I’m probably never going to stop sharing this…

Seminary Dropout 33: Elizabeth Esther Talking about Life in a Cult in Her Book ‘Girl at the End of the World’

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Many of us grew up in a somewhat more conservative environment than the one we live in now, but Elizabeth Esther grew up in an actual cult. A commune, a strict dress code and leaders who went unchecked & unrestrained, it’s all there. In her first book ‘Girl at the End of the World’, Elizabeth writes about her life growing up preaching on the streets, unable to hold hands with boys, and rehearsing an escape plan in preparation for the apocalypse. How she finally left the group, but couldn’t bring herself to leave God. All of this weeks Seminary Dropout.
Note: There are some parts of this interview that you probably don’t want your kids to hear. 

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Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future (affiliate link)

Find Elizabeth at ElizabethEsther.com
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Redemption & Reconciliation in The Royal Tenenbaums. (Best Read While Listening to ‘Everyone’ by Van Morrison)

For the last ten years if you’ve asked me what my favorite movie is, I probably told you it’s The Royal Tenenbaums. There have been a few flavors of the month for me since then but TRT has really stood the test of time.

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I didn’t see TRT until it was on DVD in the fall of 2002. I honestly didn’t like it that much the first time. I only knew that it was a comedy and that my friends liked it. I thought it was going to be in the vain of Office Space or Meet the Parents. It wasn’t.

A few years later I was a senior in college and my friend found a special addition copy on sale from a music & movie store that was going out of business (You see kids, there used to be these places called stores that were made out of these things called bricks, and in some of these stores they sold things called DVD’s that were like Netflix streaming but only for one movie and it came on this small metalic frisbee and you had to travel to this store and pay money for this frisbee and take it home and put it inside a frisbee player, and you know what, ask your older siblings about it. ). I borrowed the DVD from my friend and decided to give TRT another shot.

It changed my life.

Well it reminded about life at least. The life that Jesus makes possible through the Gospel.

You see The Royal Tenenbaums is about a family. A messed up family.

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Royal Tenenbaum is the family patriarch. He cheats on his wife, he lies to his children, he steals from his son, and he lives a life of luxury that he can not afford. He only thinks of himself.

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When Etheline, whom Royal has been separated from for several years entertains a proposal of marriage by her accountant, Royal becomes jealous and devises a plan. Royal lies and tells Etheline that he wants to spend more time with her and the family because he’s dying of stomach cancer.

 

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Chas Tenenbaum is the oldest of the children. Chas was born an adult. Like the narrator, voiced by Alec Baldwin says ‘Chas Tenenbaum had, since elementary school taken most of his meals in his room standing up at his desk with a cup of coffee “to save time”.’ As a child when his parents separate and Royal moves out, Chas takes it the hardest.
As an adult Chas’s wife dies in a plane crash and in the aftermath he becomes overprotective of his sons Ari & Uzi. Chas has become bitter in many ways, especially towards his father of whom he goes years without speaking to. Above all else, Chas is scared, scared of fire, scared of being alone, scared of life.

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Richie Tenenbaum’s grief manifests itself differently. Richie was a professional tennis player but had a breakdown and lost his nerve. He runs away from his pain by traveling around the world on a boat. Richie was Royals favorite and thus is more forgiving of Royals abandoning of the family. Richie’s hopelessness eventually leads to a failed suicide attempt.

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Margot was adopted by Royal & Etheline at age 2. Whenever Royal introduces Margot to his friends, he is sure to introduce her as “my adopted daughter, Margot”. As a child Margot is promising playwright, but all ambition and joy is gone by the time she reaches adulthood. She medicates her depression first by marrying a man closer to her fathers age, and then by smoking in the tub while watching TV all day.

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Through various circumstances all members of the Tenenbaum family winds up back at home under the same roof. The adult children are reacquainted (reluctantly in Chas’s case), Royal spends time with Etheline when he can, and Royal introduces Ari & Uzi to mischief via gambling, shot lifting, and hopping rides on a waste truck.

Eventually Royal’s lies catch up to him when Henry, the accountant who’s proposed to Etheline, does some investigating and can’t find Royal’s doctor or hospital, also Henry’s first wife died of stomach cancer, and in his words ‘you don’t eat 3 cheese burgers a day with french fries when you got it’. Immediately any goodwill that Royal has built over the last few days is lost.

