've really gotta work those first three minutes.

They want to make their church feel like you're at a concert, so they have a stage lighting ministry and play the music really loud. The pastor tries to look cool (as we've discussed here and here) and uses high school jargon and so he can be relevant. And he wants the worship band to be extra rad. The worship leader tries to get a Fleet Foxes/The Fray/Death Cab vibe going. He holds auditions for the worship team and picks the ones with flat-ironed hair and guyliner. It's important that they look sincere when they sing, but scarves, vests and grommet belts help. Okay, so. What are some edgy names for an epic sermon series? What will get the most people in the door? We have to get our numbers up and grow this sucker or else it means God isn't blessing our ministry! Numbers! Tithing! Relevance! U2! Discipleship models! The reformation! Leadership! Authentic! Contextual! Twitter! iPhone! Sick website! Innuendos from the pulpit about sex with my wife! In the world, but not of it!

Their mission statement sounds solid and they say they're all about Jesus but some churches seem awfully impressed with themselves. Being hip and raising money for new buildings seems like the focus instead of being broken by the message of the Gospel. But if Jesus loved the sick and the poor and drew near to the brokenhearted, and if he was a servant to the least and walked into their lonely worlds, and if his love went to their dark corners when they did not expect it or even ask for it, is he harder to find in churches where image is king?

Monday, December 28, 2009

#113 Tim Tebow

American evangelicals revere Tim Tebow. They can't resist a player with Bible verses on his eyeblack.

Born to missionaries, Tim homeschooled his way to win the Heisman trophy and a dozen Player of the Year awards. In American Christian culture (especially the south), it's roughly the equivalent of being the reincarnated Dalai Lama.

I'm sure Paul was talking about football in that letter to the Philippians:

Even Nike bows down.

This post originially appeared on Beliefnet. The original post and its comment thread can be seen here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

#112 CHRISTmas instead of Xmas

The campaign to override Xmas with Christmas is brought to you by the aforementioned Keeping Christ in Christmas movement. It's never more frenetic than at this time of year.

Pro-Christmas campaigners very much dislike Xmas. They will call you out if you use it and they are sure to write CHRISTmas on their Ugly Christmas Sweater Party invite (often in papyrus font, as above). Although X has been used for centuries as a sanctioned abbreviation for Χριστός (Greek for Christ), Christian culture has a sneaking suspicion this is really a calculated method to nudge Christ out of his own holiday.

Even their beloved C. S. Lewis endorsed the use of Xmas over Christmas for brevity's sake, but Christian culture insists that you should write the word in its entirety. The reasoning they commonly cite is that "Christ made room for you, so you should make room for him."

Their logic follows that writing five extra letters is the least you can do in exchange for his grisly crucifixion. And so once again, in a pitfall of Christian culture, a superficial patch job is substituted for inventory of the heart.

This post originally appeared at Beliefnet, the original post and its comment thread can be seen here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

#111 Oral Roberts

With the passing of Oral Roberts, so dies a tiny piece of televangical history which played such a part in creating the manifold Christian culture we all enjoy today.

At least Oral Roberts University is still going strong, and with it the delicious irony of earnest Christian parents sending their kids to a college with the word "oral" in the name.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

#110 Saying "God is moving"

This is a popular saying with hazy meaning. Taken literally you might think God has abandoned his ancestral seat and is swanning about, but you infer from the context that can't be what they really mean.

"God is moving!" is said frequently in Facebook status updates, pastors' Twitters and Christmas/prayer letters. It is often cited prior to announcing record attendance numbers at their church or that another state has outlawed gay marriage.

Friday, December 11, 2009

#109 Keeping Christ in Christmas

Christian culture is alarmed by all things politically correct. They say the increasing use of the phrase happy holidays is an affront to keeping Christ in Christmas and it's just one more sign that this country is headed for hell in a handbasket.

The chance that Christ could actually be somehow removed from Christmas would seem impossible, yet Christian culture is urgently concerned it could happen. If anyone has a problem with their saying Merry Christmas they insist that person should respect their constitutional rights, but when other people say Happy Holidays the evangelicals don't take too kindly to it.

Rather than show some Christlike goodwill to people with different beliefs than they, Christian culture tends to go on the offensive so that they can feel like they're standing up for Christ. But the Christ of the Bible wasn't threatened by disbelief. For his followers to take up this cause with such rabid fervor seems to be a contradiction.

