Tag Archives: Church

Should I Leave My Church?

7 Mar


If you’ve been engaged in a church community for any length of time, you imagine the blissful fellowship will never end—the hilarious dunk tank in the community park, the annual yard sale, the youth car wash, and the missions trips.  You remember when your small group prayed for you when you were awash in sorrow and how the whole church rallied around a family in a time of deep need.  You’ve been the first one in and the last one out.  You have given hours of time and talent to the church and your money and your whole heart because you believed God was doing something amazing in your community.

And now, you’re not sure if you should stay there anymore.

Some of your friends have already left—a couple of your friends from small group, a respected Bible study leader, and people who served in major ministry positions.  There are murmurs of this and that, and you don’t know what’s true anymore.  You don’t know who to believe.

But really, if you’re honest, it just doesn’t feel the same anymore.  Instead of jumping out of bed on Sunday morning, you think about sleeping in—just this Sunday.  The sermons seem, well, boring.  You don’t tear up when you sing your favorite worship song. And communion—it doesn’t feel all that sacred. You’re absolutely starved for something more, something real, something authentic and you didn’t even know it until a friend told you about his or her church.

Maybe the grass is greener on the other side, you think, because it doesn’t seem like the seeds you are sowing at your church are growing at all.

You are discouraged and possibly suffering from ministry burn-out.  You thought if you built a great ministry with the vision God has given you, they would come.  And you realize you don’t even want to come anymore.

So, the question pressing on your heart is—should I stay at my church or should I leave my church?

You’ve been seeking God’s Will and asking Him to make it completely obvious to You.  You desperately want to see your church change, the leadership to turn from its pride, and for your ministries to become a beacon of light in the community.  You love your church and (most of) the people inside it.  You don’t want to leave.  You don’t want to start over.  You just want your church to be how it used to be.

I don’t have all the answers; I just have my story. (See The Church We Leave Behind) As I wrestled with all of the above, I said to myself, almost in jest if this, this, and this happen, then I will know God wants me to leave my church.  I never, ever thought all those things would happen, but over the course of five months, they ALL happened.  As I did Jennie Allen’s Restless study with a friend, I knew that my restless heart needed to find a new home.  My soul was beat down, burn out, and in desperate need of spiritual food.

Going to services at my church was gut-wrenching. I stayed because I loved working with the teenagers and didn’t know what would happen to them if I left.  As things got worse, as ministry became controlled and micromanaged, as it seemed appearances and numbers were more important than people, I knew I had to leave.

My best friend and fellow small group leader and I prayerfully developed an exit strategy to help transition our students. However, as soon as our replacements were found, we were essentially told if we were leaving, we should just leave.  While it offered no closure, it did get me out of a bad situation sooner than I anticipated.  The swift severing of fellowship left me wounded and bleeding.

But not everyone is called to leave.  When the Northern Kingdom of Israel went into the first captivity with the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom of Judah went second captivity with the Babylonians, there was always a remnant that remained in the land.  In fact, the Ezra-Nehemiah narrative shares about how Nehemiah, a cup bearer to the king, longed for the land of his forefathers and returned from captivity to restore Jerusalem.  He faced oppression from outside foes, yet Nehemiah led his people to build a wall of protection around the city. (For more information, read Nehemiah-The Man Behind the Wall.)

We all want to be Nehemiah’s.  We want to take the ruins of our broken church and use them to build something better for the women’s ministry or the children’s ministry or the youth.  We want to be the change and to see dry bones dance again because we know all things can be redeemed through God’s power.  We look at our own lives as examples of this. We are the Redeemed people.

If you stand up against the wrongs you see in your church, you could become a target of abuse and gossip.  If no one talks about what is going on, why people are leaving, and how it can change, it never will.  There are some warriors that no longer have the strength or will or call to fight anymore, but maybe you do.  Abuses of power, which can also result in spiritual abuse, will continue if no one stands up to the church bullies.  You may be called to speak truth into the silence.

It comes down to this—what is God telling you to do?  Fast, pray, ask for advice, and seek a network of support.  You cannot and should not do this alone.  Leaving a church is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and sometimes staying is even harder.

Hold tight to the good memories of your church because that is something staying or leaving can never and should never erase.

