Friday, December 28, 2012

more in the middle

So, what's the deal, Miller?  What is this axe you have to grind on this church?  What did they ever do to you?  We had this nice little series on how things changed, and then you change in mid-stream.  Let me take a quick sec to tell everyone who had been reading my series where I was headed, so I'll jump ahead a little:

Basically, I have retired from playing church services, save for one church (Port Gardner Church in Everett, Washington) and that's going to be very occasional.  The reason(s) for this decision are myriad, but it basically boils down to the fact that I don't feel like worship music has any validity anymore.  There's no push and there's no drive, and even less originality.  Now, it's all about sounding like someone else and a rehash of tunes that are poorly written or are just a poor imitation/rip-off of an equally poor secular tune.  Most of the worship teams I've played with in the last 24 months either have zero desire to read and/or understand music, or are more concerned about playing a zillion notes at a zillion miles an hour and just chopping out for no good reason.  I find myself being more and more cynical everytime I set foot onstage to play a worship set, and if I voice my opinion, I'm either told I'm prideful, or "just a bass player" or.......so, I've decided that I am the problem and have bowed out.  That's it.  Right now, as of this writing, I'm not even attending a church- I just need a break, and believe it or not, I feel like God is completely ok with that.  The point of the series was to tell some folks how I arrived at this decision, and to show them that this decision has been a very painful process for me- I love playing for God.  It's the reason I do what I do, but I find no joy in participating in a service when the crux of the service is merely to "wow" people and give them some sort of non-sequitir, microwave style meal and try to disguise it as a 5 course dinner.  

Enough about that.

So the thing that started my last post was this advertisement on the side of a King County Metro Bus that I was riding yesterday:

As I said in yesterday's post, I have more than a passing acquaintance with Mark Driscoll, and I can guarantee he left more of an impression on me than I did on him.  That's ok- that's not my point.  This is more to my point.  While Driscoll - I think largely correctly - interpreted Scripture and decided to take a stand, I'm left scratching my head as to what the possible motive was, and even more to my point, did he consider how his words would affect others?  When confronted with the ire of many, many people over this statement, he left them with no recourse.

As I've also stated, I have some very, very close friends and people I consider family who are active in Mars Hill.  The weird part of this is that the predominance of the people that I talk to about this type of statement made by Mark Driscoll always have a retort to it that basically says, "Yeah!  Got ya thinking, huh?" or "Do you realize that he's had death threats over some of the things he's said?" - and they offer that like it's a jewel in a crown.  Now, Pastor Driscoll cannot control what his congregants say - I know that - but I have spent enough time in ministry to know that congregations reflect their pastors.  And, while Pastor Driscoll can't control what they say, I am convinced he knows what they say, and I haven't seen or heard anything done about it.  And, going even a tad further, I will say (and I will not name any names, so don't ask) that I know some folks very, very well who worked at Mars Hill, and have borne my fears out on this topic, time and time again.

Another good friend of mine has some real problems with messages like the one I mentioned above, and I don't blame her a single bit.  It does seem like there is a predominance in the church with basically having a message that just hits someone over the head with a modernized version of "Sinners In The Hand Of An Angry God" with no thought as to the outcome.  When Jonathan Edwards delivered that message, the fallout from it was so widespread and so fearful that he spent the bulk of his remaining ministry years calming his congregants down rather than showing them what God's love was about.  Pastors like Mark Driscoll have neither the plan nor the patience to do that- that is, to be ready to pick up the pieces from their statements- and instead just spread fear and derisive messages with little to no thought as to the outcome.

And, I've witnessed it first hand.  For 6 years, I was a functioning member of a church here in the Seattle area that did much the same thing.  And, it was fun being on the "inside", until I exhibited a problem - having MS and being undiagnosed - and then it was all about how many ministries I ruined, or putting me under "church discipline" when a friend of mine and I had an argument.  (My friend and I were able to fix that argument, and the church had nothing to do with it)  And, before you start thinking that this is my way of "getting back" at someone for this mistreatment I mentioned, think again.  This wasn't Mars Hill for me- it was another church- and a church that Mars Hill is trying its best to copy.  When trying to figure out if a message is valid, it all (to me) comes down to the measure of success.  If the measure of success is death threats and people running away or merely to be written up in the paper for their antics, that isn't success- that is PRIDE.  In fact, that's the very definition of it, and the last time I checked, "pride", according to the Bible, is what caused a little apple to be eaten in a certain garden.  It's to be avoided.