Royal is faced with his lies and forced to be honest. This reminds me of Brennan Manning’s, The Raggamuffin Gospel, specifically where Manning tells a story of checking himself into a months long rehab for alcoholism. In one of the group sessions a participant named Max refused to be honest about his alcohol problem and the pain it causes his family. The leader of the group eventually called Max’s wife on speakerphone described an incident in which he went into a bar while his 9 year old daughter was left in a car alone in subfreezing temperatures, leaving her with frostbite so bad that her thumb and a finger would need to be amputated as well as permanent hearing loss. Max convulsed on the floor weeping when this story came to light. He begged to stay in the program even though he had not been honest, and according to Manning ‘he proceeded to undergo the most striking personality change I had ever witnessed’. I’ll never forget that story and what Manning said immediately after it, he said

“An intimate connection exists between the quest for honesty and a transparent personality. Max could not encounter the truth of the living God until he faced his alcoholism.”

There’s something spiritual about coming clean, even if it’s not your choice. There’s something about the truth that sets us free. Being caught in his lies, is Royals turning point.

Royal is proactive in his repentance: he gives Etheline the divorce she has asked for so that she can marry Henry, he asks Henry for forgiveness for treating him badly, he get’s a job, he gives humble advice to Richie and helps him help for his best friend Eli’s drug problem, he takes Margot for ice cream and expresses his remorse. Finally he tries to take Ari & Uzi on an outing, but Chas is not having it, refusing to forgive and let go.

Finally with the family gathered for Etheline & Henry’s wedding, Ari & Uzi are on the sidewalk playing with their dog Buckley and suddenly Eli comes driving into the scene in his sports car at full speed, not having dealt with his drug problem, he’s high. He loses control, there’s a crash. Although Buckley didn’t make it, Ari & Uzi have been pushed out of the way, by Royal.

 

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After seeing that his sons are unharmed, Chas chases Eli through the house with fire in his eyes. When Richie tries to get Chas to stop, Chas elbows his brother in the eye. Chas throws Eli over the backyard fence in his rage, turning back to the family he has a moment to catch his breath and gain some clarity. Now faced with his family including the brother he’s just injured, he’s embarrassed. He jumps the fence himself, finds Eli laying down and lays down beside him. Faced with the ugliness of their deepest flaws. Eli says ‘I need help,’ and Chas replies ‘me too’. This is their turning point.

 

Eli goes to rehab out of state, and Chas forgives Royal and sees him as a father for the first time in a very long time. Chas also learns how to let go and stop being scared. Margot dares to allow herself to be happy, and Richie plays tennis again.

Not long after that, Royal dies of a heart attack, but not before he’s saved his family. In the character of Royal, we see ourselves with our lies, lust, cheating, and stealing, but we also see Christ, setting us free, being the father we always needed, and dying.tumblr_lhw5o5Py111qao2x8o1_500

 

 

Seminary Dropout 32: Talking Baseball, Music & the Gospel with Brady Toops.

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My guest today is musician Brady Toops. You might have read about Brady’s music in Relevant Magazine. His sound is reminiscent of that whole rootsy, unplugged thing we all really like (see why I’m not a music critic?), but manages to stay original and not be another cookie cutter Mumford imitator.

In 2011 Brady released his first album, a 5 song EP called ‘A Little Love‘. His latest is a full-length album, produced by David bradytoopsalbumLeonard (of All Sons and Daughters), self titled Brady Toops.

On this episode we talk about definitions of success, and discuss the possible reasons why my favorite songs are the ones he least suspects.

You can find Brady on…
Twitter
Facebook
&
bradytoops.com

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3 Better Things to Worry About

It’s not that I’m not disturbed by some things that I see going on in the world. I’m bothered. But more than that I’m bothered by the fact that I’m most bothered by the wrong things. This post is not meant to diminish the issues that people are working out, and this is not one of those – ‘let’s put our love before our theology’ posts, because I reject the idea that love and theology are mutually exclusive. This is about the simple fact that we can hold theological convictions and get on with living missionally at the same time.