For a bit of seasonal fun, wish the evangelical in your life a happy holiday or perhaps a blessed Kwanzaa. If you really want to get their dander up, ask them what they think of the American Humanist holiday ad campaign. The intensity of their reaction is a definitive gauge of how invested they are in the notion that Christ's deity is inherently tied to a seasonal formality.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

#108 Relevant interpretation of the dress suit

When a pastor desires to be relevant he does not wear a suit when he preaches. Depending on which region of the U.S. he is in, he will dress in one of two ways.

If he lives on one of the coasts a relevant pastor will preach in a hoodie + ironic t-shirt + Chuck Taylors. Tatted sleeves or otherwise visible ink is preferred. Pumas or New Balance may be substituted for Chucks.

In the midwest and in the Bible belt a relevant pastor will have a soul patch + $200 jeans + sculpted hair that appears crunchy to the touch. A smattering of Ed Hardy frequently appears, and whitened teeth can be counted upon. Both demographics are prone to abuse hair product, but in the midwest/southern vector the abuse is somewhat more pronounced.

The method of expression differs between the regions but their motive is the same: the pastor doesn't want to be like the PC guy, he wants to be like the Mac guy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

#107 Overcompensating

Christian culture feels they are at a disadvantage when it comes to being cool. They want very much to be cool without being worldly, but it seems an impossible balance to strike.

As we've discussed here, Christian culture is stunted when it comes to knowing what is cool to people outside of their microcosm. This presents an obstacle when it comes to evangelism, and they vigorously set about making up the difference.
But in trying so hard to be cool they often don't seem very genuine, which is sort of what being cool is. This creates quite a vicious cycle indeed.

Monday, November 30, 2009

#106 Overshare via prayer request

Overshare via prayer request is the nauseating cousin of gossip via prayer request. Some people do not hold back. Since they're in their community of brethren they feel free to get detailed.

"Shannon couldn't make it to small group tonight, she's got diarrhea on top of that chronic yeast infection so keep her in your prayers."

"Aaron had a semen analysis and his sperm count looks fine so we're going to get my lazy ovary scoped before we start the adoption process, could y'all just be praying for that?"

"Susan Walter's uterus unraveled and fell out while she was jogging. Pray that God would give her mercy and speedy recovery from her hysterectomy."
If prayer request overshare does not engage your gag reflex it will at the very least create unfortunate visuals you'll associate with that person for years to come.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

#105 Wondering what atheists do on Thanksgiving

Atheists don't get much clemency from Christian culture. They are generally thought to be misguided and inclined to despair.

While Christians are busy thanking God on Thanksgiving they have been known to wonder aloud how atheists could possibly celebrate this holiday with no one to thank. It may not occur to them that on Thanksgiving Day many atheists are thankful to their friends and families, thankful to people who don't dismiss them, and that many are volunteering in soup kitchens and serving the needy just like Jesus said to do.

This post originally appeared on Beliefnet. The original post and its comment thread can be found here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

#104 Saying "just" a lot while praying out loud

When called upon to pray aloud in a group, an evangelical automatically says "just" a few dozen times during the course of the prayer. This doesn't happen when other flavors of Christians such as Catholics or Episcopalians pray, but an evangelical cannot help it.
"We just come before you today, Father God, and just ask that you pour out your spirit upon us. Just renew our hearts and help us know your plan. Knock down any barriers in our hearts and just show your will to us and, uh, just help us love you."
This post and the ensuing comment thread originally appeared here on Beliefnet.

Friday, November 20, 2009

#103 Guiltily watching Oprah

Christian women are on the fence about Oprah. Her touting of "The Secret" with its new age agenda rubs them entirely the wrong way. They also don't appreciate her cohabitating with Stedman, her angling towards gay acceptance, suggesting there could be many paths to God, and especially not the part she played in electing Obama.

They worry about her wide influence which is so obviously not Christ-centered, yet even they have to admit her episode about mom jeans did them a world of good.

The conflict sits in the pit of their stomachs every time they see she's having an Oprah's Best Things episode or documenting a road trip with Gayle.

(Same goes double for Ellen.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

#102 Gossip via prayer request

During a Bible study or fellowship group there comes a time (usually near the end) that you go around the circle and make prayer requests. This is an excellent time to air the dirt on absent friends under the guise of being lovingly concerned about their spiritual state.

The person being skewered is never present when others are confessing their sins for them. The prayer request often includes the phrase "they are just not walking with the Lord right now" and the group nods gravely while imagining which wayward deeds this person has been engaging in.