Love in the Time of Vomit

17 Sep

Yesterday I had the chance to spend some time with my long-time friend, Beth.  We reconnected after a God-given encounter at my church.  It was reunion that has led to deeper ministry opportunities for both of us, which is why I cannot call this a “chance encounter.”  It was truly a God-appointed meeting.

I walked into Beth’s house and found toys scattered about, her two of her three kids enthusiastically bouncing about, and a baking project that was started, but not finished on the kitchen counter.  “We were going to make you caramel apple brownies,” said Beth with a playful giggle.  She shrugged her shoulders as if to say, “This is my life, every bit of it…and I love it. Welcome to Mommyhood!”

Mommyhood seems tough.  I am fully convinced stay-at-home mom’s are warriors.

As the kids warmed up to me, Beth and I began talking about what we’ve been doing since we last talk, really talked.  She had three kids (a couple born with challenging medical conditions), wrote a book, and a few Bible studies.  And I graduated from seminary, got sick, walked away from church, came back to church, and am involved in full-time volunteer ministry.  We talked about some of the heartaches spelling out “adult” words to protect innocent little ears.  We shared from our hearts, the way only two old friends can do.  There’s something in my soul said, “Where were you?  I needed to have this conversation.  Today.  With you.”

Beth explained how mommyhood has changed her and made her a much less selfish person as we watch her son jump from a chair into a pile of pillows.  “There’s no point in having new furniture with small children,” she told me as she instructed her son to use a sofa cushion to create a softer, safer landing spot.  “Boys are just going to jump off things, so I try to find ways to make it safer.” And jump he did.

She learned about mothering early in her marriage to my dear friend, Chris.  Inheriting a daughter from a previous marriage, Chris and Beth had visitation with “Emily” every other weekend.  During one meeting, Emily’s mom said that Emily wasn’t feeling well and sure enough, Emily soon vomited all over herself and started crying.  Beth tried to comfort Emily without getting puke on her expensive leather jacket.  Realizing how ridiculous she was being, Beth threw her leather jacket in the back of the car, gathered the crying, pukey girl in her arms, and comforted her getting vomit all over herself in the process. 

The story struck me, not only because I hate vomit, but because that’s what ministry is like.  Oh, we think of all the great things that will happen, the souls that will be saved, the Bible studies we’ll lead, the conference speakers we’ll get.  At the end of the day, ministry is standing in the church parking lot until 11 PM with a crying woman who doesn’t know if her husband loves her or praying with a distraught church member in the middle of Wal-mart.  Sometimes ministry is getting the vomit of someone else’s life all over you because they need a comforting hug of encouragement.

As I’m writing, I can’t help but think of Jesus, who came to earth to clean up the vomitous mess we made.  Hanging on a cross for my sin—my vomit—so that I could go free.  What love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!  What love, indeed! 

I wonder what God thinks when we jump off chairs onto pillows—does He make the landing safer for us?  When our big brother steals our stuffed unicorn, does He hold us when we cry?  Does He laugh when we toddle around the room trying to dance to a Newsboys song?  Does God, our Father, treasure us as much as Beth treasures her precious children?  I believe so. 

Adventures in Mommyhood are as much a lesson in cleaning up kid vomit as they are in ministering to our children (or our friends’ children), to those around us, and a startling revelation in how our Perfect Father deals with His very imperfect children.  Because He first loved us, we can extravagantly love others, mess and all.  In fact, it’s those who are crying, covered in sickness that most need our comfort, even if it means throwing our leather jacket of ministry expectations in the trunk of our “rescue vehicle”.  Let’s take a lesson from the One who put aside His glory to be born as a baby so He could take our sickening vomit away forever. 

She Is Beloved

21 Jun

If I ever did get a tattoo, it would say, “Beloved.”

So I’ve been busy, and I actually mean it!  No, not languishing away on my couch the victim of depression or hiding in bed because of anxiety, not even my formerly broken/still healing foot is holding me back…all that much anyway.  I’m busy in the Lord, which is so much better than being busy for busyness’ sake.

When I started going to Bethany Church in November, I never knew how it would transform my life–not only locking me into community with God’s people, but giving my sad life more purpose than it has felt  in years, than it’s had since I left the church in fall 2004. 

