Monday, March 7, 2011 | By: Zachary Bartels

When Killing Pets Gets Fun


Why Lent Will Last Five Months

This is going to be huge, people. And by that, I mostly mean that it’s going to be really long, but I also mean that—in the context of my little life and ministry—it may prove rather significant. Or not.

Back story: My wife and I went to a John Reuben concert last Friday at the beautiful State Theatre in my home town of Bay City, Michigan. Of course, it was incredible, as Mr. Zappin is one of the best showmen working today and knows how to ramp up the energy in a crowd with no effort at all. His music is also snappy.

Man, the camera on my cell phone sucks...

Now, I used to be the first guy in the mosh pit and the last guy out, but since about 2003, I'd rather sit and enjoy the performance. I hate it when I have to stand up at a concert in order to see. I mean, you pay for a seat, right? So, I was pleased to find a couple spots in the balcony with a great view of the stage. Add to that the dirt-cheap popcorn, Raisinets, and Mt. Dew from the snack bar and I was in concert heaven. An up-and-coming regional group called the Matt Moore Band opened up; they were great, and I’m sure they’ll be hitting the national scene soon.

Understand that Pastor Zach has been to a lot of concerts. From 1994-1996, I was a deejay at a Christian music station (89.1 FM, WTRK the ROCK), and the benefits package consisted of free trips to pretty much every Christian concert in the area. The summer months were the busiest, when I went to at least one concert a week, usually more. I saw a lot of merch tables and intentional branding. I heard a lot of rather Finneyistic altar calls. I could fill volumes with the raspy pseudo-theological musings that I heard from A, B, and C-list Christian singers.

And I loved it.

Shortly after leaving that gig, I became a youth pastor. i.e., lots more concerts, lots more merch, lots more “talks”. With my graduation from college, my marriage, and the birth of my son, that sort of thing has gone by the wayside, as I suppose it should.

But attending this concert just down the road from where I used to spin CDs was a bizarre, deja-vu-ish experience. Although for different reasons (back stage pass, manning the radio station’s booth, keeping an eye on squirrely youth group members, etc.), I often watched those many former concerts from a detached distance as well, occasionaly while munching on green room goodies. Add in the fact that the place was 90% youth group kids, and I felt a bit as if I had travelled back in time to re-experience the sort of live-music-induced, uber-positive vibes that I rarely encounter these days.

And, man, was this show—in every way—postive! Reuben led the crowd in singing Happy Birthday to an elated 8th grade girl near the front. He “opened the mic to any other emcees in the building,” an exercise which netted three eleven-year-old kids who called themselves Triple Beat and a painfully dorky forty-five year old dad who filled his embarrassing my kids quota for the next decade. Through all this, Reuben remained steadfastly amped and upbeat. There was no hint of bitterness that he used to play venues ten times bigger (perhaps he still does); he poured himself into that show like he would have if there were fifty thousand people present. My hat is off to the man.

So what does this have to do with Lent? (Or killing pets?) Well, in the after-glow of this event, I decided what I would give up for Lent this year (cue Fundie joke about giving up “popish traditions”). It’s actually quite fitting, given the nostalgic turn of the night, as my devotional life was completely wound up in my concert-going, raspy-spiritual-talk-hearing, T-shirt-slogan, high-pressure-invitation-witnessing life during my deejay days.

So here it is: I’m giving up spiritual negativity. Seriously.

What does this mean? Well, it resists being described succinctly. For starters, it means I won’t be listening to certain podcasts or regularly reading certain blogs—the ones dedicated to exposing the false teachings of everyone everywhere and slaying heretics with a fiery sword, the ones that often (literally) make a game out of spotting and crushing error. It means I won’t be writing those kinds of blog posts myself. It means skipping the semi-regular portion of my sermon where I show how wrong “certain preachers” (always unnamed) are in their interpretation of this or that text. It means I’ll resist the urge to go off on Christian music, movies, and T-shirts for being so trite, stupid, and embarrassing . . . even when they are.

What does it not mean? Well, I’m not losing my Gen X sarcastic sense of humor, for starters. I’m not bailing on writing my chapters for Beauty and the Mark of the Beast (which almost immediately stopped being a critique of anything and started just being a goofy literary cartoon).I’m not setting aside the use of the Law in my preaching or my evangelism. I’m not shirking my responsibility to discernment in my pastoral ministry (i.e., if someone asks me about a given teaching or teacher, I will respond biblically and truthfully; ibid if a prominent false teaching begins to affect my congregation and must be dealt with . . . I just won’t be searching and destroying heresies like Dog the Bounty Hunter).

