We home schooled our children from 1992–2004. During those years, home schooling was not yet mainstream. Like many other families worried about running afoul of truancy laws, we paid our yearly dues to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in order to ensure we’d have access to legal help if we needed it. Their conservative, home-schooling dad lawyers, including Doug Phillips, were regulars on the home school convention speaking circuit. When Phllips left to launch Vision Forum, I understood it to be a related enterprise, but focused solely on a particular theological and social grid toward which they were working to funnel the home school movement: dominionist theological understanding and an aggressively pro-patriarchy family and church structure. He wanted to be free to focus on strengthening the faith and practice home school families in his camp without all the bother of wasting his time on court cases with secular home school families as defendants, which was sometimes the case with the work he did with HSLDA.

Often sharing the platform at home school conventions with HSLDA speakers were various members of the Advanced Training Institute crew, disciples of Bill Gothard. (The ‘19 Kids And Counting‘ Duggars are an ATI family and exemplars of Gothard’s teaching.) This cozy arrangement where the Gothardites got away with presenting themselves as the pinnacle to which the rest of us rank-and-file home schoolers were supposed to aspire made perfect sense, as many of the leaders of the state home school organizations in the states in which we lived during our home school years were ATI families.

The formulas preached by these people were so air-tight. The tribes formed around messages of Phillips and Gothard and others like them were so…well, family-like. For those of us home schoolers trying to navigate doing something still viewed in those days as counter-cultural, there was a great temptation for many home school parents to ally themselves with one of these ready-made cliques peer groups within the larger home school community. ]Read more]

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At a social event last weekend, I ran into C., a woman I used to know when our kids were young. C. and her family were long-time, active members of a well-known megachurch in our area. Her nest had been empty for a couple of years now. C. and her husband were in the midst of relocating from this area to more temperate climes, delayed only by the sale of a home that has languished on the market for many months.

I asked C. if she was still attending the megachurch, and told me she and her husband had quietly drifted away a while ago, more or less around the same time their youngest headed to college. When I queried her about her connection with the church where her family spent the last couple of decades, she shrugged and said, “We’d pretty much heard everything they had to say. We just quietly stopped attending services.” [Read more]

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I remember seeing an announcement a few years ago for the first Epic Fail pastors gathering, and wondering if the idea was an Onion-inspired joke. No pastors I knew – and I knew a lot of them from my time working at Trinity International University and then serving a Chicago-area church networking ministry – wanted to apply the word “fail” to themselves or their efforts. The leaders gatherings and pastors conferences I’ve attended over the years were all about ministry success. In those contexts, success was defined by snazzy buildings, multiplying bodies and abundant bucks.

The posture among many attendees at these gatherings was humble brag: “My church is growing, all thanks be to God.” The key to decoding the humble brag factor in the conversations was the way in which the adjective “my” was used in conversation. If the word pointed to the church as “my people”, the accent was on humility. But if the “my” had to do with wielding authority (and lovin’ it!), it sounded to me more like bragging, even if the “my” was surrounded with Christianese spoken with perfect expressions of humility.

After a brag-worthy ministry trajectory, J.R. Briggs found himself pushed off the rising star track by ugly politics at the large congregation he and his wife had relocated in order to serve. Briggs learned that the gravity of failure has a black hole pull on a rising star. [Read more]

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“All’s fair in love and war” the old saying goes, but true love is focused on the good of the other and filters itself accordingly. During the past few hundred years, Western civilizations fought their wars in the name of a king or on behalf of a country, with conventions (at least in principle) that were supposed to guide their warfare.

Those old boundaries, the kind found on maps, don’t matter quite so much anymore. Al Queda and their assorted ideological and spiritual cousins like ISIS, Hamas, Boko Haram, Hezbollah and other clusters of warriors bent on the destruction of Western civilization/Christian faith/the Jewish race. This summer’s grim news reports have underscored that the rules for this kind of warfare do not follow our tattered old Western playbooks. The reactions to this summer’s grim news reporting in both mainstream media and among the social media community I follow have been mostly of the insult-following-injury variety. Perhaps because warfare by definition is all about one side versus another, polarized talk in our culture has left me feeling as though I need to duck in order to avoid the next verbal punch. [Read more]

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I would not typically consider sharing a post someone left on my Facebook wall, but the words below from an old friend are timely in light of the mean-spirited words about suicide that have been written by a few bombastic internet trolls in the wake of the death of Robin Williams earlier this week. I shared a bit of Don and Kathy Groesser’s story here and here a while ago. With Don’s permission, I am sharing his brave, honest confession exactly as he left it on my wall. May it give each one of us an extra measure of courage to respond to the spiritual bullies in our lives.

 

Michelle,

I’m picking at your book “If Only” and I REGRET I don’t make more time to read … I’m into the fifth chapter and I have to say it is odd combination of refreshing and convicting. You seem to avoid the tired clichés without inventing trademarked buzzwords that plague so much contemporary Christian writing (aka “if I invent new phrases people will attend my conferences”). I am long aware of my unsettled regrets, I have a list, but this book is poignant with the recent suicide of Robin Williams I was reminded of a haunting tragedy from my past that I was happy to have fade in my memory. I now recognize it was one “if only” that I wish I had dealt with, but not for the obvious reasons.

This tragedy occurred about 15 years ago I was a small group leader at our old church. Our group was filled with individuals and couples in various levels of dysfunction, and as a small group leader in a lay-leadership church, my wife and I tried our best to “pastor” the members of the group although I can honestly say I was never called nor particularly gifted to be a pastor. A newcomer to our church attended our small group a couple of times – he was a new Christian, struggling with alcoholism and a disintegrating relationship with his wife. I think his name was Jim, but I’m honestly not sure … I don’t think I knew him more than a month. One night I received a call from him … he was distraught … his wife was ending their relationship … I think she was seeing someone else … I barely remember the conversation, but I tried the best to encourage him. I don’t remember all that was said, but I remember by the time I hung up the phone he seemed at least calm and resolved to “seek Jesus”.

A few hours later I got a call from a mutual friend who was actually the one who had invited Jim to our church. He told me that Jim confronted his wife in the parking lot of a bar with a gun, and killed himself with a gunshot to the head. [Read more]

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