So, yesterday, when I saw this banner on the side of the bus - a bus line that also has placards for "1 in 4 people is an atheist" - I'm pretty sure where this is headed.  I'm pretty sure that, once again, we're gonna hear vitriol and diatribe and supposed substance, and the congregation of this church will be thrilled with the message- and the rest of us like me (and most Christians, btw) are gonna be left to pick up the pieces.  

I understand that stands must be taken.  I understand that there are rules, and that when people break those rules, someone needs to call that out.  I'll even go as far as to say that Pastor Driscoll should call them out- but the Bible is extremely clear how this is supposed to happen as a process.  This process, as it is defined Biblically, is the very essence of "with gentleness and respect" and even offers a mitigation plan should the first attempt fail- it's a complete solution.  Bus placards and blanket statements - and messages delivered with the sole purpose of building your grandstand - are not part of this process.

And, besides: ever notice how a grandstand is on either side of a playing field?  Why is that?  Because the real action - where the rubber meets the road and truth is actually borne out - is in the middle.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

it's in the middle

First off, let me say that I have some very dear friends as well as folks I call family who attend Mars Hill. To them, I apologize for what I am about to say. I am NOT calling you into question. You are above reproach.

For those that don't know about Mars Hill, let me explain briefly- Mars Hill is a church here in the Seattle area, and it is pastored by an incredibly bright young man named Mark Driscoll. Mark is brilliant- he's well versed in apologetics, theology, exogesis and all the things necessary to be what anyone would consider a great pastor should have. He stands on Scripture, and whether or not you agree with his Scriptural viewpoints, one will have to admit that the guy does his homework. There's no argument there from me- maybe others will disagree (get your own blog if you do- this is my opinion) but that's how it stands.

He's also horribly, horribly misguided. I know what you're thinking- "what the hell kind of compliment is that?"

I'm not fond of Norman Vincent Peale. Peale is way too "rosy colored glasses" for me. Everything is great; everyone is equal; I'm Ok, You're Ok; every idea, as long as it has a moral center is awesome and relevatory; blah, blah, blah. I don't see it that way. Peale's message, in light of things like Newtown, Columbine, the Middle East and natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy and other widespread calamity just falls flat with a big SPLAT. It turns a blind eye to real pain and suffering and instead foments this idea of a God that is basically a kindly old gentleman in the sky who is kind of like a celestial parent who hopes for the best and has nothing to do with the worst.

Now I know that this sounds weird, but I see Mark Driscoll and Norman Vincent Peale as so far from each other that they actually are no different at all. Driscoll's message is more about how broken we are as humans, and that only his baseline (Driscoll's) for human behavior is how we get close to Jesus. That, in and of itself really isn't my problem, though- because there has to be a benchmark. I get that.

My problem is that Driscoll's measure of how right he is is merely how much trouble he causes. The more muck his remarks make, the more he sees it as correct. He's made many a statement that, while I might agree with his source and his exogesis of that source, makes me wince at the delivery, its impact, and more than that- the inevitable fallout from the comment. I don't think I've ever seen anyone come to a lasting (or firsting) understanding of Jesus from his statements; nor have I ever met anyone that feels they have to plow their noses into a pile of dog crap to know that a rose smells good. It just doesn't work, from a mathematical or spiritual standpoint.

Mr. Driscoll might read this and think that I'm making his case for him. Maybe I am- but, really- am I? I've been a follower of Jesus Christ longer than he's been alive, and I'm not stupid- and, I've done a bit of homework myself. I simply cannot get around this scripture, 1 Peter 3:15-16:
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
The key here is "gentleness and respect". Mark Driscoll is a sinner, just as I am, just as you are. He is no worse and no better than any person who has ever lived or ever will live. I firmly believe that God's score keeping isn't aggregate, it's absolute. For Mark Driscoll to continually deliver diatribe with no real measure of grace really serves no purpose other than to alienate the people who need God the most. Just because he gets death threats or written up in the newspaper doesn't mean he's correct.

So, if by some chance, Mark Driscoll reads this and thinks "he's making my point"- you are certainly free to think that, Mark, but that is not my intent. What I'm asking you to do is think - apart from some weird, dysfunctional measure of success - the people that God wants you to help Him get nearer to Him (because no man ever saved anyone) - is your message going to encourage them, or drive them away? Is it enough to merely preach and let the chips fall where they may, or do you have more work to do? I say you have more work, here, and your words really should bear the message that, even though people fail to acheive a Christ-like status or behavior (and, btw, so have you, Mr. Driscoll) that does not mean that they are further from God than you are.

Basically, what I'm saying- again- is that The Truth is somewhere in the middle.