John Piper’s Tornado: Exaggerations and Doubts

heart_tornadoIf you haven’t heard, John Piper’s god sent a tornado through downtown Minneapolis last week to tell Lutheran’s not to let gay people become pastors. Let me clarify two things before I get to what this incident rose in my mind: 1) I do not agree with Piper at all on this, 2) Piper’s sermons and books were instrumental in my early faith growth and I have a great deal of respect for him. But on to what I want to write about: exaggerations and doubts.

Piper’s view of this tornado was, at best, an exaggeration (there’s probably a better term [and a whole lot of much harsher ones], but I’m using this one). There are hundreds of tornados a year and to point out this minor one, which happened to damage the steeple of a church, the hand of God seems like a stretch to me. There are a lot of people who believe in christianity and in God doing miracles and speaking through the natural realm even today. I think you could draw a spectrum from “no miracles” to “everything that happens is a message from god” and most people fall somewhere along that spectrum. I could be wrong, but I bet most folks, even some of the more charismatic types, would see Piper’s tornado as an exaggeration.

Now, anyone whose picked up and read a bible, or heard some of the stories, knows there are a lot of crazy miracle/hand-of-God type things in there: Moses parts the Red Sea, God floods the earth, Jesus heals people’s sicknesses and diseases, the walls of Jericho crumble. Christians tend to take those stories at face value, if you believe in a super-natural God there’s no reason those things couldn’t have actually happened just as they’re written. Other folks see the bible as a mythical story, maybe based on actual history, similar to many others told of gods and goddesses and their interaction with the natural world. They see it as best an exaggeration. One example of this division I can think of Moses parting the Red Sea. You’ve maybe hard something similar: “Some scholars believe that it was actually “Reed Sea” not Red Sea, just knee deep and that’s how the Israelites were able to cross it.” And someone will respond, “But if that’s the case, then isn’t it a miracle that the entire Egyptian army drown in knee deep water!” One group believes God is at work and attributes miraculous acts to God. The other group believes devout followers exaggerate natural events as miracles for their fictitious deity.

For several years, I’ve counted myself in the God does miracles camp. I believe some sort of super-natural being exists and I see no reason to believe that being couldn’t do super-natural miracles. So, I’ve read the Bible and had no problem assuming those stories could have actually happened, just as they’re written. Over the years, I’ve had my doubts about God and faith and a great many things, but I never spent much time debating the validity of the miracles recorded. If God exists, I don’t see any reason they couldn’t be true; if God doesn’t exist, there’s a good chance they aren’t true.

Enter Piper’s Tornado. If John Piper, a devout, respected, faithful, bible-reading-and-believing pastor can equate a tornado damaging a church with the hand of God, how many of the devout followers of God in the Bible exaggerated the stories and miracles they wrote about?

This conclusion didn’t shake up my own faith, I’ve heard enough of these sorts of declarations from others, but I don’t think it’s a good testimony to the evangelism Piper claims to be about.

The Church of Derek Webb

derekwebbOver the last few years, one consistent ‘pastoral’ voice in my life has been the music and lyrics of Derek Webb. Derek used to play with Caedmon’s Call, a band I was introduced to and thoroughly enjoyed during my high school years. Several years back Webb started doing his own solo albums, all of which have been great, but the last three of which have spoken words of encouragement, conviction and compassion into my life.

Most of his lyrics these days would be considered too political, too controversial, or too explicit for most churches, he doesn’t seem to be getting invited to many christian concerts or worship services either. But, if he had a church, I’d go to it.

I’ve struggled a lot with faith over the last nine years, and amidst that struggle I’ve grown a lot in my awareness of the world, my understanding of the Bible and what Jesus said and did while he walked the earth. I find myself in this mysterious place, trying to reconcile my beliefs and values that I have now with the faith I still believe in, but that looks nothing like the faith I embraced in high school and still see so many embracing today. Derek Webb’s music has been a saving grace in my life, speaking in lyrics and melody, the beautiful ways my faith and values align.

You should seriously just listen to all his stuff, like now. Here’s a whole album for free: Mockingbird. And here’s a five set playlist for you to listen to right now of some of my favorites:

  1. Rich Young Ruler
  2. This Too Shall Be Made Right
  3. What Matters More
  4. Savior on Capitol Hill
  5. Wedding Dress

Seriously, if you want more I’ll send you a nice personal mix.

*Webb would not like this post title I don’t think. He said this in an interview about his newest album:

“I don’t go into records thinking, ‘OK what am I going to go after this time, what big controversy am I going to stir.’ These just happen to be the things that occupy my mind. I don’t know how else to say it. And as an artist, the resources that I have to tell my story, to communicate to people what I see when I look at the world, are melody and lyrics and rhythm. And I try to do that. I don’t do it intentionally to be provocative, I don’t do it intentionally to be a leader or communicate a message. I really don’t. I’m literally just a person trying to live my life and do my job. Lord knows, there are easier ways to sell records than this.”

While You Were Out…

I’ve only written 4 blog post in the last month and a half, but it doesn’t seem like you missed it too much. The break, which I have every intention of continuing in some form or fashion, has been beneficial. I’ve focused my energy a little more and cut back where I could. At the same time, I didn’t replace blogging with other writing, which is what I had fully intended to do. Honestly, some of my time was just squandered away playing a ridiculous flash game that will remain unnamed.

Here’s some of what I’ve been working on lately and what’s been on my mind:

  • is the project I’ve been contributing most of my energy to over the past month. I’ve carved out a few hours a week to meet with people and organizations in the neighborhood to try and spread the word about the effort. It’s basically an encyclopedia (built of the wikipedia model of user contributions) for North Minneapolis. I’ve met with some great organizations, our council person and even the mayor. My plan is to spend maybe another month to try and spread the word and hopefully “sell” folks on the idea. People are very receptive of the idea, but very few people have actually made contributions. Anyways, that’s where most of my free time has gone.
  • Summer has meant a lot more time outside with the kiddos, parks, bike rides, libraries, you name it. Add a couple recent road trips and it’s wound up being a busy summer.
  • I started reading again, after about a 6 month break without finishing a single book. Recently I’ve read: Work Hard. Be Nice. which is about KIPP Academy a very successful charter school; The Glass Castle, a memior; Finding an Unseen God, reflections of a former athiest; and  maybe one or two others I can’t remember right now.

And of course now the kids are waking up, so my time here is almost done. My current plan is to write one short thoughtful blog post a week, probably following a certain topic or train of thought (consistently is the plan). So, help me choose the first topic thread to begin with:

  • money and finances
  • church
  • parenting
  • neighborhood and community

Or if you’ve got something else you think I might like discussing leave a suggestion.