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1. It’s okay to talk about the possible pros and cons of World Vision changing it’s hiring policies concerning the LGBT community.
What’s better is to struggle and be moved to action with the thought of children across the world dying of starvation, and unsanitary conditions. It is more urgent to be caught up in the plight of kids who have little hope without a good education and the good news of Jesus. Concern for these matters are what Jesus says will be used separate the sheep from goats. (Matthew 25:31-46) Your stance in a culture war will not be brought in to consideration when sheep are separated from goats.

2. It’s fine to be concerned for a company like Hobby Lobby to operate on a pro-life ethic that it’s founders hold dear. 
What’s better is to exercise a pro-life ethic in our day-to-day lives by supporting adoption, refusing to take part in or supporting violence, and to work to alleviate conditions that make abortion seem like the only option for so many people. The fact that so many of us who call ourselves Christ followers have been given so much power to enact change and yet do so little, that should be what haunts us most.

3. It’s permissible to talk about Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s comments about gay marriage and to show concern for what the future holds for Christian business owners who make public statements about their moral convictions. 
What’s better is to show more concern for the LGBT community. To worry more that an entire contingency of people do not know Christians by their fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Almost none of these could, in general, describe the modern response of Christians to this community. What should bother us most, what should keep us up at night is knowing that there are people who don’t know that Christians love them unconditionally.

Seminary Dropout 31: Halee Gray Scott on Women in Christian Leadership

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My guest today is Halee Gray Scott (PhD). Halee is an author, scholar, and global leadership consultant. Her writings appeared in Christianity Today, Christian Education Journal, Real Clear Religion, and Relevant. You can find her on her blog at hgscott.com and on twitter.

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Halee’s new book is called Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women

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Your Church Shouldn’t Be So Special

Some of you know that I helped plant a church and served as its pastor for about 5 years. Like most churches we had our ups and downs, our weaknesses and strengths. One thing was for sure, we didn’t have impressive stats. We were small. In our best times I bet we averaged 60 people at a gathering. We didn’t have tons of baptisms to report either (our denominations favorite metric for determining if God approved of your church). It wasn’t that we didn’t believe baptism was important, but in that town’s strange brew of deep seeded Christendom, entrenched routine, and a good dose of ‘I’ve been baptized twice already but Jesus really has nothing to do with my daily life’, it just wasn’t the season for baptism.

The one thing that encouraged us in the midst of those realities, was the fact that much of our church consisted of people who would not be at another church if ours didn’t exist; those who wouldn’t feel good about going to other churches, felt that they were too ‘churchy’, and didn’t speak the language of the young and jaded. We were special, we were the refuge for the cynical and weary.

Churches like that are more abundant these days, especially in bigger cities. I’m glad. There need to be churches who specialize in tending to the wounded, where for a time, those people just take in nourishment.

The problem comes when a church doesn’t help people recover, and unknowingly causes them to establish a personal identity of being wounded (By ‘wounded’, I’m not talking about a type of brokenness that we as human beings live in by recognizing our sin).

To oversimplify it, Jesus came so that we could be saved us from our wounded state, not wallow in it.

I’ve heard of multiple instances of these churches falling under their own weight. Too many people are just being fed and aren’t doing any feeding, too many are wounded and not finding healing and it can’t be sustained over the long haul. Many of those people won’t simply find another place to belong in community, because they don’t know how to see past a difference in philosophy or method, they only know the first church was so special that what they had can not be created or found anywhere else.

We need churches with large front porches designed for welcoming people who might be afraid and suspicious of what the inner rooms hold, and that given their history, might find it too hard to walk into the deeper rooms. But those churches need to help people mend, gain strength, and grow on those front porches instead of encouraging them to make the front porch a permanent place to camp out forever.

Seminary Dropout 030: Drew Hart on Race, the Church, Anabaptism & Black Theology

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Drew, along with pastoral ministry, is also a PhD student at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in Theology & Ethics. His research is focused on the intersection of Black theology and Anabaptism. Drew regularly speaks at churches and conferences, confronting racism, systemic oppression, and violence, while continually pleading with Christians to take a stand. Drew is committed to a life that struggles to take Jesus seriously while following him into the world.

Find Drew online at…
twitter.com/druhart
&
drewgihart.com

Some of the books Drew mentioned in the podcast: