Suicide and the Church of the Organ Grinder’s Monkey


This weekend, I listened to a podcast from a well-known Christian organization that featured the banter of two notable hosts. The subject was not banter material, though, because it focused on the alarming rise in the last few years of suicide.

The hosts attempted to pin some of the blame on economic realities. This is no doubt true. One demographic to experience an alarming rise in self-harm: men in their 50s. For most men, the early 50s are imagined as peak earning years. When a job loss or income drop happens at this time, the results can be catastrophic, especially since 50 is the new 70 in the eyes of the corporate world.

When the hosts shifted into talking how the Church should be the answer to people who are looking for hope amid economic misfortune, I wondered if they listened to their own show. Why? Because something telling betrayed their response. It’s the reason why economic realities are not the greater portion of the problem of suicide and its rise.

All throughout the podcast, the hosts mentioned their individual, personal brands. They dropped the names of the top schools their kids attended. They talked titles and honors. In doing so, they broadcast a sub-message greater than the Gospel—at least greater in its ubiquity. It’s the message that powers America and drives people to pull the trigger, cut the wrists, and take the pills. It’s the message of the Organ Grinder’s Monkey.

Organ Grinder and MonkeyI’ve never seen an actual organ grinder and his monkey. Italian men with handlebar mustaches come to mind, wearing Tyrolean costumes, while a capuchin or spider monkey gambols about his feet in a cute, little red vest and fez.

The one thing about the monkey: It never stops doing its shtick. Fact is, it can’t. Gotta keep dancing so long as the organ music plays.

I visited the website of a well-known church growth leader, and the one thing that impressed me most about his message was how often he begged people to retweet it, buy it in book form, and share his name with friends, neighbors, the neighbor’s dog, the fleas on the dog, and the mites on the fleas.

Because you gotta keep dancing.

Gotta be number one.

Gotta have name recognition.

Gotta be flogging that personal brand. You.

Gotta get those kids into a name school.

Gotta hold down that title, that chair, that fellowship, that thing that will justify your use of air.

Gotta. Because the organ is grinding, the music is playing, and it’s dance or Antonio finds another monkey.

You have to be “on.” All the time.

Do. There is no do not.

If we think we can go to the Church for an answer on this non-stop performance, we can’t. Because so many churches are enmeshed in trying to stay alive that they do everything they can to enhance their brand, their name recognition, their “product.”

Everywhere you turn, it’s perform or die.

Don’t make a mistake.

Don’t relax.

Don’t stop selling.

ABC—Always Be Closing.

The problem is that the Gospel comes along and it’s 180-degrees in opposition to the lifestyle of the organ grinder’s monkey. The Gospel’s freedom comes in not having to dance unendingly. People are no longer slaves to the music the world pipes. God doesn’t give a rip about your personal brand because you’re a mess and will be until you draw your final breath. Your personal brand is just another load of skubalon. So stop with the charade. Grace.

Why do people despair enough to end their lives? I think too many feel that they can’t let their guard down, can’t stop dancing, can’t stop performing, and just can’t shill for even one second more for themselves or for whomever their organ grinder might be. They simply cannot keep up.

When I listen to a Christian podcast and the message sounds like the organ grinder’s music, I don’t wonder why people are not in the seats on Sunday. Because there’s no relief. If the Church can’t tell people they can stop being an organ grinder’s monkey—and give them actual help to cease the tarantella—then no one will. Freedom in Christ will remain high concept and low reality.

We can talk all we want as a Church about grace, but until we stop with the performance mentality, we’ll sit back and watch the suicides pile up and blame them on everyone and everything EXCEPT the real cause.

We took a cruel world and fed into it a bunch of performance lies that make it even crueler. It’s time, Church, to help people throw off their monkeydom and embrace the freedom that comes from being identified by more than our performance.

Do American Christians Want to Be the Church?


Church gone fuzzyFor all the handwringing about half-hearted evangelism and declining church attendance…

For all the lamentations about lack of community…

For all the conflicting PR about organic, emerging, institutional, house, simple, and traditional churches…

For all the grousing about spiritual gifts, cessationism, charismania, and talents…

And for all the preoccupation with politics, Kardashians, Dancing with the Stars winners/losers, sports fanaticism, the “right” schools, the future, the Consitutution, police states, ISIS, endless End Times “prophecies,” and every last minuscule thing that has precious little to do with being a Child of God…

I am increasingly concerned that Christians in America have no desire to be the Church. We just don’t.

We talk like we do, but it’s mostly talk.

I confess that this is true of me as well. I am not exempt. I talk big, but I struggle to find ways to make the things I talk about work. I think this is true of most people in America. Something must be done; now if someone would just do it…

It may also be true that the systems we have in place that make American Christianity what it is only complicate being a genuine Christian attempting to live as the genuine Church.

But Americans have a way of making the things they value most work and work well—which is why I wonder if we truly value being the Church.

Do we wake up and immediately ask God to make us the Church? Is that such a burning concern for us that we give it the priority it deserves?

It’s not that we don’t love God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. It’s that we’re not so sure about people. The vertical still has value. The horizontal, not so much.

Let’s get real, though: If the horizontal isn’t there, is the vertical? Or are we fooling ourselves?

Then there are the endless battles…

For all the talk of trying to preserve the Church in America by taking on the culture and standing up for what is right, have we really preserved anything? Or did “fighting the good fight of Faith” lead us into the wrong battlefields, allowing our flanks to be decimated? Do we now find ourselves in a position where our soldiers are walking away and going back to their homes, weary and looking for something, anything, to distract them from realities they can no longer face because their wingmen went home too?

How many people out there are asking if they can do this anymore? How many have already decided they can’t?

Does anyone care?

Maybe this post is too grim. Maybe it’s not grim enough.

As for me, I think some people still care. I just don’t know if they have enough momentum to steer anyone else their way. Maybe the final outcome was always the remnant, and this is what it looks like.

I admit that I don’t have any answers beyond what I’ve posted here already on Cerulean Sanctum.

It just seems to me that somewhere we went off the rails, and instead of working to rectify the situation, we wandered off, distracted. Maybe this is the “powerful delusion” the Bible speaks of. Maybe we Americans who profess to know the Lord are falling under its spell too.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not as dire as I think it may be. God knows I want to be wrong on this issue.

Do we Americans really care about being the Church? If we still do, how do we prove it?

Maybe you have an answer. If so, please comment.

Sports Rise, Church Fall?


Sports as religion?Over at Al Mohler’s site, he adds to the talking point that sports, notably the Super Bowl, are the new American religion. Over at, several “unhelpful” review comments for my negative review of the Christian book Transformed got me wondering about doing versus being.

What they do they have in common?

A few weeks ago, I read an article about the sameness of today’s movies. The author argued that all films today seem the same because we Americans no longer have an approved set of themes that define us as Americans. If we make a movie about the greatness of America, people who don’t think America is great will not go to see it. We can’t do a movie about religion’s steadying influence on the American Way of Life because a lot of people aren’t religious. We can’t talk about the sanctity of family because that means too many different things to different people.

About the only script we can agree upon is that oppression is bad. And in America 2014, oppression is seen as little more than bad people preventing us from doing what we want to do. It doesn’t get blander than that.

Enter the Super Bowl.

For a prescribed number of hours, Americans can agree on one event that promises a football game, some entertaining commercials, and a mid-game spectacle. A free, package deal that is harmless enough and gives us an excuse to socialize and eat too much. And unlike Thanksgiving, we can pick and choose with whom we hang out.

From this, some claim that sports are our new religion.


Instead, sports—well, the Super Bowl at least—are America’s last touch stone.

Religion stopped being a touch stone when we became aware of too many religions. Sure, we in America sort of kind of chose Christianity, but now we’re swimming in 20,000 brands of Christianity, and who can choose the right one? They all seem a little factious, too, with one claiming to be better than another.

Plus, they are all so demanding.

Which brings us my Amazon review.

The main thought in the book Transformed by Caesar Kalinowski is What if Christianity were more about being and less about doing?

What person today doesn’t want Christianity to be more about being and less about doing?

Well, pretty much everyone, because I think people feel maxed out. They can spare one Sunday evening a year, but don’t ask them to spare every Sunday morning and a whole lot of other days and evenings along with them. One more thing on the schedule? God help us!

Maybe we are run rugged. Maybe we are lazy.

In a way, it doesn’t matter, because whatever the truth is, the perception is that if one more person asks us to do one more thing, we’re going to go postal.

Kalinowski’s book doesn’t help. That promise of just being able to be gets turned into “change all your traditional church activities into  missional community activities.” Swap overscheduled for a cool, hip, quasi-religious word, intentional. Feel more Christian yet?

Well, no.

What happened to the promise of just being?

That’s a good question, but it’s not one Christian leaders are answering. Give more money, attend more conferences, be more available, help more people, and do more stuff for the Kingdom. In the end, for whatever reason, the response from the guy with bags under his eyes is no. So people turn on the tube and watch the Big Game instead. It doesn’t ask much from them. Then, when the hoopla is over sometime around 10 p.m. or so, folks head home to bed and get ready for the next day at work. See you next year.

I don’t think church leaders get this. So nothing changes.

I don’t think there’s enough being in the American Church. We’re not teaching people how to abide in Christ. We’re teaching them the Christian life consists of a bunch of disconnected activities and to-do list items, and people are saying no. Why wouldn’t they?

It’s not that the Super Bowl is America’s new religion. It’s just that it’s easy. Meanwhile, the Church keeps loading up overloaded people with more things to do. Meanwhile, Jesus goes missing amid all the hubbub.