Saturday, May 14, 2011

Keep Church Weird

Just in case you don't have a print subscription to the Northwest Arkansas Times, here's my column from Saturday:


That Black Jetta parked somewhere in NWA with the bumper sticker, "Keep church weird." That's me. A Lutheran musician friend from the Twin Cities sent me a few copies for free, and I love them. As far as it goes, keeping church weird is a top priority in my ministry as a pastor.

What does that mean? Well, for one, it means keeping church "holy." A Princeton theologian of youth, church, and culture, writes, ""If the Bible is any indication, holy people make us uncomfortable. They take sacrificial risks on behalf of others; they are disarmingly wise and, often, disconcertingly weird. They expose us with their honesty" (Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian, 38). This describes a saint in almost any religious tradition I can think of.

There is a more mundane and practical reason to keep church weird. Keeping your faith weird entails having an identifiably rich and deep tradition, and owning it. To quote, once again, from Kenda Creasy Dean,
[Many believe] the only alternative to religious bigotry is diluted faith. [However], a good deal of philosophical writing suggests just the opposite--that situating ourselves within a deeply held tradition makes us less rigid. Having an existential home base gives us the confidence to reach out toward others without feeling threatened by them, and without needing to make them become like us" (190).

This is why I often tell families of whatever religious persuasion to go deep in their own faith tradition rather than encouraging their children to explore "all the options." Often I hear parents say they will let their children decide what they believe, and indicate they plan to take them on visits to synagogues, mosques, churches, etc. I doubt that they actually do this, and I think this practice is presumptuous because it assumes you can get a good read on any tradition by simply dabbling in it.

I've been a Christian for 38 years and I'm still a novice! How could I possibly know another religious tradition well enough to join it just by visiting or dabbling in it. I know it's a temptation when you go off to college to try out, for example, Zen Buddhism if you're a Christian, or atheism if you were raised in a religious home. But have you really explored, deeply and truly, the weird and deep themes within your own tradition? That's a question worth asking.

Recently, I have been enthralled by the wisdom and potential of a practice called comparative theology. In fact, I'll be leading a class this fall at Nightbird Books that reads texts in and through that tradition. Essentially, comparative theology is the practice of reading religious texts from other traditions in light of your own theology. Instead of trying to find the way everything is the same, you remain different while engaging the other simultaneously.

Here's how this might look on a practical level. The Dalai Lama just visited Fayetteville this past Wednesday. Those inspired by his words and presence might ponder conversion into the Buddhist way. However, true engagement with the Dalai Lama might better happen this way. The Dalai Lama visits, and those of us who are Christians become better Christians as a result of his visit. Jews learn more about their own faith by interfaith dialogue. Atheists become better, more non-violent atheists. And so on. There is something healthy about being traditioned in the weird particularity of your own tradition that can open you up to interfaith engagement. The most rigid among us are often the ones who insufficiently know, or trust, their own weird particularly.

The Reverend Clint Schnekloth is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas, and blogs at


  1. Thanks for writing and sharing this. This resonates with me. I really enjoy learning about others and their different theologies as well as exploring my own Catholic/Lutheran roots more deeply. I think contemplating the differences and similarities have enhanced and strengthened my own faith life and enlightened my understanding. This frees me to listen more fully to others and develop tolerance rather than fear.

  2. Thank you! Agreed!

  3. thanks! great column! glad you reprinted it. and, I want some of those bumper stickers...