Other times more detail is given. "I just want to remind you to be in prayer for Heather and Scott. She found out he's been sleeping with her best friend so they need lots of prayer right now. And this has to be especially hard on them considering they just got through that whole lesbian daughter thing a few months ago."

94% of prayer requests concerning single people are for "purity" with their boyfriend or girlfriend. In a titilliating twist, some people personally confess such misdeeds in detail. This information is absorbed readily by all present and filed away in everyone's memories to "struggle with" later.

This post originally appeared on Beliefnet. The original post and its comment thread can be seen here

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Introductory Beliefnet post


I started this blog ( in August 2008. I know this isn't a new concept and I'm not a pioneer in angst about evangelicalism - lots of people have done this before and have done it better than me. But I've been helped a lot by the community surrounding this blog and people coming alongside and saying they have the same questions and problems.

What else should say, hmm. I have little kids. I work full-time. I live in fear of earthquakes. I've never stayed awake all the way through Star Wars. Maybe my husband should tell you about me, it might be more objective. He wrote 25 things about me like those 25 things lists on Facebook. The Star Wars thing is actually #1:

1. She has never seen Star Wars.
2. Whenever Stephanie gets into a car, she starts craving Diet Coke.
3. Has painted and repainted every piece of furniture in our home multiple times.
4. She could lie in bed all day reading, watching tv, and blogging, and never fall asleep.
5. Conversely, she falls asleep during most movies.
6. She reads and recycles 20-30 magazines a month.
7. Her feet look like they've never been walked on.
8. She does, however, have one weird toe from running.
9. Was faulted for causing 9 car accidents during college. Zero since.
10. She played rugby in college, and bit people in the scrum when she had opportunity.
11. Bakes cakes on a whim.
12. Is obsessed with books on cleaning and organization.
13. Likes to dream up new names for kittens.
14. Likes to draw cartoon bunnies and coo at them.
15. Dresses as a southern baptist every Halloween.
16. Will say she is not hungry, and then eat off of your plate.
17. Is always on the hunt for an unmanned piano to play.
18. Hates Uggs and Crocs. Loves cowboy boots.
19. Eats chips and salsa every day.
20. Ran a marathon.
21. Makes a mean chicken fried steak dinner.
22. Has most television commercials from the 1980's memorized.
23. Is a classically trained pianist.
24. Still listens to Amy Grant.
25. Loves reality shows involving haunted houses and ghosthunters

That's more than you wanted to know, so thanks for reading.


Friday, November 13, 2009

News bulletin

Dear darling reader,

Beliefnet asked if they could host this blog and I said sure. So next week it will move over there, but this link will still route to it. So, that's kind of exciting. Yips!


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

#101 Godwitter and ChristianChirp in lieu of Twitter

From these all-Christian platforms people can do what they did on Twitter and Facebook (tweet Bible verses, express dismay over political affronts to morality, and proclaim excitement for date night with their hot wives), but here their audience presents no opposing viewpoints which could rankle them and raise their blood pressure.

Quite how making a lower-quality version and calling it Christian brings glory to God is not clear, but evangelical interpretations of "worldly" things are rampant and time-tested. It isn't biblical, but it's how Christian culture tends to operate.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

#100 Not Harry Potter

Christian culture says that the use of magic and sorcery in the Harry Potter series interests kids in witchcraft. Lots of churches have banned Harry Potter books and costumes, should you be attending a Halloween-alternative fall festival. In the grand tradition of Christian culture they've even made their own version of the books as an edifying rendition of the original.

Almost, but not quite.

These Harry-phobes happen to approve heartily of The Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings trilogy although these also use magic and mysticism. Many of the churches who are anti-Harry have taken groups of kids to see "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" (hi, it has the word witch in the title). The White Witch uses, guess what, white magic. Aslan's deep magic eventually wins out, but all of this magical mayhem is okay because Lewis was a lauded Christian apologist. Even though Tolkien was Catholic, Christian culture embraces LOTR and sees allegory in it.

Harry Potter objectors say the fundamental difference between Hogwarts and Narnia/Hobbiton is that the authors of the latter were professing Christians. J.K. Rowling has made statements of faith as well but Christian culture doesn't really buy it. They seem to feel that if she is not forthcoming with a specific mission statement then her use of allegory isn't valid. They seem to think her books actually can't contain any spiritual allegory, only sneaky promotion of the occult.

