Tuesday, April 20, 2010


When I wrote my previous post, I could not help but think about the faith that I've carried, that has carried me these past 11 years. I think specifically about the effect that theologians like John Piper and John Calvin have had on me. I first learned about the place that 'joy' has in the Christian life from them. But when I received their instruction, I had a seed of doubt in me. Through the years I held the doctrine of Christian joy firmly but the seed continued to grow until I couldn't ignore it any longer.

"Joy" was a dishonest word to use for the Christianity I knew.

Let's talk semiotics for a moment.

Christians love the color white. Spotless white lamb of God, full-bearded, English-accented Jesus wearing a pristine white robe towering over Jew and Arab looking peasants, white-faced church with its white steeple, white fluffy clouds where white-winged and white-robed angels fly...

What a God-damned bore. Piper and others that I've read talk so much about joy but the joy that they write about seems so fundamentally boring. Their language is so impoverished it makes me laugh. They play the same visual tropes to death a thousand times. The Grand Canyon! The sunset! And Piper tries to say sex, but I hear such scorn and contempt in his voice when he shouts it in his sermon that I might have thought it were an expletive. He has not once used the word in a way that gives me the impression it's something I want to have. If I don't have any new way to describe beauty and joy, I'll say the old ones MORE LOUDLY!

More than that, the expressions of joy were so limited. It's a thought you think. It's a feeling you feel. After absorbing such a mass of material I have the distinct impression that they really must not know joy.

The life that I lived, the life which grew out of that kind of Christian environment, was miserable. More than anything else, I had wanted to compete at a high level. In any sport. It didn't matter. I wanted an honest life, and nothing seemed quite as honest as someone who throws their body on the line because they can't stand the thought of losing. For whatever reason, when I saw the Ironman I wanted to do that. Maybe it seemed more accessible than something like MMA or maybe my inner glutton for training finally came out. For years I kept saying "next year, next year I'll start." But when next year came, I'd feel guilty that something might dull my evangelistic zeal, so I never did it. When I registered for the race, a part of me felt like I just burned a Bible and pissed on the ashes.

Oh certainly my theology proper knew that feeling was misguided and wrong. All things can be yours if you have Christ. This is the freedom of the Christian. But then how is it that mentors who hold to that same theology said to me:

"Do you really *have* to compete, Stan? You're so fit already. Do you have to be so vain? Think about how much time it'll take from your schedule. Can you really be committed to Kingdom ministry if you take up this hobby? Oh, I'm not trying to guilt trip you, just think about your priorities. What's really important, the souls of the lost or some silly thing you do for fun?"
It wasn't until my disastrous middle relationship that I finally woke up. I was forfeiting vibrant color for a sterile white. The joy I had in Christianity was so hollow, so false. But I didn't abandon Christianity. I never for a moment doubted God's veracity. I doubted the entire system I bought into. I needed to find my own way, to start over.

I searched for color and vibrancy because I didn't find it in the pastors, the theologians, the churchmen. Sure, they would always smile when they saw me, they would write about the joys of being a Christian but the practice was so shallow. Part of the answer was that they were all too pastoral, cloistered in an ivory-tower.

Listening to the Cirque du Soleil soundtrack, I find what the Christianity I know is missing -- frenetic energy, raucous joy, celebration sans alloy. The word "hallelujah" means a wild, uninhibited shout -- a holler. Where now is the church that can do justice to the word "hallelujah"? I "hallelujah" when I sack a QB in a football game. I jump up and down, I beat my chest and I let out a hot-blooded roar. Chest-bumps, forearm bashes, celebration dances because there's something worth celebrating. Doesn't the Christian have something to celebrate? Could I do that in my church service?  Oh no, never. That's not appropriate for church, young man. When a church cannot "hallelujah" it's probably time for that church to close its doors.

A few months ago, at my Baruch Alumni Men's Fellowship Group, a friend showed me of a video he took at a church in India. I think I saw some pews in the distance but they were empty. The music was turned up to 11. Where was the congregation? They were in the back of the sanctuary where the pews didn't obstruct and it was there they danced. In jubilant circles they danced. They sang and clapped. Hallelujah.

Now, that's only speaking of church services. My interest is far bigger than something as claustrophobic as church. I want to think about life at large. I've followed the lives of the theologians and for all the vastness of God that they were supposed to contain, they look so small and shriveled. They say they had more joy than anyone else. Were I to meet with them, would I come away with an understanding of what joy was?

No. The more that I met the more I was convinced that the practice was wrong. Everything we've been doing all looks so wrong. God should be praised. God should be renowned through all corners of the earth and what I'm convinced about more and more each day is that the way we've been doing it is all so seriously wrong.

Christians have understood white to mean purity. To do this, they've bleached, murdered and mutilated thinking that this would make them more pure. They've cut away joy, happiness and laughter from Christian living and somehow still preach that Christians are given joy, happiness and laughter as gifts from God. The white that I'm looking for is the white of completion, the white light which is the blend of all colors. I want the rich red of Chinese fortune, the festive green of Brazilian life, the deep blues of the sea, the whimsical blue of the clear sky, the beautiful, deep mahogany of Eastern Africa, the rich, warm ebony of Sub-Saharan Africa, the oranges of the desert, the violets of the sunset, the brown of cinnamon, the yellow of saffron and curry, the fall foliage, the Aurora Borealis, the Painted Desert, Hanauma Bay, Havana. I want a synaesthetic Christianity whose loud, passionate colors leave the soul hungering for more of God. Piper asked if we understood majesty in music. I ask if he understands festivity in music. The movement and celebration of an electric yellow and green samba, the seduction of black and red tango, the light-hearted laughter of pink and baby blue sugary pop. All rivers flow as one, all colors shine as one, this is the white I think Christianity should be looking for.


