Monday, July 30, 2018

Soul Rhythm

“Why do you go to church?”

It’s a fair question. A lot of people—many of them long-time followers of Jesus—have been asking it with increasing frequency in recent years.

When my friend Luke Geraty posed the question online last week, it got me thinking about the thin line between why I go to church (regularly) and why I should go to church (regularly).

Here—in no specific linear order—are a few of the things that came to mind:
  1. First, the obvious one. Hebrews 10:24-25: “do not give up meeting together.”
    Not out of some religious sense of drudging duty or slavish legalism—but because I need other Christians in my life. In their original context, these verses were not intended as a whip to enforce attendance, but rather an encouragement to gather for much-needed mutual support.
  2. It confronts my consumerism.
    Like many people, I have an unfortunate tendency to evaluate church through a consumerist grid of “what’s in it for me?” I want to “get something” out of the worship, the teaching, the prayers, the fellowship (even the coffee). I need to be reminded that I’m called to serve. On any given Sunday, there are opportunities to lay down my selfish consumerism and grow up (mature spiritually) by serving others.
  3. Spiritual rhythm/soul care is a real thing.
    Everyone loves Eugene Peterson’s phrase “the unforced rhythms of grace” (Matthew 11:28-30), and we all benefit from regular soul care. For me, part of my spiritual rhythm is going to church—regularly. Attending once every three weeks or so (a growing trend observed in many churches) isn’t much of a rhythm—you’re there just often enough to say you still attend, but not enough that you make any real connections or impact. Generally speaking, it’s easier to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), when I see them on a regular basis.
  4. It’s healthy to be around people who challenge me.
    If I only hang out with a few like-minded friends in a coffeeshop or pub, we will have great fellowship and a good time. Church gatherings, on the other hand, are often much more diverse: populated by an admixture of broken, needy, opinionated people who may push my buttons. I won’t mature as a Christian if I don’t learn how to appreciate and minister to/among others who are different.
  5. It’s good to be reminded of the foundations of our faith, even (especially) when I naively think “I already know this.”
    You’ve heard the analogy about how bank tellers can spot counterfeit currency, because they’ve handled the real thing so much that the fakes become easier to detect? The same goes for our spiritual lives—the more we’re deeply, thoroughly marinated in solid biblical theology, the less likely we’ll be seduced by clever manipulators playing “alternative facts” or Twisted Scripture.
  6. There’s just something about corporate worship that nourishes the soul.
    Whether I’m on the worship team or singing in the congregation, there’s something rich and deep and powerful that takes place when a myriad of voices are raised in song. There’s a solidarity—a unity—which transcends our divergent personalities, backgrounds, opinions, struggles, and questions, as we turn our absolute, unmixed attention to worshiping Jesus. Together.
  7. And finally, if I truly want to “be the change I want to see,” I can neither be the change—nor see it—if I’m not there.
    Regularly.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Post-Charismatic: A Publishing Journey

From an author’s perspective, the saga of Post-Charismatic provides a whirlwind tour into the strange world of publishing, and the roller-coaster ups-and-downs associated with it.

In this blog’s early days, there was a lot of conversation about the growing number of disillusioned people from Pentecostal/charismatic backgrounds. Many were opting to leave the movements they had once considered sources of spiritual vitality.

I decided—at the encouragement of several blogging friends—to begin what I conceived of as “the mother of all research papers”: a series of blog posts to unpack the why’s behind the growing number of people who would self-identify as post-charismatic.

It didn’t take long in my research to realize a blog series wouldn’t do the topic justice. Instead, what was tentatively billed as the Post-Charismatic Project would be published as a subsection of my blog—an extremely large subsection, as twenty months of research and writing took shape.

Even before its release, several people suggested I look into getting the content published in book form. I did my best to shop the proposal around but received zero response. (Note: possibly because my query letters sucked.)

So I went ahead with my initial plan and designed a website-within-a-blog.


In hindsight, I have no idea what inspired this banner art.

The website went public in early 2006 and word spread quickly around the blogosphere. Brent Toderash from Subversive Influence (who also provided invaluable critiques of the early drafts) created an online forum where readers could interact on the various issues raised by the Project. To say the forum was inundated with lively debate would be a classic understatement.
The publishing angle took an unexpected turn later that same year. An email arrived from jolly olde England, inquiring about publishing the Post-Charismatic Project as a book. 
This was considered the holy grail of blogging: becoming a published author.
At first, I thought the email was the digital equivalent of a prank phone call. Just in case, I decided to contact the company in question and inquire whether or not a certain name was associated with them.

“You mean our senior acquisitions editor?” the polite British woman asked over the phone. “I would take an email from him very seriously, if I were you.”
And then it hit me. I had been discovered. I was going to be published.

A whirlwind of contract signing and untangling governmental red tape between a Canadian writer and a British publishing house ensued. I quickly found myself knee-deep in the process of editors scouring through my manuscript, suggesting additions, deletions, areas where the material could be tightened up, and so on. It was a fun learning curve.