Christian culture isn't able to reconcile violence and beauty very well when it comes to stories and allegories outside of the Bible. But judging from the use of symbols and sacraments in the Bible it would seem that God loves symbolism. Christian culture is hesitant to find beauty in places that aren't sanctioned as overtly Christian. But if the Christ story is as momentous and all-encompassing as his followers claim to believe, then might they also believe that all stories echo the redemption story?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

#99 Taking up a pipe at Bible college


American evangelicals conventionally eschew the smoking of anything but an exception is somehow made when a seminary student takes up the inevitable pipe. It makes him feel

Bible college (seminary's inferior cousin) also fosters pipe smokers. Students and faculty who identify as missional/emergent will furtively gather to ponder Kierkegaard and epistemology whilst chomping on pipe stems. From here it is just a short hop onto the hookah train. Next thing you know they're congregating in hookah bars (the married guys must first convince their wives, who are initially horrified) to discuss tobaccos, reformed theology, and IPAs. This makes them feel relevant.

The unorthodoxist's mecca.

This sort of carrying on occurs mostly at seminaries in Canada and on the U.S. coasts where pub culture is more prominent. Old-guard Christian culture decries pubs and drinking of any sort as "of the world" so you'll have to go elsewhere to pretend you're an Inkling.

The old guard knows its heroes Lewis, Tolkien, Spurgeon and the like smoked and frequented pubs yet it holds an understanding that we should not. Thusly, pipes and their smokers are less acceptable at schools in the midwest and the Bible belt, but you can still suss them out.

Only the edgiest and/or butchest girls participate. Most female students of the Bible have zero involvement in any pipe or hookah ventures due to utter lack of interest.

"Jack, you never pack the bloody bowl right."
"Sod off, Tollers."

Monday, September 21, 2009

#98 "People Need The Lord"

If you went to church during the '80s then you've probably heard this tender treat. This is often sung by the congregation during the altar call. The rest of the time it's performed as a solo by your friend's mom who chokes up in the middle of it and then struggles to compose herself while the backing track continues to play over the loudspeakers.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

#97 Not healthcare reform

Christian culture is rather unhappy about the proposals for healthcare reform. They'd threaten to move to Canada like they did when Obama won, but Canada has socialized medicine, so they're up a creek on this one.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

#96 Playing Guitar Praise in lieu of Guitar Hero

Christian culture needed an alternative to the degenerate Guitar Hero, so they made their own version. Now you don't have to pretend to play guitar along to secular music. With Guitar Praise you can pretend to play guitar along to Christian music that has been run through Auto-Tune and injected with silicone.

Guitar Praise lets you “rock out” to contemporary Christian songs that each sound like a Creed/Jonas Brothers mash-up. The website for Guitar Praise says “You’ll soon be rockin’ with the best while praising the Lord!”

Christian culture's idea of “rockin'” is as questionable as their definition of the word “best.” Rather than violate your soul with secular music, violate your senses with this! Is God glorified by the Christian-ifying of video games? Christian culture seems to think so.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

#95 Being skeptical that Catholics are saved

Christian culture is not having it. They think it's nice that Catholics believe in God, but that praying to Mary is a big problem. On top of that you have the pope, confessionals, transubstantiation, and the special Catholic bible with the extra books in it. Plus, Catholics are a little too comfortable with alcohol for American evangelicals' liking. All of these factors combine to put Catholics in unsaved territory as far as Christian culture is concerned.

Christian culture maintains that Catholics use rituals to earn God's favor rather than accept grace through faith. At the same time, Christian culture has its own rituals (written and unwritten) that can replace faith and keep them in the cycle of Doing Things and Avoiding Relationship. As we've discussed in a previous post, doing things and avoiding true relationship is a hallmark of Christian culture.

Monday, August 10, 2009

#94 Jesus fish decals

In early Christianity they had to be sneaky. People drew Jesus fish to symbolize they were Christians because saying so was rather dangerous in ancient Rome.

Today the rate of savage religious persecution in north America is at an all-time low, while the Jesus fish enjoys ubiquity on car bumpers. The question is, why? Do they think it's some sort of advertising? Good thing that car had a Jesus fish so you can tell it was a Christian who just cut you off.

A popular incarnation is the sideways-turned support-the-troops ribbon.
Two birds, one stone!

The Jesus fish frequently appears in tandem with conservative bumper stickers. It very seldom appears alongside a liberal sticker. Sometimes it is even observed to be eating a delicious Darwin fish. (That'll show them.)

Nom nom nom

Fun fact: If you use the term "Jesus fish" while talking to a Christian, chances are they'll be
happy to tell you that it's actually called an ichthus and that it's spelled ΙΧΘΥΣ.