One of the assumptions of my new book Uncomfortable is that church is hard.Discomfort, frustration and pain are inevitable. But another assumption of Uncomfortable is that these are not necessarily reasons we should leave a church. On the contrary, I argue in the book that discomfort in church community is actually a huge part of how we grow.
In preparation for writing Uncomfortable I wanted to get a sense for what proves most uncomfortable about Christianity in real churches today. I emailed a number of pastors from around the world and asked them about what aspects of Christianity or church life proved to be especially uncomfortable, challenging or offensive in their particular congregations and contexts. Here are 10 of the responses I received.
Instead of celebrating the fact that Christianity has contributed good things to the world for two thousand years, the increasingly unpopular church feels the need to talk only about the bad things she has done. Rather than drawing from her rich heritage of time-tested tradition, today’s church chooses to adopt last week’s fashion so as to be relevant again.
I know plenty of Christians who get far more excited about mission “out there” than they do about their own personal holiness: passionate church planters whose marriages are a mess; progressive Christians engaged in social justice but disengaged from their own spiritual vitality. But mission and morality are not two separate categories.
My new book, Uncomfortable: The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community, comes out the last week of September but is available for preorder now. If you are curious about what others are saying about the book, below you can read some of the very kind words that have been offered as endorsements of the book.
The reality of God’s family is that people have different backgrounds and personalities and opinions. They will clash. It will be messy. It’s a huge challenge committing to a family like this, but it is not optional. We must lean into and embrace the awkward conglomeration of people who comprise the church.
Places shape us. They seep into our bones and grab hold of our hearts. As much as we live our lives digitally these days and find connections in the vast placeless spaces of the Internet, the reality is we are embodied beings who are wired to shape and be shaped by specific, physical places. Biola University has been a profound place in my life.
It was a Tuesday morning in July when I sat down in President Corey's office and told him the news that I had accepted a new job and would no longer be working at Biola University. With tears in my eyes I told him how hard it was for me to leave. I'd worked at Biola for nine years and met my wife Kira here. I loved my job working in the Office of the President. I was not looking to leave.
Do you remember the old food pyramid that shows how a healthy body depends on a balanced diet, with the right proportions of food groups and nutrition vs. junk foods? In our current epistemological crisis, where we are bombarded by a glut of content and information but have so little wisdom, we need guidance on healthier habits of knowledge intake. We need a wisdom pyramid.
As utilitarian and burdensome as they sometimes feel, blogs become part of the blogger. For good and for ill, they are places to vent and process aloud, to praise and critique, to know and be known. My blog has allowed me to develop ideas that eventually became books, to engage and celebrate the many things that captivate me, and to make lots and lots of lists.
Cinema is often framed as escapism, and indeed it has that quality. We watch movies to visit far away places and times, and to understand the experiences of others. But cinema at its best, and certainly Columbus fits that bill, doesn’t stop at escapism; it helps us return well to reality, with new eyes to see and love the world beyond the screen.
“Do not be conformed to this world” is one of the most grating verses of the Bible to many modern ears, yet it is not just a Pauline one-off. The nonconforming set-apartness of God’s people is a major theme of the whole Bible. But it’s an unpopular idea these days, both for Christians who wish they could blend in and for nonbelievers pressuring religious institutions to compromise on their different-ness.
Recently, on one of those "too much time on social media" days, where my frustration and anger about all manner of things reached a Twitter-fueled boiling point, I took a break from technology and opened my (physical) Bible. I turned to the seven penitential psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143) and spent some time there.
In Uncomfortable I discuss a whole range of uncomfortable aspects of following Jesus and committing to a local church. As painful as it is to rehash the warts of the church and as much as it makes me cringe to think of it all, it also fills me with joy. For it is on account of the uncomfortable, the awkward, the difficult and the challenging that I have grown.
"The coast is beautiful" is something existentially true and intuitively felt among all humans. We are drawn to the places where land meets sea, where water meets rock; two very different things, coming together, producing an aesthetic pleasure and a life-giving good. We are attracted to this because it is a familiar cosmic reality.
Though The Beguiled feels initially like something new for Coppola (and in many ways it is), the film has definite resonances, both thematically and stylistically, with the director’s prior work. One of the ideas Coppola often explores is the intersection of innocence and danger, the ways that bourgeois “play” often flirts with transgression and rebellion.
For me, rollercoasters represent the appeal of the amusement park in a nutshell: experiences of suspension and escape, where we can flirt with danger and adventure in a controlled environment. To ride a coaster is to confront fear in safety, to flip the script on dread and turn it into something about which we can laugh and scream and throw up our hands.
If we always approach church through the lens of wishing this or that were different, or longing for a church that “gets me” or “meets me where I’m at,” we’ll never commit anywhere (or, Protestants that we are, we’ll just start our own church). But church shouldn’t be about being perfectly understood and met in our comfort zone; it should be about understanding God more, and meeting him where he’s at.