All Wounds and No Scars (Thoughts on A Culture of Grievance)

The title (all wounds/no scars) comes from Erwin McManus’s new book The Artisan Soul, and sums up perfectly some thoughts that have been brewing for a while. Also, what follows is, in many ways, a follow-up to my last post, so check that out if you haven’t seen it.

One of the great gifts of post-modernity has been the resurgence in the importance of story. I have found thinking about the elements of story, seeing my life as a story, and even reading scripture (and doing theology) from a narrative perspective to be immensely helpful.

But, there is a dark side to the elevation of story. That dark side manifests itself in all sorts of ways: from social media/selfie narcissism to an agenda based hybridization of the gospel (a tactic used by those on the left and the right both politically and theologically).

In other words, stories are important, and thinking narratively is helpful, but when your story becomes THE story, we are right back at the same old problem we’ve always had.

We are not the hero of The story.

When we are the hero of the story, life is all about us and what we have experienced, and we end up with a culture of grievance.

Let me give you an example. In liberation theology, much good work has been done to bring the stories of the oppressed to light. But when getting the story out is the ultimate goal, or if expressing my story and all the pain I’ve experienced is the end, we don’t leave a lot of room for Jesus to work. It might be a gnarly story, and it might make a great movie, but if there’s no resurrection there’s no life.

To use the parenting example from the previous post: both examples of parenting stances I cited end up making the child the Hero. So, let me say it again: we (nor our children) are the hero of The story.

What’s fascinating to me about all of this, is that when we make discipleship in the way of Jesus about causes or projects…when we reduce parenting (or governing, or leading, or anything) to an either/or paradigm of rules vs. total freedom…we commit the worst mistake of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees are these characters in the story of Jesus who get a bad reputation for rule-sticklers and judgmental (which they deserve, and which, as we have seen, both miss the point completely). But, if you read the stories of Jesus you will notice a phrase pop up from time to time: wanting to justify themselves (see Luke 16:15 for an example).

The real problem of the Pharisees wasn’t being judgmental, it was wanting to justify themselves.

And this is the danger of story. We end up creating stories that seek only to justify ourselves.

Which is the antithesis of the gospel, the good news that Jesus does the justifying for us.

McManus writes that there are two kinds of “uninteresting people”: those who have never suffered, and those who have suffered and that suffering is all they know.

He writes: “They are trapped in their pain; they wallow in their despair; they are all wounds and no scarsAll they can talk about is their pain.”

It is good to tell our stories. It is good to share our pain and experiences.

But may we move past our suffering and our stoires to something deeper and more beautiful.

“These are the most compelling people: the ones who have overcome tragedy and found beauty; the ones who have drowned in despair but found hope; the ones who should have forever remained trapped in this rubble of their failures and yet found courage and resolve to rise from the dead.

Cities of Refuge

In Joshua 20 and Deuteronomy we learn of a lesser  Old Testament idea: Cities of Refuge. Three cities where someone who has killed someone accidentally can go to avoid retribution.

On the surface this might seem odd: why set up a whole city to respond to this one issue? Were there other things you could escape from in a City of Refuge?

For one who found themselves in the predicament of accidentally killing a neighbor I am sure a City of Refuge was a beautiful symbol of grace and rescue.

On a deeper level, I think these cities served another purpose: the performance of alternative story.

Culture dictated vengeance and more violence. Refuge ended the cycle. These cities said: “you don’t have to live like that.”

May our churches, our community groups, our gatherings, our presence in neighborhoods be “cities of refuge.” Reminders that dictates of culture do not apply here…vengeance, hate, cycles of dysfunction…they can end.

Consumer Quotes

Given that Advent Conspiracy is upon us, here are a couple of quotes to ponder:

“The commercialization of [Christmas] does not exemplify the secularization of society as is commonly assumed. Rather than a secular corruption of a Christian feast, the consumer activity around Christmas functions as the high holy day of a completely different religion, one centered on a consumer culture.” – Dell de Chant


“The people who are rebelling meaningfully don’t buy a lot of stuff.” – David Foster Wallace

A Current of Anger

Quote of the week from the fascinating book: The Road Trip That Changed The World by Mark Sayers.

“We attempt to escape the mundane through seeking out transcendent experiences. Yet the essence of transcendence is rooted in ‘the other,’ the transcendent is mysterious because it is not known, it is otherly. The culture of illusions, peddling pseudo-transcendence, will always leave us unsatisfied because it does not lead to another, it simply leads back to ourselves.

Underneath all of these pseudo-events there is a dark side to the ‘whoosh’ culture, a current of anger, a resentment against the ‘dream not coming true,’ about the ideal being crushed by reality.”

