Summer 2018 Bookklub: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (by Jordan Peterson)

Summer of 2018 we will have a bookklub in Omaha, as well as in Aurora, Nebraska, and our book will be Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.  This is a book which has gotten a lot of notoriety recently, and it should provide an interesting basis for discussion about social issues we face today.  Although Peterson is not a Christian, he raises interesting questions and answers to consider.  Contact Andy if you are interested (


How to Gain 18 Pounds in 3 Years Without Hardly Trying (How We Lose Our Virtuous Desires) — andy gustafson


It is good to be virtuous, and to be virtuous is to ‘make the mark’– to achieve the golden mean between two vices typically.  The way Aristotle thought about it, virtue was about all areas of life, and to be moral was simply to be a well balanced individual– properly functioning in all respects, with habits proper to ideal human flourishing.  To be appropriately (virtuously) courageous is to avoid being a coward, and also to avoid taking stupid risks (the opposite vice from cowardliness).  To be appropriately (virtuously) humorous is to avoid being a dullard, on the one hand, and a baffoon on the other.   To be generous is to avoid being a miser on the one hand, or a spendthrift/waster on the other.   Even physically– to be prudent in ones eating habits– healthy– is to not be a glutton, and to not be anorexic either.  Being virtuous requires intentionality, effort, and habituation– we fall in or out of the virtuous habits, and we can gain or lose virtuous habits over time due to practice or lack thereof.  It is easy to fall into a vice of one sort or another, and quite difficult to maintain a life of virtue.

Interestingly, virtues are often displayed in our desires.   A strange picture to many of us is a person who is running and smiling– as though they like to exercise.  A person who has developed the good habit of exercise eventually comes to like or even love that exercise– whereas to those of us who are out of shape, exercise seems a burden, and unpleasant.  To someone addicted to smoking, it seems like a refreshing break– but to someone who doesn’t smoke, smoking can seem disgusting and stinky.  To someone who had a habit to drink alcohol regularly it can seem like a nice break– but to someone who doesn’t drink alcohol, it can seem like a silly and perhaps unhealthy way to add empty calories to one’s diet.  To someone who loves sweets a piece of pie with 1,000 calories can seem glorious– whileas to someone who has developed an aversion to sweets, it can seem like a ridiculous indulgence with only bad consequences.

Which brings me to the topic of this short piece– how easy it is to gain 18 pounds in 3 years.

I often ask my seniors how many of them plan to gain 18 pounds in the next 3 years.  Of course few of them plan to.  Then I tell them that it is likely that quite a few of them in fact will– and they seem surprised, if not a bit offended.  But then I break it down– “It is quite easy, you see– that is merely 1/2 pound per month, which  means you only need to gain  just over .016% of a pound per day (a simple task!) and you will soon be 18 pounds heavier!  That is not too hard for you– in fact it can easily happen without hardly trying at all!”  I remember raising pigs in 4-H as a kid.  I would get 40 pound pigs in March, and by August I would have made them 225 pound hogs.  There is something to our making a analogy between eating too much and being a pig!   But in our case, gaining that weight is not part of a plan– far from it– it is typically something which happens over the course of time with a consistent habit of stupid little choices.  And soon a person finds themself quite overweight and surprised as to how in the world it happened.   I remember my doctor once saying– “These people come in and ask me how in the world they are supposed to lose weight, and I ask them how often do they eat pizza, and they say ‘only a couple times per week’ and I tell them that pizza should be an indulgence, at best, not a regular part of their diet!!”  And while of course as we age, most of us find it more difficult to keep off weight, most of us also do more than our fair share to accelerate the dissipation of our health.

So gaining 18 pounds in 3 years is very simple– especially if you have a stressful job, crazy kids, or face boredom, anxiety, stress of any sort, a sweet tooth, a taste for alcohol or snacks, an aversion to movement or exercise, or any number of fairly typical life situations.  To not gain 18 pounds in 3 years is more remarkable really– for most of us.

But fortunately, habits are changeable– for better and worse.  The results of years of habitual misuse of the body cannot necessarily be easily overcome– “use it or lose it!” and as one of my friends and workers, Jeff, recently said, “It is so easy to be irresponsible!”– but with God’s grace and some effort, many things are possible, even reversing stupid habits, and eventually even smiling when you exercise or pass on the fritos…

To God be the Glory…

(andy gustafson)


Doing the Most Good

jesus-healing  ainger   wall-street

Each of us has unique opportunities to impact the world around us.  God gifts each person with unique abilities, resources, and skills, and it is up to each one of us to use them well and do what we feel called to do to transform the world around us.

