“Sex God,” by Rob Bell

Sex GodFinished Sex God while on vacation. It’s okay. Certainly not as good as Velvet Elvis, in my estimation. And I was expecting better from his sophomore publishing effort. He makes some good points and he’s obviously a good teacher, but I’m not really sure he made an argument for much of anything. I think he writes too loosely, without enough clear meta flow and arrangement.

Like his basic definition of sex. He writes, on page 40, “Our sexuality, then, has two dimensions. First, our sexuality is our awareness of how profoundly we’re severed and cut off and disconnected. Second, our sexuality is all of the ways we go about trying to connect.” On the “first” part, I think this is point of his book. And he’s right. Although I would’ve written it differently… like, “in the realm of sexuality we most learn how profoundly we’re severed….” On the “second” part, I think he’s over-generalized it. Sex isn’t all the ways we connect. It might be the place that most vividly and emotionally illustrates the heaven on earth kind of connection that we all seek. That is, the level of intimacy of sex is that connection we all seek. And sex is that place where lots of people struggle most to connect to God and people. As he says, sex is the “this” that represents the “that” of connection. But, it’s not like all other connection is a subset of sex… and the problem is that he speaks throughout the book this way, as if sex represents all the ways we want to connect with other people and, ultimately, of course, God.

But, I don’t have time to really do some meaningful analysis, so take that last paragraph with a grain of salt. I’m just talking off the top of my head.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a helpful read, and he makes some really good points about sex, intimacy, and connection, but I just wasn’t all that excited about it. It’s all too piecemeal and the metanarrative doesn’t shine through. Nor does much of a suggestion of how to reconnect with God and others. Which might not be his aim, which is fine, but it leaves the reader sorta dissatisfied. My basic assessment: He’s a really good teacher and speaker, but I think his writing needs to mature with regard to its organization and I think he assumes readers read the same way they listen.

On Vacation, pt. 2

Nice to be on vacation. Had to look up the date. That’s a good sign.

holland beachWent to the beach. Yes, Michigan has what can legitimately be called a beach. There’s a lighthouse there called “Big Red.”holland big red I walked the pier with my wife on what was a perfect day for the beach. We’re talking Platonic Ideal kind of beach day… not too hot, nice breeze, sounds of kids, seagulls, and crashing waves. The kids both got their first real beach experience. I read for about an hour… in the shade, a healthy distance away from getting cold, wet, and sandy. I know, I’m a boring killjoy. But I’m quite content enjoying God’s creation from afar when I’m (a) tired, and (b) 30 pounds overweight. All in all, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Brief digression… I’m quasi-watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom while blogging. Did you know the Bowhead Whale’s mouth, when open, is the size of a garage door?! Crazy. Narwhals can have tusks up to 9 feet long. Y’know, nature is pretty incredible. Arctic cod are so prevalent under the ice that a school can be up to half a mile long and so dense that entire swaths of the ocean turn black. Locust swarms are so thick that their numbers are in the billions and can be up to 40 miles wide! That’s biblical proportions, people! Crazy. Dagny and I have watched a bit of “Planet Earth,” which is a phenomenal series by The Discovery Channel. Mind blowing cinematography. Like, we’re talking, to film some of the penguin stuff, a guy and his camera equipment lived in the same unfit-for-humans habitat for a year to get the right footage. That’s dedication. We plan to buy the DVD.

EscortA generous family in Holland, MI has provided us with new transportation. For a brief lament on my previous vehicle’s increasing deterioration, see the previous post, “On Being A Has Been” and check out this recent picture. This new vehicle is a 1994 Mazda MPV mini-van. It’s ideal for us. And it has cruise control, which is my only real desire for a vehicle. I can do without everything else, and we’ve done without cruise control in either of our cars for a long time now, but it’s nice for traveling. So, thanks to the Groots! My previous car, the Escort, was also a generous gift to us by a couple in our church. For two years it has served us well, without any real issues. I think the only thing we’ve done is purchase new tires. Not bad for a car from 1993 that now has 170,000 miles! We’ve given the Escort to a kid in youth group who’s gonna need it for school this Fall. Hope it serves you well and isn’t problematic for you, Joseph!

