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Church Culture

there's a certain culture that exists in modern american protestant churches. it exists in varying degrees across denominations and movements, but there are at least elements of it in nearly every church that i've been to. i don't think i can necessarily pin it down or describe it very well, but i know it's there. it's always there. i hate to call it Christian bookstore culture, but that's a pretty big part of it. as with any culture, there are certain expectations of you if you claim to be part of it...expectations both from outside the church and within. and in both cases the expectations are more cultural than they are biblical. i feel pretty trapped lately, because i know that i don't really fit either set of expectations and it's so difficult to just be honest.

there are quite a few problems with this modern culture in the church. it creates an environment that is just naturally uncomfortable for anyone that isn't a part of it. as open as any church might claim to be or want to be, this pervading church culture subconsciously pushes people away, because it's still too tightly defined and based on the wrong things. it is mostly focused on separating the church from the world rather than reaching out to the world. yes, as Christians we are called to be different than the world, but church culture has missed the point of how we're supposed to be different. the number one thing that should set us apart is our love...or more specifically, God's love through us. not what radio station we listen to. not what clothes we wear. not what CDs we buy. not what weekend conventions we go to. not what bumper stickers are on our car. not even what moral choices we make, because we all make bad moral choices. can all of those things help set us apart? sure. but they shouldn't be what defines the difference between us and the world, and yet to so many people both in and out of the church, they are. ideally, church culture should be a much simpler, stripped-down culture based in love, perpetual grace, reverance, and a striking level of openness.

sometimes i wish there was a way to just kill all of that other cultural noise and start fresh.


i recently finished reading 'Junky' by William S. Burroughs which is a mostly personal account of opium addiction. the lifestyle that he describes in the book is pretty fascinating. junk becomes the life-purpose of the opium addict. every activity is motivated by the need to score and shoot up, while everything else just sort of fades into the background. the junky's will is completely surrendered to junk. when the need for junk can't be filled, the sickness sets in. it's a pretty ugly existence, really. but at the same time, i envy the life of the junky in some ways. there's beauty and simplicity in being so focused on and devoted to a single-purpose...and to feeling a need so strong that any amount of withdrawl results in overbearing emptiness.

i want to need God that way. i want to know his purpose for my life and be wholly devoted to it. i want to lose my will to him completely. God help me, i'm so terribly far from that point.

Sign Language (part 1)

These are the first in a polaroid series of amusing and/or aesthetically-pleasing (to my eye, anyway) signs. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at record-keeping, so I'm unsure of the exact date these were taken, but I know they are from this general era of my life.

The Keys

this is the true story of the keys...

i was at my parents' house for the weekend to get my car back after trading vehicles with them for a trip. i had my own standard set of keys for my car and there was also the set that i'd given my parents to use while they were driving it. on sunday morning, before church, i was loading my stuff in the car for the drive back to st louis, since i'd be leaving from church. i had bags in my hands and grabbed the spare set of my car keys that my parents had been using on the way out. in the process of loading everything i set that spare set of keys on the roof of the car and forgot about them. i headed out to church, and just as i turned onto the main road and starting picking up speed, i realized that i'd left the spare keys on top of the car. just an instant after this realization i caught a glimpse in the rearview mirror of the keys sliding speedily down the edge of the rear winshield. i pulled off to the side of the road as soon as i could and started walking back quickly to find the keys in the road. i was pretty certain that they'd flown off the drivers side edge of the rear winshield and were probably in the road. i looked pretty frantically and impatiently because i didn't want to be late for church and i didn't want the keyless entry remote to be run over. after scouring the road down and back i didn't find the keys, but i at least determined that they weren't in a position to be run over. i figured maybe i'd seen things wrong in the mirror and they fell off the other side, but i was late for church, so i decided to go on and come back afterward to look for them on the shoulder. throughout the service my mind drifted intermittently to worrying about finding the keys. when church was over i rushed back out to my car to head back to the spot where i lost them. as i was walking up to the rear of the parked car, i noticed that my keys were wedged into the small crevice where the trunk lid meets the bottom of the rear winshield. they had been there, safe and sound, the entire time i was frantically searching for them in the road. i just had to laugh at myself.


a couple of weeks ago i was in a coffee shop and an obviously homeless man came in asking the patrons for change. he unintelligibly appealed to me, but i didn't have any change, or i just didn't want to give him any...i don't really remember. one of the coffee shop employees pretty quickly and sternly let him know that he wasn't allowed to do that in the coffee shop. something about that guy stuck with me though, and that was his facial expression. even if i had only seen him from the neck up, i could have told you he was homeless. that look of having nowhere to belong was written indelibly on his face. i haven't been able to shake that image of his expression. mostly because i've seen shades of it in the mirror more and more lately.