And most imporantly, I’m not changing my mind about the legitimacy or importance of contending for the Faith once for all handed down to the saints, calling spiritual error what it is, and comparing what people say in God’s name to what God actually said in His Word. Yes, I am aware that a lot of what Paul, John, James, and even Jesus wrote/said could potentially be branded “spiritual negativity.” I am aware that the same people who throw around the terms “heresy hunter” and “doctrine cop” in a derisive way would probably be horrified if they read the Church Fathers.

But here’s the thing: for Jesus and his apostles, contending against wolves was not the main event. Preaching the Gospel was. Dealing with false teachers and creeping error was an unfortunate necessity. I’m afraid that, for many today, it’s not the fishing but the hunting that really gets them going. I can see myself very slowly trending in that direction. And that is not good.

Let me put it this way: my childhood cat, Clifford (who was with the family for 21 years) was recently given to a nice family who lives on a farm. In other words, he was driven to the vet, where he was given an injection of something deadly, and Clifford stopped living. I’m thankful that there are people willing to do that job; it needed to be done, as the poor old thing could no longer even find his way to his food bowl without help. It’s a necessary task, but probably the biggest downer in the day of any vet. But what if Dr. So-and-so started to like putting down animals? What if he never killed anything that wasn’t specifically brought in for that purpose, but he started deriving great pleasure from making the injections and watching the animals die? Wouldn’t that concern you? Shouldn't it concern him?

Or maybe a better analogy is the flyer I received at the church last week for a company that comes in and “cleans up” after a death, violent crime, or suicide. These people viewed it as a ministry, caring for families when they were at their weakest and couldn't deal with the grizzly reminders in the drapes or the rug. And God bless them for it. But what if one of those guys started to like the blood and guts? What if he reached the point where his favorite thing to do was to pick pieces of skull and brain off of a linoleum floor?

In neither case would society be worse off, I suppose, (grizzly jobs need to be done), but that individual would be headed down a decidedly jacked up, unhealthy road. And while the church might perhaps benefit from even the most blood-thirsty heretic hound, I don’t think it’s good for them (the hounds themselves) when they relish the kill like that.

Am I changing my theology because of a corny experience in a big room full of youth group kids? Nah, I’m not changing my theology at all. I just want another chance to be that guy who could listen to Geoff Moore talk about his “quiet time” or pop in a “Christian movie”—not without discernment, but more expecting that God might speak through it than suspecting that it’s a conduit of deadly error. This is, I believe, a needed repreive for me—a safeguard in my sanctification. And I’m not trying to tell you that I received some revelation through the mouth of John Reuben or the kids of Triple Beat. This was good old fashioned Providence at its best.

So why will Lent last five months? Because the forty days of Lent are really incidental to this whole thing, and I don’t think forty days is a long enough detox period. Perhaps I was already thinking of Brian McLaren's recently concluded self-imposed five year moratorium on discussing homosexuality. Five years may be over-committing. Five months, I can handle. And why bring up McLaren? Because the hardcore ODM guys who will undoubtedly see this as some sort of swipe at them will be horribly scandalized by the dropping of BM's name.

And Lent hasn’t started yet.

For the record, of course McLaren’s books are full of rank heresy (especially his last one) and are dangerous to the Church at large. But, for the next five months, the Church at large will have to do without me on counter-offensive.

If you’re still with me, then you’re a true-blue reader of this blog. I’ll still be writing during the next five months, still determined to know nothing among you but Christ and Him crucified. Nothing at all, not even heretics and them humiliated.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Pastor Zach

6 reader comments:

Scott said...

All the merits aside, your experiment gets my respect because you *could* have just said you'd do it for Lent and *then* said it was a long-term change.

Leo D Anderson said...

Excellent words.

Erin said...

Great idea. I think you'll definitely benefit from that, and I will as well (because while I may not be a heresy hunter, I do tend to see the negatives in a lot of situations and people). We could certainly do with more positivity in this life.

Otternam said...

I gave it up months ago, but the detox is hard. I replaced it with alcohol abuse and prescription anti-depressants and I feel much better now... almost good enough to read Love Wins with a smile. Kinda makes me feel like Riverdancing.

Cory said...

This is a really beautiful post, Zach. Good for you. I sincerely pray that this fast becomes a feast on delightful things for you.

And by the way, I like that you have a Label called "Insanely long."

ZSB said...

Just saw on FB that Chris and Ingrid are now involved in some sort of inter-ODM feud, calling each other liars, heretics, and puppets of the devil. In the flesh, I really want to watch the train wreck. But I'm really thinking that I chose the right time to get off the train...