Friday, April 21, 2023

I listened to "The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill" and this Happened...

I had heard of The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill from a handful of my friends, and the podcast’s viral appeal during the Pandemic. It was only until recently that I had actually found the time to listen to it.


This all started when I decided that I should redeem my morning commute by finding a podcast, or book on tape, that I could meditate to. There were a lot to choose from, but, at the top of that list, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill awaited me like one of scrooges' specters. There was once a time when I would have done anything to meet Mark Driscoll, or go to his church. I think I would have even relocated there, if I had the finances, or a way to get a job near the campus.


In reality, what my image of Driscoll consisted of was a flowing river of pixels and soundbites. I had only ever seen him as a talking head in a web browser window. I was basically what he hated more than anything at his church: a consumer. I took, and never gave back. (Although, there was that one time I was shamed in to giving to the Hati relief fund after their devastating earthquake in 2010…) But I wasn’t alone in this. I think I was one of maybe millions that listened to his sermons, which were so readily accessible as internet streaming platforms and social media coalesced in the late 2000s to what we now understand them to be. Mike Cosper even addresses this as the MC, who gives context to how Mars Hill Church came to be, and the historical movements that precipitated it’s meteoric rise to prominence.


I discovered Driscoll during college, listening to his sermons instead of participating in the local ministries in town, even. I used his book, The Radical Reformission as a aide for the bible study I led, which was a mess in and of itself. (“Led,” meaning, “I led a Campus Crusade Bible Study out of spite for Campus Crusade, which I had believed at the time had abandoned us because our leaders dropped out of their commitment to lead us.”) Driscoll's theology was at the forefront of my mind when discussing the Bible and it’s interpretation. His orthopraxy, was my orthodoxy. When I eventually did meet him in LA, at an event hosted by Reality LA, while he was on a sermon tour for The Peasant Princess sermon series, I stood in line at an intermission, waiting to shake his hand. I told him, to his face, “If being a Father is teaching your children about God, then you are more of a father than my father,” then gave him a hug. When I went back to my seat in the auditorium, I cried next to my girlfriend (now, my wife) for 10 minutes. Later on, when I told my pastor (who knew Mark from before his rise to fame) back in Escondido about the meeting, he let me know that Mark complained that one of “his guys” had hugged him.


When I heard about Driscoll resigning from Mars Hill, the impact was like listening to a sonic boom in the distance. I could sense the momentous impact of the event, but I was far enough away to not perceive the collateral damage at the epicenter. Listening to the podcast, I think, informed me of the real consequences of what happens when a man walks away from a church of 15,000 people, and just watches it burn down like the Emperor Nero allegedly did for the city of Rome. I wrote about it, shortly after it happened, in November of 2014. I will let you read the post for yourself, which is something of a time capsule at this point, but I will highlight one piece of it below:

“I hope and pray that Mark moves on from Mars Hill, that this experience motivates him to re-evaluate his personal missiology and the way he deals with people. I hope that he can spend time with his family and take a long vacation and finally let go of his responsibilities. I hope that he decides to pastor a church again, and continue to change the lives of people, and I hope his church never exceeds 200 people.”

I look back on my words and feel naivete and shame. I look back on my experiences, where I led a bible study and quoted this man to such great lengths that my life was basically the Distracted Boyfriend meme. Mostly, I look back on my devotion to this man and I am confronted by the reality that what I loved so much about this person was completely fabricated and curated by his personal Media team, with hundreds of thousands of dollars behind them. I didn’t really know Driscoll at all. And, for the people who did know him, who were railroaded by him, I played a small part in their demise at his hands.


A lot of the podcast deals with the issue of culpability. And I think Mike Cosper asks the appropriate questions. He suggests, in no uncertain terms, that we all had a role in Driscoll’s rise to prominence, and that, worse, we drank the Kool-Aid willingly. I vividly recall defending Driscoll during discussions. Granted, it was mostly his "Reformed theology," but I still came to the defense of someone that, behind the scenes, was disqualifying himself from ministry. And that, in no uncertain terms, kind of fucks with me.