Oh, I’ve tried to pursue other interests, passions, and loves away from the Church, but they’ve all fallen short.  Yet some sustained me for a while, yet nothing truly satisfied.  I was spiritually dehydrated, emotionally broken, and physically falling apart because I held onto bitterness, unforgiveness, and oh, how I raged against God!  I rejected the arms of the One who longed to provide me comfort.  It may not have changed my circumstances; it would have changed my response to those hardships.  Still, God is picking up all the broken pieces, gathering them into His heart, and using them for His glory.  I love a God who can make beauty rise from the ashes.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for years know how I longed for community, yet made excuses for why I couldn’t go to church.  Believe me, the horrible panic attacks upon entering a church building didn’t help.  I want you to know that I understand those of you who have given up on church.  I know what it’s like to sleep until noon on Sunday mornings and feel a small pang of guilt for not going to church because it seems like the “right” thing to do. (All the while Keith Green’s lyric, “Jesus rose from the dead and you can’t even get out of bed,” played in my head.) I know you’ve been hurt, scarred, and the last place you want to go on Sunday is to church.

Go anyway.

And if you’re just not ready, know that God will come find you, His little lost lamb.  He will come to you, cradle you in His loving arms, and led you back to the flock.  I am praying for you, beloved, even if I don’t know your name.  I am praying for you because God knows Your name, for it is engraved on His palms. (If you want me to personally pray for you or encourage you, please shoot me an email.)

He is calling your name, “beloved.” Not only are you precious to the heart of God, but so is His Beloved Bride, the Church.  I am beloved.  You are beloved.  And she is beloved as well. 

Hear His voice, respond to His call, and come home!  The door is always open and our light will never burn out, for We are the Church, the Beloved Bride of Christ.

We are the beloved ones!

Amy’s NoteI am writing this to myself as much as I am writing it to you because I want to remember why I need my church, fellowship, and other Christians with which to “do life.”  If you want to pray for me, please ask God to protect my little heart and strengthen my spirit, that I may be used as a conduit for His glory and honor and renown.  Thank you, faithful prayer warriors! 

Book Review:: Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

25 Feb

In his book, Mere Churchianity, Michael Spencer asks a question that has been rattling around my brain for days now: If I were to spend three years with Jesus, what kind of person would I be?  Spencer argues that the disciples who followed Jesus had their worldviews, especially about God, rocked again and again by God-in-the-flesh, Jesus.  He writes, “Jesus wouldn’t leave their ideas of God alone until he was their idea of God.” Such is the start of the argument that Spencer makes for Jesus-shaped spirituality.

And it’s an argument that I liked.  Instead of choosing one group as the Christian cultural elite, Spencer goes after the whole establishment.  He wants to break down the ideas of the modern church and follow what he calls “Jesus-shaped spirituality.” This spirituality is Jesus, having a genuine experience of God, and figuring out how a life gets transformed.  Sounds simple, right?  Then why aren’t churches in the United States doing just that, Spencer asks.

Mere Churchianity is a response to those disgusted with church, but who desperately want to find God.  He says that this book is for those ready to walk out the door, or to those who have already left.  However, this book is really for anyone who wants to change the status quo and who feels that God has a deeper plan for the church.  Really, it is getting beyond phony smiles and pat answers, to the grimy mire of where people really live, where Jesus really ministered.

Instead of coming across as a know-it-all, Spencer eagerly admits his own shortcomings as a pastor and shares a lot of stories that illustrate his points.  Most of all, Spencer points people to Jesus.  His message is not to look at the institution of church, other people, but to Jesus Himself if you want to know who God really is, if you want to have a spirituality shaped by God, not by man.

Spencer, known to many though his website InternetMonk.com, passed away last April after a long fight with cancer.  Fortunately, his words still live on in his website and in this book, Mere Churchianity.

Download and read the first chapter of Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer.

*With thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for my review copy of this book.*

Book Review:: Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson

7 Sep

“What is one thing you feel you can’t say in church?”  It’s a question author Anne Jackson posed on her blog, receiving a worldwide response.  Readers mailed hundreds of confessions, some artistic, some simply written on index cards to Jackson who cataloged the responses on PermissionToSpeakFreely.com.  Jackson uses these artistic avowals along with essays and poetry in her astounding new book, Permission to Speak Freely.