Identity, Work, Time, Seminary, Lost Things, and Baseball

Check these excellent articles out:

  1. The Pew Research center recently published some interesting findings on “Hispanics and Their Views of Identity” (interesting period, but also given the nature of out neighborhood and family)
  2. Seth Godin with more wisdom…this week it’s about protecting and defending your time so you can do the things that are important (and I would add life-giving)
  3. Scot McKnight (who recently made the jump from North Park University, teaching undergrads, to Northern Seminary, teaching grads) gives us 10 Reasons to Attend Seminary
  4. My friend Ryan on “the things we find”…God has a habit of finding things that are lost!
  5. A baseball article. I love Joey Votto. Watch him hit if you get the chance. Plus some of the stuff in this article is so amazing I don’t even believe it.

On Crowder (A Work of Gratitude)…

During the summer of 1999 I spent my Sunday nights driving over to Santa Cruz to attend a worship gathering called “Graceland”. I had just finished my freshmen year at Pacific. The second half of that year marked the beginning of serious involvement with campus ministry (through InterVarsity) and for the first time in my life, on my own, I was really wrestling with Scripture and Jesus, and what they had to say about my future.

I was beginning to grow in an awareness of a number of things including: the reality that I did not want to do dentistry. also, something was happening, kind of underneath the surface, in the church and in my generation.

I had no language or way to really quantify any of those feelings, but something was stirring and it involved a new way to think about and approach the church.

On one of those nights at Graceland (the predecessor to Vintage Faith Church, led by Dan Kimball and Josh Fox) a strange-looking, skinny dude from Texas stood up to lead worship. He and the band he brought with him played “church music” but this was not like anything I’d ever heard or seen before. It was loud, it was loose, it was improvisational, and, and here’s the kicker, it sounded like the music I liked to listen to.

In other words, here was a band that I might go to bar or a club to watch play songs about girls instead leading me into the worship of a God I was beginning to surrender my life to. As much as I admired Josh Fox’s ability to lead worship, this was completely unlike anything I had ever seen or experienced before.

The David Crowder Band has gone on to accomplish many great things in the last 12 years, they’ve grown to epic proportions and their influence has been tremendous. So, I feel like they are the one thing where I can say “I was there before…”.

DCB has been with me ever since. Their first album “All I Can Say” was copied on a tape and passed around our IV worship team…that album contained a song “Make a Joyful Noise/I WIll Not Be Silent” that became an anthem of sorts for our community.

Their first “major album”, “Can You Hear Us,” became the soundtrack to a senior year filled with difficulties: the death of friends, breakups, fires in the dorms, graduating and saying some of my first big goodbyes. “Our Love is Loud” became the new anthem. Shortly after the dorm fire, I think it was a week later, someone heard about a free concert he was doing in Livermore for a college group there. 5 of us hopped in a car and we were off. Best show ever. Crowder gave me a hug afterwards when I explained some of the stuff going on back on campus.

“Illumination” is, in many ways, one of the inspirations for this blog. Every time I listen to that album I think of my first summer at Mount Hermon, driving to and from Monte Vista, and going to the only Passion event I’ve ever attended. I went because my good friend, Steve Comer, was running lights for the show. Crowder and Giglio talked about raising money to do a free show in Boston. They really wanted to go there because they had a passion (pun intended) for college students and there were 250,000 students in Boston. This was the first time I had ever heard anything about this and I remember thinking: “I need to go there.”

“A Collision” is still the best album front to back of all time, in my opinion. Musically it is a thematic master piece, and theologically it is up there with any of the best books I’ve ever read (I mean, read this). From that point on, Crowder’s been operating at a different level, not only from other worship leaders, but from other musicians, period. I could go on and on about this album. Bottom line: it is incredible, it’s as close to perfect as an album can be.

“Remedy” became the soundtrack for Durango, and I wore that cd out driving to Albuquerque and back.

“Church Music” is a genius concept album, and Amy and I enjoyed singing our lungs out in a New York club on that tour.

Which brings us to the end. You can read more about “Give Us Rest” here and here…all I will say is it is the perfect ending to an amazing run.

Back to the beginning. The first time I saw Crowder, some things were stirring inside of me that I had no language for…years later I can explain it all, I can see the conversations and the books and the lectures and the conferences that have helped provide context for all the change that has taken place in me, in the church, in culture.

But back in 1999 I had no idea about any of that. I only knew something needed to change…both in me and how we communicated Good News to those around us. Crowder absolutely tapped in to that stirring in my soul and opened it up so something new could come in and take root. His music gave expression to that stirring.

We’ve been inextricably intertwined ever since. And while it’s sad to see them go (and even though I’m sure there’s still more to come in one form or another), I feel nothing but gratitude for these guys.

So, thank you DCB. Thank you for making great music (and it really is great music, not just great worship music), for building cathedrals we could step in to, for leading us in worship.

In the end their own lyrics express the genius of what they did so well:

And I’m trying to make you sing//From inside where you believe

Like it’s something that you need//Like it means everything

And I’m trying to make you feel//That this is for real, that life is happening

That it means everything//I’m just trying to make you sing