One thing I’ve been struck by recently is the way that being successful in business enables people to change the world.  Working at Creighton University, I’ve seen very successful business people give money to Creighton to help the school move forward.  I’ve seen similar donations to the University of Nebraska, and we hear of such donations frequently.

Yet, oftentimes, I see students who think that to really do good, they need to become a social worker, or become a teacher or nurse, or perhaps a pastor or missionary or work for a nonprofit.  Somehow these service oriented vocations are more noble– and the more non-profit the better.   And while there is something noble about going into these professions, it is not clear, on the face of it, that going into a profession which does not make much money is either noble or of greater worth to society than going into a profession in which you could make a great deal of money, and then give it away to useful effective causes.

There was an interesting article this week on Monday 12/12 in the wall street journal called “The Mistakes We Make When Giving to Charity“. They compare a hypothetical scenario of two doctors– one lives in L.A., makes 700,000 per year, and gives $50,000 to Doctors Without Borders, and that donation saves 500 lives per year.  A second doctor joins Doctors without Borders after completing his residency, and saves 200 lives per year while making $23,000 per year.  More people tend to think that the one who works for DWB lives a more admirable life, even though he effectively saves less lives per year than if he made a lot of money and gave it to DWB.  The point of the article was that, looking at it from a pure impact perspective, it seems that the first doctor saves considerably more lives per year (of course, one might ask why he doesn’t give more of his salary, but that is a different question).

Peter Singer is a non-religious thinker who has written a great deal on “effective altruism”.  Here is a brief TED talk he did on the topic.  In his book, The Most Good You Can Do, he tells the story of one of his students who wanted to make a huge difference in the world, and although this student was set to go on to graduate school and become a professor, he decided he would be able to do more good by working on Wall Street, because he could save more lives by making lots of money and giving it to effective charities.  Of course this is another important piece of the puzzle– there are plenty of feel-good charities out there which don’t actually give you much bang for your buck.

Now obviously, a couple questions need to be asked.  First, if all the DWB doctors stayed stateside and made lots of money to give to DWB, who would go work for DWB?  In other words, if some don’t volunteer, then who will go?  It seems possible that schools could be started in emerging nations to train locals to become doctors– or something like that.

Second, is saving lives the most important thing?  I don’t know that it is the most important, but the fact that it seems like a fairly awkward question to ask seems to indicate that saving other people’s lives probably is an important priority.

Third, what, if anything, should we take from these considerations?  One thing which makes me especially interested in this question is what I’ve seen over the years at Christian schools I’ve been involved in.  Schools like Trinity in Chicago or Bethel in Minneapolis/St. Paul were known for producing teachers, nurses and pastors– all good things.  But they also struggled financially because although it was never said, there was never a lot of emphasis on being successful ‘in worldly affairs’– i.e. business.  In fact, there was probably some suspicion of it.  I certainly see that as well at the Jesuit schools I’ve been at (Fordham, Marquette, Creighton)– arts and science students sometimes (not always) seem to have the attitude that business students have ‘sold their soul for money’– and of course, some have.  But the largest donors tend to be successful business people. The fact seems to be that those who work hard to make a good deal of money may very well be able to do a lot more good than if they chose to go into a less lucrative field.

My point is that there is a certain martyrdom factor which sometimes influences our judgment in these matters.  We somehow think that if we do something which makes less money it is better, more noble, and more ethical.  I do not think that is in the case.  And we might do well to encourage more young Christian students to go be successful in business.  I think that Catholics tend to do a better job of this than the Protestants I’ve seen.

Finally, I want to make it clear that I am a huge fan of the less lucrative professions and the arts and sciences– I’m a philosophy/english major, and I’m from a family of teachers and pastors (and farmers) who love to discuss theology.  But I know plenty of business people who know theology and philosophy as well.  What I want to ask is, how can we do the most good?  And might that involve encouraging the young people in our churches to go out and be successful entrepreneurs and business people in the world who in turn use their wealth to transform the world for the glory of God?  I think so.

May God have mercy on us all…





New Lows in Disrespect of Religious Practices

st patricks

For those of you who went to Church on Easter, how would you respond to what happened at St. Peter’s Cathedral in New York yesterday?:

About 20 minutes into the Rev. Damian O’Connell’s noon Mass, protester Jacob Martin, 23, rose out of his seat in the center of the church and started to walk down the aisle while shouting into a bullhorn that “only the devil” could create “animals capable of love and joy just so humans can make them suffer and die.”