In the introduction, Jackson outlines her purpose for putting together Permission to Speak Freely; she wants to let others know they are not alone in their secrets.  She is also clear that her intention is not to malign the church, but rather to allow broken hearts to express their woundedness.  In the end, the author desires readers to find the irresistible hope rooted in God.

Since Anne Jackson is one of my favorite bloggers, it was with eager expectation I began to read Permission to Speak Freely, which is also like an essay-guided PostSecret book, but better!  Incorporating telling art and poetry into her lush writing, Jackson produces her own mosaic masterpiece with the glass shards of her own story.  Admitting her past and present struggles with mental illness, pornography, and drug addiction, Jackson offers the readers freedom to admit their own shameful secrets, first in their minds and then to close friends, small groups, or even PermissionToSpeakFreely.com.

While this book could have easily fallen into an art niche or essay niche, it’s not that kind of book.  In fact, the infusion of Scripture, art, essay, and poetry make this a book that is a treasure, both visually and intellectually.  At times, this book is challenging because readers are meant to wrestle with this book.

Permission to Speak Freely has changed me as a person.  So many books about Christian freedom come from the perspective of male authors, the fact that Anne Jackson is a woman immediately made me more receptive to her message.  And because she is a woman, I believe that her struggles resonate with me in a deeper way, which is not to say that she is not massively appealing to both genders.  Her book is for everyone and really should be read by everyone.  And I do mean everyone, though I fear some may not be ready for the freedom Jackson offers Christians.

Thank you, Anne, for having the chutzpah to write this marvelous book!

Amy’s Grade:: A

**Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”**

God’s Love Song:: “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” by Chicago

31 Aug

It was not until “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” by Chicago started playing on the radio that I felt the darkness flooding my world start to lift.  As I absently sang along on my drive home from Hobby Lobby, the words never seemed so clear.  I wasn’t breaking up with a person; I was breaking up with my church.

And I confused that with breaking up with the Church and with God; neither of which I was kicking to the curb.

In case you’ve never heard Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” (Shame on you!), I’ve included an incredibly retro video here, which makes me laugh and sort of ruins the seriousness of this post::

“Hold me now, I really want to tell you I’m sorry, I can never let go…”

The lyrics rang through my head and I started crying.  Not just because it’s hard to say “I’m sorry,” not because my now ex-church didn’t say “I’m sorry,” but because I felt God saying “I’m sorry.” He wasn’t sorry for something *He* did being flawless and perfect; He was sorry for what happened to me, for the pain I felt.  I felt a gentle whisper in my soul, “It’s hard for them to say I’m sorry, but I’m so sorry.  I feel your pain and I’m holding Your broken heart in My hands.”

“I couldn’t stand to be kept away, just for the day, from your body…”

Clearly, Peter Cetera and the gang had different intentions for this lyric, but I thought about the Body of Christ and how the Church has been supporting me during my recent disappointment with my break-up from church.  And how the Church will support me as I seek out a new church home because God made it clear I should not stay.

It seems silly that a Chicago song could stir such revelation, such a knowing of God’s love, but then again, whenever I see a hawk, I also hear God whispering, “I love you.  I see you.” Being the Lord of all creation, I suppose He has a right to communicate His message however He sees fit—through the Bible or from an 80’s song about how it’s hard to apologize.

The Church is a Hospital, Part 2

30 Apr

In my first “The Church is a Hospital” post, I talked about how the church should function as a hospital, but often does not.  I also introduced you to my friend, who was treated poorly by the church “triage” team.  While the church as an institution got it wrong, the Church as a people surrounded my friend with the love of God.  But sometimes the church gets it right.

My friend, while being initially mistreated by the triage team at a local church-hospital, found much support in senior staff members, who listened to her, prayed for her, and supported her as she continues through her difficult time.  The time these pastors, these shepherds, took with my friend impressed me so much that I decided to give this church a visit.  My heart, so broken and hardened in places, yearned for the closeness of God’s people and corporate worship.  Still, I was afraid.

After abandoning church (but not my faith in God) altogether in 2004, I developed a major fear of the church.  It was so bad that even walking in a church would cause major anxiety, usually developing into a panic attack.  I remember attending a wedding at my old church a year later, and I was choking back tears as my mother’s friends were united in holy matrimony.  Fortunately, one is allowed to cry at weddings, but I was trying to swallow my fear.  It was bad.

