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Crack House Church

By July 11, 2012 9 Comments

A couple evenings ago Jay Bakker, Peter Rollins, two friends from Michigan (one of whom happens to be Jay’s co-writer and Peter’s editor), my spouse and I were in Brooklyn enjoying a meal together. I have been fascinated with Peter’s work since I first met him at an event Rob Bell was hosting on preaching and Peter was one of the guest speakers. Have you heard of him? If not, you need to.

Peter is a perspicacious individual. He gained his higher education from Queens University, Belfast and has earned degrees (with distinction) in Scholastic Philosophy (BA Hons), Political Theory (MA) and Post-Structural thought (PhD). He is thoughtfully honest and speaks poetically. Much of his work is influenced by the Slovenian philospher and cultural critique Slavoj Žižek. 

There is an air of depressing honesty around him and I mean that as a beautiful affirmation. When much of life is an attempt to numb pain or avoid heartache, Peter poetically speaks truth to the best of his ability, a truth that is sometimes uncomfortable to hear. Just as a psychoanalyst doesn’t make one depressed but instead points out the depression that is already there Peter doesn’t make one doubt but instead points out the doubt that is already present within a person and a religious system. Leaning into Christ being forsaken by God on the cross Peter says, “To believe is human but to doubt is divine.”

He recently posted a video that I have not been able to stop watching everyday since its release. I sit captivated as I wrestle with what Rollins is saying both in agreement and disagreement. I do think church in many ways has become a crack house where we go to get our “spiritual high” — even that language mirrors the drug culture. Unfortunately I think it’s widely true that church has become a place, for many, where they go to get numb instead of truly dealing with the mess of life. Maybe this is why I find so much energy around the lament Psalms because I believe they teach us how to express and grieve, not just mask the pain.

Rollins quotes Kierkegaard in this clip and says, “What is a poet? A poet is someone who screams and cries in agony but his lips are so formed that when they cry out beautiful music is formed. So when we say to the poet ‘sing to us again’ We are really saying may a new disaster befall you.” Recently I have said that I am learning what it means to become a Theopoet as a minister: speaking and preaching of God as an artist. But quite honestly, I wonder if I truly understand the depths of darkness that one must swim in to become a Theopoet. I ask myself, how does one preach hope in the midst of decay? I am constantly wondering how to hold on to the honesty of joy and depression.

Perhaps some of you will have some thoughtful reflections in response to this video and my own “free think” here. The video is called Crack House Church and I would be curious what reflections come up in you after watching it.

Crack House Church from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

Jes Kast

The Reverend Jes Kast is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament and serves West End Collegiate Church as their Associate Pastor.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Jes, I don't know, I'm actually put off by this guy. It's very easy to be so self-righteously critical. It's not that he says anything I might disagree with, but my first thought was: "Excuse me, I guess my church will never measure up to your brilliant critique." If I think of how many church members I've served for thirty years who have to cross deserts and mountains and chasms in their lives and get through incredible emotional and spiritual barriers just to drag themselves into church again on a Sunday, just to breathe a little bit of clear air. Don't say they aren't dealing with their suffering and their pain.

  • Abigail says:

    A few comments.

    What about those who go to church in joy? I believe that we’re all fundamentally broken in our sin, but aren’t we all also in the process of being healed and redeemed? Without wishing in any way to snub or disregard the tremendous pain of many church-goes, I would hope that we don’t subdue joy in others by “catering” to those in pain. Perhaps it would do us well to notice that an overemphasis on pain and brokenness can itself be a kind of drug.

    Two, perhaps part of the problem in this “crack-house” church phenomenon lies with the attendees, and not the church itself. A clinic is not a crack-house, but it can be made like one when its services are abused.

    Finally, this video seems to be entirely too focused about the individual’s experience in church. To be frank, I don’t go to church to feel better. When I’m in the midst of tremendous brokenness and pain, church rarely makes me feel better. Why do I go? Because I’m committed to living my life in fellowship with other believers. Because I’m committed to communal worship. Because I’m committed to identifying myself as one of God’s people. Because I’m committed to participating in those activities in which God has promised to “show up”. I’m not addicted to church-going; I’m committed to church going. (Also, I won’t cease going to church when I’ve “found the depth of reality” or “God in the midst of everything”. One, I don’t expect to find those things in this world. Two, wouldn’t I want to encourage others along in their own pursuit of these things, if I did “achieve” them?)

    (A last note: if we’re so addicted to church-going, why do so many people slip out of the habit so easily? Is our nation really that populated by people in touch with the depth of reality?)

    Those many critical comments aside, there’s a really key point here. Church shouldn’t be about a quick-feel-good-fix. But I think the point needs to be confined to its proper application – churches in which the focus is emotion, feel-good emotion, and church-attendees who are all about finding that feel-good emotion in a church. Not all churches are such. And not all church-attendees go for such a reason.

  • Julie says:

    I watched it twice…he doesn't ever mention the name of Jesus. Does that concern anyone?

    Am I right in saying that he's using fancy words to say that church isn't very authentic…where sin is faced right there in the pews and people deal with their stuff right there in Sunday school class? That people are not actually being CHANGED by church and a relationship with God? That's nothing new under the sun.

    I also wonder if this guy has ever been to a crack house? I mean REALLY been to one. I don't think they have singing and coffee.

    I don't care how many PhD's MA's, BA Hons…barf. This man wants church to be like a stand-up comedian? I want my kitchen to be more like Starbucks. Next.

    Jes, quite watching this video everyday. Go love on people, listen to their pain, and then keep loving them. Face your own pain and then celebrate that God loves you even though you are a mess. Read your Bible. Even if the "church" fails us, Jesus never will. He is still at work despite the church. Blessings to your journey.

  • Whether you like him or don't like him he is influencing a lot of people and that is worth listening to and paying attention to. I am not saying he is right or wrong (but neither do I use that language much) – I am saying he is worth paying attention to and that I will adamantly stand by. He speaks a lot of truth and serves as an entry point for those who have chosen to walk away from belief or those who have trouble with much of the superficiality of the Christian world. He provides a breath of fresh air for many, including myself.

    I have received a few emails from people today who found comfort in this post which makes me wonder what motivates some of you to react in judgmental disgust and some to find solidarity.

  • Julie says:

    Dear Jes, I think all of us are in solidarity here; we enjoy thought-provoking discussions of faith, no? When you ask for reflections, there is going to be opinions, both of agreement and "disgust". I am afraid I was a bit too tongue-in-cheek for your sensitivities. Peter was making a lot of generalities about the church, and he is certainly free to do that. I am glad to hear there were those who took comfort in your post.

  • Hi Julie,

    Oh do trust that I can handle many different opinions and welcome a wide variety of comments. Just know I will offer mine back, too! As you mention, that is what this venue is for and it is wonderful to have a robust discussion of dissenting opinions. I found it important to mention that in spite of your quick dismissal of him, he is actually offering a lot of hope and life to others.

    And to respond to your first question that you posed to us at large, No, it is not concerning to me that he never mentions the name of Jesus.


  • Daniel,

    I have been thinking about your comment for the past 12+ hours. I don't think Peter is saying that everyone who attends a church is not dealing with their pain (well, maybe I can't say that for him). I don't think his words apply to some of us on the East Coast (thinking about what I know of your congregation and the congregation I serve). I am thinking of the modern day theologically conservative, evangelical movement (of which, I used to be a part of). When I attended a church like that we used words like "spiritual high" and church became a place of "happy clappy" superficiality. I don't see that, as much, in our East Coast churches but I am probably biased now, or grossly overstating, or maybe telling truth?

    Certainly, I know many stories at West End of people who have been through hell and back and it was worship that helped them cope. It was the poetry of the liturgy and the honesty of the community that made God real and they honestly mourned and did not numb their pain. Worship became art in which pain and joy where/are reflected.

    Again, whether you like him or not, I think he is a voice worth listening to. He has a lot of thoughtful reflections on faith. Particularly in his book "How [Not] To Speak of God."


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Thanks, Jes, for your kind and thoughtful reply. And thanks for getting a good and vigorous discussion going.
    Can I add another thought. Judging only from Mr. Rollins' very short and intentionally provocative clip is perilous, but he seems to suggest that a worship service is first and foremost an exercise in enlightenment (which of course it is), and how to find the deep meaning of the world and how to be a human being (which of course it must be, as even the Westminster Shorter Catechism implies). In my mind, this is the common understanding of much Protestant worship in general, from the Unitarian Universalist worship in my neighborhood to the evangelical worship in Hudsonville. It is also expressed in that unfortunate mis-translation of "liturgy" as "work of the people" (a gross historical anachronism spread by everyone from Hageman to Bruggink). The understanding is that worship is, first, something WE do.