When I was recommended the podcast, it was following a period of spiritual upheaval in my life. That others who had since left the Church, could come to this podcast and feel a sense of reconciliation with whatever spiritual abuse they had previously encountered, was a balm unto my soul. Although, in truth, that feeling came and went rather quickly. What galls me, what I don’t understand, what I may never understand, is that Driscoll is still a pastor. For me, that’s difficult to accept. I struggle with the idea that God would allow someone like Driscoll to continue, unabated, in sin. If his Twitter feed is any indication, his aspect is unchanged. He is still the William Wallace II character of the early Mars Hill Message boards, only now he is lauded and accepted by every fearful boomer tuning in to Fox News, if only because he isn’t “woke.”

Simultaneously, however, I am reminded that Driscoll isn’t the first man to “speak for God” and kindle a movement, despite grievous disqualifications. If history tells us anything, there have been many “Mark Driscolls” in the past, who’s cunning and wit transformed and mobilized entire movements of theological thought. I may even meet him in heaven and behold his redeemed aspect, shed of all his faults and misdeeds, by the grace of Jesus, and finally shake his hand without shame… But, until then, I am oddly confronted by my own self-serving righteousness, and my desire to see him punished, despite knowing the truth: Mark Driscoll was justified by Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Who am I to want justice and retribution, while at the same time holding back my forgiveness? Even Mark Driscoll deserves forgiveness. Why? Because Christ forgave me.

If none of this makes sense to you, then I welcome you to the personal hell I find myself in. But if it does, then pray for me, and for Mark, in hopes that we can both meet and embrace one another, one day, without pretense.




Saturday, January 21, 2023

Adventures in Church Shopping


This week I decided to leave the church.

Not THE church, just A church.

Calm down guys…

We started going to a new church a couple weeks ago, having decided to stop going to the one that we had been going to for a year. The previous church was good; nothing wrong with it, whatsoever. Doctrine and theology was solid. It’s mission was solid. But after a year of going, we still knew no one.

To clarify, when we were in Santa Barbara, we would go to Reality Santa Barbara. I was involved in Children’s ministry. And there was even a mid-week gathering focused on building community with the team. The group was strong. It persisted and it grew and I met and knew so many wonderful people while we went to it. But at the first church we went to, after moving to the Santa Ynez valley, I felt like I had been invisible. I was helping with the kids ministry, and I knew a few people. But I just felt like another cog in the wheel at the end of the day. Most of the church was older. Most of the cliques had been formed. We were just bouncing around, like a ball in a broken pachinko machine.

The new church (that we decided to leave recently), was also good (theology, worship, preaching, etc), only it was in a process of rebranding. The vision the pastor had was to structure the church off of a discipleship program steeped in reformed theology. We watched a video by Douglas Wilson, a conservative, reformed pastor, that spoke of a time of reformation in our own culture. His premise (one that I disagreed with) was that the Sexual Revolution had destroyed the Nuclear Family (already not biblical in its literal sense), that our course was changed irrevocably. The only recourse was to implement a structured, biblical life, where church fellowship and worship was held in the highest esteem. (All of these things aren’t bad, by the way.) But all the propaganda reels of “sinister” LGBTQ and Black Lives Matter rallies turned me off. It turned me off, not because I don’t believe what the bible tells me (that gender and sexuality are created aspects of our identity, established by God), but because the imagery employed was not meant to call people to repentance, it was meant to create an object to vilify and to hate. This serves no purpose. It’s a lazy way to galvanize people by pitting them against the very people we are meant to minister to… Not only this, but my days as a follower of Mark Driscoll’s teachings still linger in my memory. (There was a time when I was radicalized by the Reformed Church in my 20s.) And I have no interest in going back to that theological framework.

I don’t believe that there is a “best way” to worship. Orthopraxy does not equate to orthodoxy. Everyone has the ability, and calling, to invest in a community that serves the “Orphans and the Widows” that live among us, but I don’t believe the Bible calls us to seclude ourselves from the world. When Jesus ran his ministry, he critiqued the religious elites for their orthopraxy and (seemingly) spent the rest of his time with the spiritually sick and destitute. All the people that we do not desire, or make time for, he loved AND died for. Far be it from us (THE Church) to shirk that responsibility.