The Church did a number on me, that’s for sure.  However, I realize that I also did a number on the Church.  The foolish pride of youth, arrogance, and a know-it-all attitude made me just as a deadly a viper as the many I despised.  It took me years to realize that I was part of the problem.  Of course God could not advance someone who was not humbled before Him.  He had to bring me to my knees to show me how desperately I needed the Church.

So this past Sunday, I visited my old church, where I am still a member.  I also attended this church on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday with my mother.  (When did I become a C & E churchgoer?) If you put two and two together, you will remember that this church is the one that proudly displayed “The Church is a Hospital” on the back of their church bulletin.

And let me tell you that this church is a hospital, and it is also the hospital that has been treating my emotionally bruised and battered friend.  This church is a hospital.  All along I hoped it would be the church I knew it once was, I hoped its people would come along side my friend, and secretly I hoped I could believe in the Church as a whole again.  I was not disappointed.

What I didn’t realize was this—how the church-hospital’s actions would affect my own withered heart.  The Cardiologist (God) reached down and massaged my hard heart back to life.  I started crying as the pastor prayed for those in the congregation going through rough times.  I knew the sermon was one I needed to hear.  I knew the songs were ones I needed to sing.  I knew the church I left so many years ago was home.

The church-hospital is effective when it functions properly.  Even when one of its hospital staff falls short, the rest of the treatment team is there to cover his weakness with grace (and as a fellow Christian, should we not offer this person grace?)  It’s a funny thing though.  I sought help for my friend and found healing myself.  I guess I don’t have to live my life in the morgue of the church-hospital anymore.

I also want to mention a new organization called Throw Mountains, which is a group of authors/speakers making a case for 20/30-somethings to give the church another chance.  Sarah Cunningham, author of Picking Dandelions [read my review of her book] is one of the ladies heading up the effort.  Check ’em out at ThrowMountains.com.

Note: This was cross-published on AtypicalMusings.com.

The Church is a Hospital

17 Apr

Recently, I attended a local church. As I read the bulletin, I noticed a mission statement of sorts on the back that started out stating, “The church is a hospital.” Immediately, I wondered if the mission statement was inspired by the late Mike Yaconelli who wrote in Messy Spirituality, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” The church is a hospital…hmm…. Sadly, often times I think of it as a morgue.

I am asking God to help transform my mind from this dour way of thinking. I mean, we all know the Church has her problems, right? Obviously! Because she is composed of flawed people made perfect by a righteous Bride Groom. Still, that does not mean the Church can get away with shirking her responsibility either. “Sorry, I’m sinful” just doesn’t cut it.

Now I don’t recommend this, but wouldn’t it be interesting if we could rate the care programs at churches the way we rate hospitals? For example, Lehigh Valley Hospital rates high in heart and cancer care, while St. Luke’s is known for its ever-changing technologies. So, I imagine I would choose LVH if I needed a heart transplant and St Luke’s if I needed, uh, something cutting edge. Should we choose churches the same way?

It seems to me that all churches have their strengths and weaknesses, but they should all be about the business of heart care because it seems that Jesus was always about the business of heart care. Why, then, do so many churches seem to sacrifice the heart in sake of the law? For example, why ignore the needs of unwed pregnant teens when Jesus’ own mother was an unwed pregnant teen? (Shout out to TastyFaith.com!) Or why do women continue to live in abusive situations because verbal, spiritual, physical, financial, and sexual abuse are not “biblical” grounds for divorce? (Don’t worry, I have a ton to say on these issues in coming weeks.)

Yes, teens shouldn’t get pregnant and marriages shouldn’t end in divorce, but guess what? That’s life here on planet Earth. I think if the Church can get off with imperfection, her people should be doubly excused. And anyway, isn’t it our sins that drive our souls to the E.R’s of the church-hospital? Isn’t it when we are at the very end of ourselves that we often come crawling to God and out of desperation we go back to church? I think so.

Someone I love dearly was recently treated poorly by a member of the triage team at a local church-hospital. I kept thinking to myself, “The church is a hospital. They have to help my friend. She will not make it without them.” Unfortunately, the church as a institution came up short…again. But the church as a people (especially in the form of other women) have been tremendously supportive. I hope one day the institution will catch up with her people because that’s where disillusionment begins and ends.

The church is a hospital for everyone, not just sinners, because sometimes the saved take it in the heart. And sometimes the Church shoots her wounded.

[This was also posted on Atypical Musings.]

Hitchhiking with ASBO Jesus Founder Jon Birch

6 Sep

All cartoons are courtesy of ASBO Jesus’ Jon Birch.  Click on the image to view the cartoon in full, and check out all of Jon’s work at http://asbojesus.wordpress.com.

By Amy Sondova ASBO Jesus is a phenomenon not even founder Jon Birch saw coming.  His site speaks about controversial issues in the church such as female pastors, cutting, abuse, but Birch uses few words—he lets his cartoons tell the story.  And just because they’re animated doesn’t mean they’re so easily dismissed.  Millions flock to The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus each week to check out the latest cartoons, comment on social issues, and find encouragement in the community.  Jon, who lives across the pond (that is, in Great Britain) took time out of his work to do a Q&A via e-mail.

Not everyone is familiar with ASBO Jesus, what exactly is your site about?

It’s a blog where I put up cartoons on issues of faith and the church. Sometimes satirical, sometimes empathetic, sometimes ridiculous. Over time, quite a community has grown, so I’ve used the cartoons to stimulate discussion. The purpose of the site is to say things, or bring things up for debate or thought which are often thought yet seldom said (at least not in public) by people of faith. Having said that, the site is open to people who have lost faith, or are still working it all out (Aren’t we all?)

ASBO, itself, is a British term for “anti-social behavior disorder”–why use this term in conjunction with your cartoons?

It was my wife, Clare, who put the two words ‘ASBO’ and ‘Jesus’ together to make a title for the blog. It came out of an interesting conversation we were having about ‘if Jesus were alive today, in our culture, would He be given an ASBO’.  We concluded, rightly or wrongly, that He probably would. It seemed to us that He was killed for being what the religious authorities and others deemed ‘troublesome’, so at the very least He would be given an ASBO.

Also, in Britain, ASBO’s generally end up being given to those on the margins of society.  Jesus very much identified with those on the margins, so the name ‘ASBO Jesus’ seemed to me to fit the bill beautifully. It is quite possible that the intriguing, possibly controversial, name is one reason why the blog started to get a lot of hits. That is more of a happy accident than a pre-planned thing.

Where did you get the inspiration for the site?

I did cartoon # 1 just shortly after my mother died. Still shocked and beginning the process of coming to terms with a profound (and very sudden) loss, I started cartooning. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was a welcome distraction, perhaps it was the need to try and say meaningful things.

I do know my mother understood the empathy I have for the marginalized and in the last conversation I had with her she encouraged me to carry on being myself, to carry on loving those who others might judge. These things are hard to put into words, but she told me of a wonderful gay doctor who had been very good with her.  She smiled and said, “You would have loved him.”  My mum was cool; I’d like my life to do her justice.

There are, of course, many inspirations for the cartoons I do.  Not least, these days, the conversations that go on at ASBO. Sometimes it is the conversation that sets the agenda for the next cartoon. I hope my site is a service.  I hope it is edifying and helpful. I also hope people find it funny… at least sometimes; I do.

How have your cartoons made a difference in how Christians think?

Wow… I don’t know for sure that they have. I do know that some cartoons have made people think though, because people have said as much on the blog. I would like to think that sometimes the cartoons enable people to think again about things that maybe they thought they knew. There are some subjects that some people have entrenched views on, but hopefully through the cartoons and through the ensuing conversations; there is a way for them to at least hear another view.

I’d like us all to think again really, about all sorts of things. We are, none of us, always right.  We are, all of us, sometimes wrong.  I am no expert and I don’t pretend to be. My own cartoons often lead me to ponder things that I otherwise might not.  I am often learning from the insights and experiences of people who contribute to the comments on the site. Without their input the cartoons would have dried up a while ago.

Why do you think your site has become so popular?

I think it is, in part, because from the start I tried to make sure I joined in with the conversation. To begin with, in the blog’s infancy, I would simply say ‘thank you’ if someone left a comment. Later, when people got brave and started offering views, I would try to engage. Essentially, I like people; and I hoped to make sure people who took time out to respond would feel appreciated.

As I said before, the name of the site has in some ways helped. Also, I have found that very often, people will use an ASBO cartoon on their own blog and link to my site; this has generated a lot of traffic. There are a few very well known bloggers who have referenced my work or used a cartoon; this has flagged the site up for people’s attention.