    Well, it is manifestly something we do. But the deep conviction of the early German Reformed protestants is that worship is, first, something God does among us. You can detect it poking it through the Heidelberg Catechism and the Palatinate Liturgy. The idea is that a worship service is a powerful weekly miracle which God presents to us, offers us, and invites us to participate in, and even invites us to complete as God's co-workers. The idea is that we go to worship actually to have a real encounter with a living God who shows up, to save us, to heal us, to cleanse us, to enlighten us, to encourage us, to weep with us, and, powerfully, to LISTEN TO US. The idea is that in worship there is a real, complex, and multi-faceted and mildly miraculous interaction between God and us, and that God makes it happen because
    God desires it to happen. The idea that worship is a play of love (and yes, of course, a play of hope and faith and, undeniably, knowledge and insight and enlightenment).
    Maybe this is how to understand what the one comment says about "no mention of Jesus." Let me first say that one of my relatives asked my once why my sermons often neglected to mention Jesus, or the cross, or the forgiveness of sins. I was taken aback, until I realized that if one reads my sermons apart from worship, they lose their context. I don't have to mention Jesus because our liturgy is rich and Christological and Trinitarian so that every week by means of the liturgy itself (especially the weekly Eucharist) the congregation passes through all the Jesus, cross, and forgiveness stuff. It's in the full drama represented by our liturgy that Jesus Christ shows up. It seems to me, therefore, that maybe what that comment is getting at with the "mention of Jesus" is that people come to worship for a real encounter of a living God, and sometimes just another seven days' worth of transformation.

    I agree with you that this guy's critique is on to something: Worship as entertainment, worship as feeling good. Worship as spiritual high. It's a kind of worship that is very much accommodated to a capitalist, consumerist culture; and it deadens the prophetic side of the gospel. For all its claims to evangelicalism, it actually approaches Gnosticism. But I confess I don't find his alternative much better than what he critiques. But thanks for this, Jes. Keep exploring, passionately exploring.

  • Paul Janssen says:

    The church should be more like……. singer/songwriter, comedian, professional mourner. OK; the church should be more like AA meetings, more like the military (in its structure), more like a successful business enterprise, more like the psychiatrist's couch, more like the Boy or Girl Scouts…… I'm too young to be jaded (I hope), but this does have the flavor of so many messages I've heard before from people who have become disillusioned with the life of a congregation, who find something that meets their needs elsewhere, then generalizes the problems of what they didn't find locally, and applies it to the church everywhere. The church as an opiate…. well, that's not exactly a new critique, is it?
    The church is not sui generis in the sense that it's self-generated, but it is sui generis in the sense that it is what it is. (If someone knows a better phrase for this, please enlighten me. I'm not Latin scholar.) It holds a metanarrative in trust, the sacred story that spans from creation to re-creation. Whether it is as the congregation laments, or rejoices, or the vast, broad middle in between, it comes into being as a gathering fit for human habitation as it is encountered by (hence not sui generis) the embracing Word of God. It's in this sense that the church is in the 'salvation' business: in the sense that God who in Christ made space for us to be welcomed before the face of God, by the Spirit comes to us in written and spoken Word, opens up space within God's own self and bids us, as a contemporary hymn says, "join the dance of Trinity."
    So, should the church be more like those other things? Perhaps. It's certainly right, it seems to me, that if the church is only happy-clappy all the time, or if it's nothing but weeping and a-wailing, then it is truncating the story, and hence it is constricting, closing down space, rather than opening up space. If the church is all stiff repetitive "read and dead" liturgy, yes, it ought to be more like a passionate singer/songwriter. If it's joyless habit, it should confront and perhaps even amuse like a comedian. If it's all happy-happy, joy-joy, then it ought to take the mantle of the professional mourner.
    But, as I've said, and as it seems every athlete says during post-game interviews, "it is what it is."
    Thanks for posting the video and getting a helpful conversation going.

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