I guess what makes me so depressed by this turn of events is not that I was wronged or had been ill treated by this new church. If anything, the pastor was gracious and kind. He remembered my name, and even approached me on our first Sunday visiting. What makes me so depressed, is that, either intentionally or unintentionally, the church’s identity shifted from its Sunday persona to something completely different on the mid-week gathering. It was a classic bait-and-switch.

Yes, that may sound petty. But the lack of consistency was a red flag. It reminded me of a darker time. A time when I had been hurt, and jerked around. And I wasn’t going to do that again. The most important thing about being in community is about being in sync with the pastor’s vision for the community. This time, though, it just wasn’t happening. And that sucks.

 Anyways… time to go looking for another church then.

Two down, one to go.  




Saturday, December 24, 2022

Merry Christmas! Updates Abound!

So, what have I been up to?

 I have been vacillating back and fourth about what to do about my videos. I had a production method locked in, but when Instagram changed their platform a while back, I never took the time to find a new platform. So now I have this 600$ camera and nothing to film. (Truthfully, I have things to film, but I don't know what I should be focusing on.) To this day, my most popular video was a review I did of Mister Miracle by Tom King and Mitch Gerads. It was a part of a series called, "What the Heck am I Reading?!" which I occasionally harken back to in Instagram posts. This past week it was some clippings of Static, a comic that ran in the 90s that introduced the character Static (of which I remember fondly from the DC Comics animated series, Static Shock). The issue in particular referenced the tension between the Jewish and Black communities in the 90s, which seems all too relevant today with the resurgence of anti-semitism in the mainstream media ecosystem. Reading something written, at this point, almost 30 years ago, as if I pulled it from the culture section of the LA Times today, is as wild as it is bizarre.

Working with my designer Greg, on his publishing label Electi Studio has yielded some amazing fruit. I may be able to get involved more closely with one of his new properties, which already has large base of players! This reduces the amount of work incumbent on me to self promote. Doing that has always been exhausting and something that I struggle with, so the opportunity to just write without needing to worry about  managing a social media presence is a really big deal to me. 

The short story anthology that I am writing to endcap the Dynamic Synapse Protocol universe was put on hold to help Greg with the above since June of this year, but since the beginning of November I've been back at it again. I've re-read about 2/3rds of Dynamic Synapse Protocol to help find some narrative beats to reference back to in the anthology. Of course, I've found a few mistakes that made it to print, but thankfully nothing too major. (Most books have some typos still when they go to print. You know, because pobody's nerfect!) 

The most impressive thing about revisiting a book, or really anything that we have written after some time, is that the work is mostly unfamiliar. Too much time has passed, so all the intimate details just fade away. The result is that we get to read something with (nearly) virgin eyes, and it's a strange experience. 

 What have I been listening to?

Over the Thanksgiving weekend I listened to Devin Townsend's new album called Lightwork. I loved the conceit of a metal guy embracing the Seattle-esque indie textures of post rock. It was authentic, of course. The single off the album "Call of the Void" was definitely the best track. Something to listen to while allowing my mind to drift away into a fugue as my wife drove us home. 

What have I been watching?

F is For Family has dominated my evenings. After Alyssa puts Eowyn to bed we are mostly watching this, which is (I can only assume) a semi-autobiographical retelling of Bill Burr's childhood. The ebb and flow of comedy and tragedy and turmoil and all that plagues Burr's fictional family, is wildly engaging. It's also set in the 70s, which allows the writers to explore some of the period instances of misogyny and racism. Strangely, what the kids get up to in the episodes, isn't too different from what I lived through during the 90s. I don't know if that is a good or a bad thing...

I found a new church!

It's called Crossroads and pastored by Pastor Sam Kiser. So far so good. I appreciate their humble approach to service and a good ministry to the local community. I am eager to get involved and see what God will be doing with them in the years to come.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Anyways, I hope you all enjoy your Christmas holiday. Here's to a great new year! See my picture from this year's holiday party. You can't see it, but I was morbidly nauseous the whole night! (Thanks anxiety!)

Monday, October 31, 2022

Cinephobia - By Stuart Warren

Happy Halloween, Friends!

I wanted to get into the spirit this year, so enjoy a spooky short I wrote just for today! 


Trevor checked Rotten Tomatoes between calls at the office, glancing at the group chat in his periphery. It was ritualistic and ingrained in his routine, like checking social media for Likes or watching Late Night hosts recap yesterday’s news when he woke. An action movie was top billing on the site currently, canvassing every inch of the display with promotional interviews and thumbnails. The film, Equinox Protocol, was polling an anemic 38%.

There were many films Trevor could have seen, many books he could have read, his schedule never accommodating or flexible enough for either these days. As a child, he had plenty of time to watch movies at his father’s country house, in part because he was alone, with no friends to play with for miles. His father’s encompassing collection of film and television swaddled him in the warmth of companionship, and that was fine.

Trevor scrolled down the page. On the list of critical releases, The Haunting at Haight and Ashbury was number one, with a proud score of 92%. Critics raved that “its use of supernatural horror to emulate the fears of marginalized communities in gentrified urban areas was, bar none, the best use of the genre in decades.” It was an art film, celebrated at Cannes and lauded with a standing ovation lasting over twenty-eight minutes. Trevor frowned, as if excluded and oppressed, clicking through pictures of the cast and crew basking in waves of adulation, knowing that he would never be able to see the film. 

It was simple. 

He couldn’t watch horror films. 

They terrified him. 

Later that day, Trevor clocked out of work, leaving the office in the rearview mirror, and drove the long road home along PCH, all the way from Santa Monica to his ho-hum townhome in Oxnard. He thumped to the beat of his music at first, listened to true crime podcasts, then put on some music again, bleeding out the tedium in short bursts.
At home, Trevor made some canned soup and slumped down into his couch, scrolling through social media as the TV played reruns, unattended.

There were other horror movies that he had seen in his life, although most of them unwillingly. The fear they evoked was unsettling, despite knowing full well that ghosts and poltergeists were works of fiction. Yet something about them seemed more real than they appeared to be. He was religious, yes. And he did accommodate for the possibility of demons and angels walking amongst the living—alongside more acceptable things like God. He even considered the possibility that certain dreams he experienced in his youth were prognostications of his own belief in God coming to the fore, when demons tormented him in waking dreams. 

But ghosts? No chance. Not even a little bit. 

At 10:30 PM, Trevor turned off the TV, rolled off the couch, and walked to bed. 

Lying still, he pulled up Wikipedia on his phone and searched for the article on The Haunting at Haight and Ashbury, swiping down the page, reading the synopsis with rapt attention. Apparently, the story was an anthology, in four parts, each woven together by a larger narrative.

Part one centered on a lesbian florist, Summer Gaines, in the early ’70s, who is tormented by the ghosts of Chinese laborers, whom her ancestors had contracted to build her family’s home but then, of course, refused to compensate. When they complained and threatened to go to the authorities, her great-great-grandfather had them killed, hiding their bodies in the masonry. Their hands, faces, and twisted forms, now a part of the house, take their vengeance on the florist. The finale includes the spirits interring her in the walls of the very house that entombed them, with no one to mourn her or place flowers on her grave. 

Part two, taking place in the late ’80s, is about a land developer, Patrick Martini, who buys the block of Masonic and Haight to turn it in to an open market. All the tenants are happy to sell, despite their appearance of being against it, and all succumb to the allure of wealth, except Esther, an aging Haitian woman who is accidentally killed by the thugs the man hires to harass and push her out of her home. The open market is built and brings prosperity to the aging district during the mid-’90s, except for the developer who is tormented by the zombie of Esther, raised by her estranged daughter, Zelda—who briefly dated Summer in the late ’60s. 