Mars HillWe worshiped at Mars Hill Bible Church this morning. It was pretty cool. It’s definitely not your typical East Tennessee church worship experience. It was obviously intentionally spare. There were no signs outside the church telling you you’re in the right place. There was very little signage inside and almost no advertisement at all. The pre-service visual was, if I remember correctly, just one picture of a Habitat build they were working on together. The songs and all sermon points and illustrations were simple white text on black background. I liked that part, actually. Overdoing font craziness and colors can be distracting sometimes, I think.

The music was like a Coldplay concert. Slow, ethereal, almost far off feeling in the beginning to a growing beat that was loud and driving toward the end. I did very much like how all the instrumentalists were facing inward, which is almost necessary because the entire worship area is a stage in the round. It was God-directed visually. The colors of the walls in the worship space are pretty much, uh, greyish, with grey chairs. Outside of the worship area, the walls aren’t really that much better, but there are some occasional spots of color… solid colors, very warm and pleasant. It was cool to visit.

Time for bed. Almost done with Sex God, by Rob Bell. Will blog tomorrow. After some sleep… and some coffee… from JP’s, my favorite vacation haunt…. Oh, and some golf!

Bible By Osmosis

Bible By OsmosisI figured I’d share an article I recently wrote for our church newsletter, the First Christian Church Family Focus, which will most certainly not be coming soon to a newsstand near you…

Some modern upper crust ladies in the cities are engaging in a practice that reveals milk-over-meat values. Book is the new black. Books are the latest fashion accessories for the well-appointed socialite, who is easily identifiable because she totes a trendy tome and speaks expertly on its contents. The bigger, the better. And if she is seen carrying it into Starbucks to chat with other moms who just left their kids at Montessori, they all nod approvingly and murmur while she waits for her tall half-caff no-fat vanilla latte, “Pretty… and smart.” Bonus cool points for driving up in a Suburban Über Vehicle, especially if, by sheer audacity, it merits two spaces.

But there’s one problem. These women have never even read the book. Perhaps they heard about the book from a friend or they have read (okay, scanned) a review. Or, more accurately, they probably heard someone else talk about the review. Especially prepared book osmoters may have even watched Oprah’s Book Club. Yet they’ve never actually read the book. Osmosis, if you can remember back to high school biology, is the natural process whereby molecules pass through a cell membrane from an area of high concentration to low concentration. In many churches today, Bible by osmosis is so rampant, it’s normative. Christian demographer and pollster George Barna claims that 80% of Americans who call themselves “born again Christians” receive 100% of their Bible intake during the Sunday morning worship service. Many Christians are holding out hope that osmosis works. But, unfortunately, osmoting the Bible doesn’t work just like it doesn’t for Tuesdays With Morrie.

This is a sobering statistic, no matter how you slice it. But the sad part is that we’ve enabled the osmoter by providing him with an arsenal of weapons that mimic regular engagement with Scripture because, as we all know, survival at church most often means being able to look like a Christian. In churches where discipleship is measured in terms of likeness to Christians instead of Christ, Bible has become the new black.

Like an accessory to liven up a bland dress, Bible osmoters employ a couple strategies to feign a deep relationship with God. For one, speaking fluent Christianese is a helpful smokescreen. The adept Bible osmoter will throw in terms like ‘revelation,’ ‘eschatology,’ or even ‘synoptic’ to mimic godly wisdom. I mean, c’mon, someone who uses ‘synoptic’ must know what they’re talking about, right? Who needs more evidence than that?! Another disguise often employed is the Bible Proximity Principle. This tactic is the closest to osmosis. It is thought that carrying a Bible often or keeping one close on the nightstand means it will rub off on them. Some even go so far as to always keep one handy in the car or briefcase, like an umbrella… just in case. This Bible toter can sometimes be easily identified by the mammoth Bible cover embroidered with an icthus and stuffed full of bulletins, pens, and highlighters.

These tools of the faithful-ish are quickly learned and easily developed in a context where “discipleship” is more about mimicking a culturally conditioned expectation of being disciple-like than being Christlike. We often socialize Christians into acting like little Christians rather than discipling them into, as C.S. Lewis says, “little Christs.” We have trained Christians to be like drug dealers who push their wares but never smoke a single joint. In churches where being perceived as “together” trumps spiritual formation, why would anyone care about actually reading and learning the Scriptures as an authority for living?! We often fail to create an environment where God’s Word is the standard by which all other authorities are measured.

So, the question for church leaders is, as Rob Bell says, “Are we smoking what we’re selling?” If church leaders are not regularly engaged in meaningful dialogue with our Creator through His Word, then we are simple peddlers.