  1. It's really amazing how God provides for us when we really need guidance. I've been in a rut for the past few days (in truth, much longer, but more of a conscious rut recently) regarding my faith and organized religion. Before I get to that though I'd like to comment on some of the points you made and issues you raised in your post.

    I love the entire thrust of your thoughts; color IS missing from Christianity, at least our Americanized version of it. I can speak only from my Roman Catholic experience but, from what I've seen, all that is white is more muted--it's closer to slate gray. Everything about Catholicism, as it is practiced here in New York at the very least, is solemn and drab; there is no vibrancy--no color. The "celebration" of Christ is often rarely that...and it begs the question why?

    The whiteness of Christianity (and many things in our culture) has always bothered me and, I suppose, has contributed in part to my recent distancing from the organized aspects of religion. I know that you weren't necessarily going down a racial or cultural path with your analogy but I would be remiss not to point out at least a few issues that I have with how important white has become to Christianity. Isn't it amazing that most pictorial representations of God feature an old white man with a white (or grey) beard? Every pope (as far as I can tell) has been white and even Jesus is most frequently portrayed as caucasian...despite the fact that he came from a region not exactly known for its whiteness. Go figure.

    Anyway, back to the point. I've been in a rut lately with regards to church. My relationship with God feels fine, it's the conflict that has popped up with regards to church, priests, and organized religion as a whole. I can't get my head past the idea that it's all artifice. More importantly, that it's all MAN-MADE (sorry--no italics option). Maybe that's why there's only white? Too much color would be distracting and would ruin the hypnotic trance that's created? We are all supposed to be (white) sheep after all, no?

    I've found myself at a metacognitive standpoint with regards to religion. I've always identified myself as a Christian and align myself with Christ...but I have to wonder what's more important--the ideals that he embodies or the stories that have been told about him? There are dozens of flavors (if you will) of religion, dating back thousands and thousands of years. Each one features a creation story, a battle for power between warring factions, a single Godhead or God-like figure, and countless supporting characters. Christianity has it, Islam has it, Judaism has it...but so do Norse Mythology, Greek Mythology, Celtic Paganism. The list goes on and on.

    For me, I've tried to remove the human element from religion; I feel that it has marred what would otherwise be a compelling argument for our existence. Too much of the organized religion we encounter deals with hypocrisy and contradiction. Your mentor chided you for being competitive and wasting your time on your frivolous endeavor. But, with all due respect, could not the same thing be said for HIM (or them)? Isn't the purpose of spreading the Gospel not simply to spread the word but to GET IT OUT THERE FIRST? To CONVERT people from other religions or belief sets? That sounds fairly competitive to me! And yet, because what YOU are doing doesn't directly further the aims of the religious body, it is deemed fanciful.

  2. At its core, I believe religion should be about providing both social moral guidance as well as internal, spiritual oneness. It should foster a deep sense of commitment to building and participating in a community of people who all share the common goal of leading a good life. Somewhere, though, that message gets lost in the "whiteness." "We have a special collection this week for the Cardinal's Appeal." "We have a special collection this week to defray the cost of our envelope program." "We have a special collection this week to provide for our other special collections." Somewhere in the mechanical demonstration of the modern mass, Christ seems to be lost.

    You and I might not remember when it was all fire and brimstone and we were all sinners destined for an afterlife filled with pain and suffering, but those from our parents' generation sure do. It's interesting to see how far the (Catholic) church has progressed on the issue. One would like to think that it is because of some metaphysical epiphany where the clergy realized that the flock should be taught how to lead righteous lives instead of being admonished for being imperfect...but that doesn't seem to be the case. We have a kinder, gentler church simply because people stopped coming when they grew unafraid of the threats.

    I hate for this all to come across as some angry diatribe against the church, Christianity, and God Himself...but it's not. I'm confused because what I've been brought up on--the whiteness--has blinded me, in my opinion. It is now in direct conflict with what I see all around me--the color. I wonder why more people haven't opened their eyes, which then, in turn, makes me wonder if I truly have opened my own. It reminds me of the third Matrix movie when they break through the clouds. Am I truly rising above the mess and seeing clearly? Or is it all a facade that I've created for myself?

    The bottom line is this: God resides in all of us and regardless of if you're a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Shintoist, a Pagan, or whatever else you could possibly be, what's important is to seek out that inner oneness and to achieve that internal peace in cooperation with a homeostatic social existence. Whatever team you align yourself with only indicates what rules you want to play by but the actual handbook is the same for everyone--it's just a matter of semantics and how the game is played.

    I say--if you want to sack the quarterback and let loose a throat-ripping roar, then do it! But if he needs your help getting up, don't pull an Iverseon and step over his Lue.


  3. Matt, I'm not offended at all by your thoughts. I'm actually really happy that there are readers!

    But I know exactly what you're talking about because I harbor many similar thoughts. And for what it's worth, I think the similarities and differences are worth exploring but we'll take it at its own pace.

    I think I'll respond in another post as I want to think it through well.

    Thanks again for reading!