Trevor swiped downward, feeling the chill of the room on his neck.

Part three, he reads, is about a landlord, Dominic Anselmo. In the fall of 2004, he raises the rent of a tenement—on the block of Ashbury and Waller—to capitalize on the recent gentrification of his already exclusive neighborhood. A single mother named Helen, with a sick child, is evicted from her impoverished apartment in the dead of winter and succumbs to hypothermia in the freezing rain. The child miraculously survives and is adopted by a gay couple, George and Hank Rafferty, in 2008. However, when they move into the newly refurbished apartments, they notice things compulsively misplaced, like a dish towel or a colander. Both the couple and the landlord, who are mutual friends, are tormented and stalked by the poltergeist of the woman, who wants her baby and home returned to her.
A creak in the walls halted Trevor from reading the final description.

In the darkness of his room, Trevor leaned over to turn on the light at his bedside and thrust his billowy comforter over his head. He knew that ghosts weren’t real, that supernatural entities were the extant components of psychosis. Yet he could feel them in his room, the characters, made as real as the films he refused to see. A bedroom overcrowded with ghouls and killers, spirits and demons, abstracted from synopsis and recounted by film critics. Trevor tried to go to sleep and prayed for better dreams as the noise machine in his room faltered and skipped. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Vaccine Hesitancy and Seatbelts

 I've been watching a lot of news lately, noticing how each network has it's own unique spin on events; some worse than others. I also recall reading Numero Zero by Umberto Eco, which very expertly undresses how tabloids, and media in general, modify our perceptions of the world through subliminal messaging. (Trust me, it's a lot more legit than it sounds, and less the tinfoil hat vibe I'm sure that last sentence read as.) With the help of Eco's work, I've been more active in my listening and digestion of television media. Reality TV is relentlessly scripted and contrived. News media, while, for the most part, built on the backs of honest reporters trying to maintain their integrity in a rapidly shifting world, is not innocent either. 

I mention news because I was thinking about seatbelts. (Like how my mind works?) When seatbelts were mandated in the late 60s, early 70s, where were all the anti-belters crying out for blood? Would there have been an equally vitriolic reaction to Uncle Sam enforcing the wearing of seatbelts, if the news media was more like it was today? (That is, pandering to the partisan groups of either side.) I'm genuinely curious what you guys think about that. 

Likewise, the shadow of doubt being cast over vaccines is equally concerning. As Patton Oswalt pointed out in his recent special, Patton Oswalt: We All Scream, Americans came out in droves to get the polio vaccine, in a time when the Conservative voice in America was just beginning to become amplified by the lamentable "Religious Right." It's funny to me, the flip flopping of Republicans, that they would identify as the "Grand Old Party", the party of Lincoln; the same president, mind you, that suspended the writ of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War and decisively solidified the supremacy of the federal powers to combat the treasonous Confederate States of America. It's probably the best, practical demonstration of the cyclical nature of history that I have encountered in recent memory. (I'm sure there are better ones, but that's just my opinion.)

We all agree that seatbelts save lives. It's been demonstrated time and time again by car crash data. 

We all agree that vaccines save lives. Remember when you got polio? You didn't? It must have been that vaccine! 

 Anyways... I recently discovered a new news channel called "Channel 4", a British public service station (similar, maybe, to PBS). If you haven't heard of it, I recommend watching it, especially the coverage of the War in Ukraine. It's top notch reporting. 

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Colorado Recap and Bellyaches

Outside the original location of Breckenridge Brewery.

While I was driving around in Colorado with my buddy, and wookie life-partner, Jared "Desmond" White, I saw a few strange things. 

While we drove through Aurora I saw two churches, one on each side of the street, and it preoccupied my thoughts for the rest of our trip out to Fairplay. (Originally the one-and-only South Park, Colorado!) This is problematic: the strange prevalence of churches. In my own time spent in purple and red states over the years, churches become something like Starbucks locations: places to consume palatable, current-culture approved Christianity. (Our consumerist and capitalist context we live in perpetuates this.) Ideally, Churches are meant to bless the community, and serve as conduits for the Kingdom work of God, but the presence of literally dozens of churches in a 5 mile radius makes me suspicious.  