I also think that people return because they are interested in the comments left. Some of the conversations have been truly inspiring and involving. I am amazed at the willingness of some, to be honest and soul searching. Somehow, although the blog is open to anyone, it seems to have become a safe space to debate, try out arguments, empathize and also to have some fun. Long may it remain that way.

Sometimes though, I think that people enjoy a laugh in the day. ASBO sometimes provides that. Life is often intense and we all need some relief.

What cartoon has been the most controversial to date?

Cartoons on sexuality always stir things up. Sex sells, even in Christian circles. It is interesting that a cartoon which is controversial to one person isn’t at all controversial to another. The one that brought the most comments was a cartoon about gay partnership and marriage. This was too much for some. Although the cartoon was not prescriptive, it was done to elicit a response. However, I have to say, that the majority of the conversation was positive and fruitful. There are some lovely people in the ASBO community who I can trust to set the tone of the conversation. ASBO has become for me as much about their personalities as it is my own.

Christ was controversial. A cartoon site which searches for Christ is bound to be controversial. Some subjects are controversial simply because we are afraid to discuss them. I find this a little ridiculous and try to be open to bringing up anything which I think ought to have an airing. Some of the stronger (maybe not even funny) cartoons I have done are the ones I am most pleased with. A cartoon on self-harming, which I was prompted to do, is still my favourite. I did a lot of heart searching before I posted it, but again, the conversation that ensued told me that this was a subject that really needed to be out of the closet, I was pleased and amazed by the warmth and sensitivity of many of the comments.

When you raise a subject like this, you will probably be affecting those for whom this is an issue. I would only want to have a positive impact; I would want to help the situation, not worsen it. I hope that is what happened. I can only judge by what I read in the comments, but given the amazing variety of people who commented and the things they said, I think it was helpful. I am very pleased I managed to pluck up the courage to post it.

It seems that drawings can communicate a very real message in a less intimidating way, why is this?

Maybe ‘a picture paints a thousand words.’ Maybe they are a bit like parables. Maybe the simple characters are appealing in some way. Maybe it makes a refreshing change for people. Maybe it invites comment and response. I am not entirely sure. I do think though, that a simple picture can encapsulate a lot. Certainly in Britain, there is a strong tradition of cartoon satire; it is a well understood medium of communication. Also, even a simple cartoon can draw you into its world, so you get a different way in to thinking about the world we live in. these are just some thoughts; I don’t really know.

I’m sure there are some days when you get a ton of complaints and you just feel down, why do you keep going?

I’ve not had tons, but I’ve had a few. Complaints don’t really worry me, provided people are complaining about what I’ve said and not what they thought I said. I’m making comments on things, so I guess I’m fair game for those who disapprove. I’ve not censored any comments (except spam). Someone once wrote something like ‘why don’t you do something with your life, like kill yourself or die or something?’ I didn’t even censor that. It’s there still. That sort of silliness is very rare; you can’t let that sort of thing bother you. I do sometimes get down, but that’s me, it’s never anything to do with ABS Jesus. To be honest, I’m my biggest critic.

When you’re not making the ASBO Jesus cartoons, what else do you do?

I make a lot of animations, produce a lot of music and run proost.co.uk with my partner in Christian crime, Jonny Baker. I’m a trustee of a Christian youth charity in my home town. I’m about to start work on a graphic novel with a very good writer friend of mine. And I’m trying to get our home sorted out… it’s looking a little less like a building site than it was a while ago. I have a wonderful wife called Clare, a scruffy dog called Gromit, and am blessed with wonderful friends and family. Right now I’m finishing off a few animations and preparing stuff for Greenbelt (a big UK festival)… I have the Olympics on in the background as I work.

Print copy of interview.

Photo Essay:: Three Crosses

21 Jul

“Three Crosses” by Dirk Bolle

Dirk Bolle is the nerd in residence at Christian Assembly in Los Angeles. Besides God, Dirk can’t live without Macs and coffee. He also enjoys taking photographs of his landlord’s cats and watching “Cops” and “M*A*S*H”. In his former life, Dirk was on the original cast of “Square Pegs” as that guy who did that thing. Visit his blog to see more from the world of Dirk.

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