Eventually, I was treated to the odd sensation which accompanies the first glimpse of the proposed cover art. Initially, I wasn’t a huge fan of either design, to be honest (especially all the question marks), but that’s part of the swirl of publication. You don’t have control over what the publisher decides. And they’re the experts, so you need to trust their instincts.

In the end, they chose the second cover design, which was the better of the two in my limited opinion. And at the beginning of April, in 2008, Post-Charismatic? was officially released in the UK. (The release date coinciding with April Fools Day has always been a source of amusement for me.)

And then another unexpected turn occurred.
Post-Charismatic? was in bookstores and receiving press attention and positive reviews in the UK. I was already receiving emails and hand-written letters from readers across The Pond, including a university professor who used the book in one of his classes. 
But for reasons unknown, the release on this side of the Atlantic was delayed for over a year. My inbox was flooded with requests from American and Canadian readers who wanted copies, but there was nothing I could do.

As I later discovered, an American publishing house had bought out the British company, and their rules for publication were different. In short, their sales department determined I didn’t qualify to be published. Since legally-binding documents had been signed, they were contractually obligated to the first print run. But that was as far as they would (grudgingly) go.

Zero promotion. Non-existent publicity. No buzz.

For a writer, this was understandably frustrating and not a little deflating. The three-year print run came and went, and the muffled thud you may have heard was the (apparent) end of my shelf life as an author.

But after the print run was over, I continued to receive private inquiries about the book’s availability, and also requests for an ebook version. And I realized there was another option available—self-publishing.

It took almost half a year of wrangling with the American company to obtain an official “author rights reversal” (despite this being clearly delineated in my contract). The company also waived their right of first refusal for my next book because their sales department had already decided I was perpetually unpublishable.

The important piece is this: with an author rights reversal, I was once more in creative and legal control of what I did with my work.

Post-Charismatic 2.0 is a proper second edition of the original book—updated, edited (yet again, ruthlessly)—with a new framing story of a fictional Charismatics Anonymous meeting to introduce and conclude the book.

The learning curve to create both print and e-book formats was steep, but having complete artistic control of my work was well worth it.

I could never have predicted how this publishing journey would unfold when I began researching for “a few blog posts.” But it’s been a challenging, satisfying, and ultimately empowering education.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Satan Sends an Emoji

In the Olden Days of Yesteryear, Satan would often phone church people to personally congratulate them when they took on tasks normally reserved for him. “You’re doing one helluva job. Keep up the good work!”

These days, things have gotten much busier, and wanting to keep up with the times and technology, the Devil is now sending diabolically clever emoji’s to signal his approval.

The task at hand, as it has been for many years, is two-fold:
(A) Demoralize church leaders to the point where they quit.

(B) Failing that, surround said leaders with enough toxicity that they can only survive by building walls of protection around themselves.
For example: in the Olden Days, the well-timed phone call—preferably during Sunday lunch—which interrupts the leader’s family time with a barrage of criticism. Meal-time ruined; leader’s motives, gifts and passion called into question; spouse & children witnesses to the carnage which in turn (dis)colors their view of church. Perfect!

The caller hangs up, tingling with a rush of self-righteous adrenaline—“I really gave them a piece of my mind held them accountable.”

And Satan sends an emoji.

For those eager not to miss out on the bandwagon, there are many ways to earn these congratulatory dopamine-enhancers (far more satisfying than a mere “like” or “retweet.”) Here’s a partial list:
  • The Declaration Of Defamation that shows up in a leader’s mail slot in the church office, from that most-prolific of all letter-writers: “Anonymous.”
  • The recurring line-up of the usual suspects outside the pastor’s office, ready to grind their Axe of Agenda because the pastor has (in their opinion) somehow failed them God in a recent sermon.
  • The young worship leader who devotes hours and hours of practice, prayer, and using their gifts for the Kingdom, only to be told that numerous people plan to boycott the next time they lead worship because they don’t like (a) the volume, (b) the drums, (c) the songs, or (d) (fill in pet musical peeve here).
  • Or the equally disemboweling dagger: “You’re not anointed” or “you’re leading from ‘the flesh’ and not from the Spirit” (because these people can discern a worship leader’s heart and motives, just like God can).
  • The prickly email sent from a parishioner with a laundry list of complaints spiritual concerns, speaking “on behalf of a lot of people” (to give their criticism added weight).
  • Those who delight in spreading gossip under the guise of ‘concern’: “You know, a lot of people are saying [blank] about you behind your back—I just thought you should know.”
  • The grumpy person in the lobby—arms crossed, brow furrowed—compelled by All That Is Holy to accuse the leader of being aloof, unapproachable, or “looking defensive” (while remaining blissfully unaware of the irony).
This is only a partial list, of course. With time, effort, and a little creativity, the possibilities and permutations are simply endless. The Enemy appreciates the additional help. Be diligent, and don’t ever take your foot off the gas pedal.

And Satan sends an emoji.