(I later found out that one of these churches was a Baptist and the other was a Lutheran, so I was probably just being a prick.) 

The next day, we went to a brewery, which was hosting an event for the local chapter of the Log Cabin Republican party. (I had heard about the Log Cabin Republicans from various media sources, but seeing them in the wild was strange.) This genus of Republican is LGBTQ friendly. But, noting the pride flags everywhere across their booth, I also saw a handful of "Lets Go Brandon" stickers and other by-the-numbers propaganda sharing the space. (Jared insisted, gleefully, on vandalizing my Magic the Gathering cards with them while I wasn't looking. ) Two seemingly disparate ideologies hand in hand: a movement that very literally prides itself on open-mindedness, and inclusivity, and the other playing to the fears and ignorance of another reigning political ideology.  

Culture shock aside, Colorado wasn't all bad. It's the kind of Americana that I wouldn't mind transplanting to, given the right conditions. I very much enjoy the scenery and the general community vibe that comes across in each mountain town and municipality. The people there seem to know each other well enough. (I'm more suspicious of peoples' intentions than not, so you would have to go there and see it for yourself.) 

Also, it was fun to see Jared in his element, in a beautiful home to call his own. My god, they have a basement and a crawlspace? Imagine a bespoke, suburbia 3 bed, 2.5 bath home, but underneath it a dungeon full of nerd shit. "Someday," I tell myself.

We got in a good game of Warhammer 40K while we were there!

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Why Does Homer go to Church?

Homer discovers the meaning of life.

 Why indeed?

I remember growing up with my dad dragging me to catholic mass, which in retrospect seemed like a weird exercise. (I don't say that to be mean, or disparaging to Catholics, who are ingrained to go to church quite a bit throughout the week.) I mean, why go when the heart isn't there? It's not like it changed his life, or sanctified him. 

But this idea, going to church for the sake of going to church is endemic in culture, so much so that even Homer Simpson goes to church. 

Who is Homer Simpson? I'm sure everyone at least kind of knows who he is. He's the distillation of the archetypal American man. He's a high-functioning alcoholic, who's bad at managing money, a single household income provider, and a negligent parent.


Lovejoy with his model trains. 

As far as I can tell, Homer is a protestant, possibly a Presbyterian, given the more traditional scaffolding at work in the ecclesiastical architecture of his church. His pastor, the Reverend Lovejoy, is a sardonic and depressed man (who's collar suggests that he could be a member of either the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Anglican traditions). And, as far as I can tell, all the advice he gives Homer and Marge, is tainted with by his own apathy and depression. The indications that he is just as lost as his flock, at least suggests that he is, in many ways, just like us.

But why does Homer go to church? 

God is invoked a lot in The Simpsons, mostly as an antagonist that enjoys the torture of his servants. When Homer encounters the Theophany of God, he is usually an old man, the upper half of his body out of frame and never revealed. Like many Americans, Homer is exposed to an idea of God that is distant, abstracted, and unfamiliar. Homer, on occasion pleads with God for favor, but only when he is in need of something material, like most Americans, to be honest. 

But why does Homer go to church? 

My best guess at why Homer goes to church is that he assumes that going to church serves as a sacrament. (Even if he lacks the spiritual vocabulary to describe it as a "sacrament.") But going to church, I would say, is less about experiencing something that benefits "you" the attendee, but something that strengthens those around you. It's counter intuitive, to go to church to help someone else, but that is what is effectively happening. When Homer goes to church, he is not there to encourage Lenny, or empathize with Chief Wiggam, or unconditionally love Moe, but to punch a card for himself. "At least in "Homer the Heretic" (Season 4, Episode 3), Homer is saved by the very people he spurns, much to his chagrin, thus emphasizing the importance of church fellowship and community (at least implicitly).

The idea, though, that someone would go to Church "just because" eludes me. 

 It sounds like a colossal waste of time.