I’m not for inhumane treatment of animals, although I am not against all and any killing of animals.  But it seems wrong to use religious events (of any religion) as platforms for conducting political protests.

For years now, most people have found the Westboro Baptist Church’s protests at the funerals of veterans uncivil and obnoxious.  This is, at least in part, because people feel that a funeral is no place to hold a political protest– religious personal events like this should be given a certain solemn dignity and respect.  But this Easter evidently more people are increasingly deciding that political statements (even mass bombings) need not respect the sanctity of religious practices.

The first world famous event from this Easter is obviously the Easter bombing in a park in a Christian neighborhood in Pakistan.  Now terrorist bombers have been blowing up mosques and churches for years, so there is really nothing all that novel here, except that it was done on a religious holy day.

A much less damaging but still disrespectful religious service interruption happened in New York on Easter according to the New York Post:

Worshipers attending Easter Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral got the scare of their lives when a band of unruly protesters disrupted the event.  “I thought they were going to blow themselves up,” worshiper Carol Forester, 50, confessed.   A group of six animal rights protesters abruptly leaped up from a pew in the middle of the service and shouted, “Easter is a time for love! No more shedding animal blood!” while holding up signs of animals pleading for their lives.   About 20 minutes into the Rev. Damian O’Connell’s noon Mass, protester Jacob Martin, 23, rose out of his seat in the center of the church and started to walk down the aisle while shouting into a bullhorn that “only the devil” could create “animals capable of love and joy just so humans can make them suffer and die.”  Martin, who is a former University of North Carolina student and identifies as a Christian, also had  camera strapped to his chest, which worshipers believed was an explosive.   Martin was arrested and charged with interrupting a religious service, according to police.

Obviously the protesters here have strong moral beliefs about animal rights.  But to disrupt a religious service on perhaps the highest holy day seems, like the Westboro Baptist Church’s protests, and the Easter park bombings, to be entirely disrespectful of religious practices.  I’m not saying that Churches should not be political, but specifically religious services, like funerals and mass, should not be the forums for political protest disruptions, in my opinion.  I don’t think these animal rights activists did themselves any favors pulling off this shenanigan.


Heresies: Our Bookklub Book

We’ve been doing Bookklub for at least 7 years, usually at Upstream Brewery downtown Wednesday night at 9pm upstairs.  We most recently read  “Economics without Illusions: Debunking the Myths of Modern Capitalism” by Joseph Heath, and prior to that, “Call to Discernment in Troubled Times” by Fr. Brackley, and  prior to that “Worldly Philosophers” by Heilbroner.   We have previously read a wide variety of books stretching from literature to politics, theology to philosophy, and a lot of history– both Church history and regular history.

We were saving up another theological work for when our friend Terry Crowe, theology professor recently retired from Marquette University, moved down to Omaha to relocate.  Now he is here, and now we are reading “Heresies” by Harold O.J. Brown, which is an introduction to historical Heresies.

People don’t often study heresies (people don’t often study theology for that matter) but it is a great way to think into the Christian faith and understand why theological orthodoxy has responded to various variations.  Harold O.J. Brown was an evangelical who was educated at Harvard, and he is quite open minded and open handed in his approach, and also quite funny and well rounded.  He is charitable and thoughtful.  Brown was my (Andy) masters thesis advisor at Trinity, and I took a few courses from him and went on expeditions skiing and hiking with him as well.  He was a great man and a great mentor.

Anyone is welcome to join us.  Let me know and I’ll send you the reading!  We are doing chapters 3, and possibly part of 4 this week (June 24th).

Newness and New Year’s Day

us nydI like the beginning of  the new year for a lot of reasons, but one of my favorite things to do is my taxes.  Doing taxes is for me a little like what writing a Christmas letter is for most people– Christmas letters help us reflect on the past year, and so does doing our taxes for me– its a chance to go over the last year and realize what all we’ve done on our properties.  Carl, one of our beloved tenants, retired and moved to Las Vegas so we finally remodelled his apartment at 118 N 34th.  At 3145 Chicago we put on new cabinet fronts and a lot of cool light fixtures and found Jessee Ray and Kevin as tenants.  3304 Davenport was a total redo, with new furnace and AC, all the wood floors in 10 rooms were redone, the kitchen had a makeover, and it went from a graffitiized crazyland to a very elegant grand old house again.   Many new relationships have come, and a few have gone.

Tonight I got to spend some great time with some dear friends Tony and Heather Lombardo who are leaving for Maryland to be pastor at a church there.  Its a whole new experience for them, filled with some uncertainty and of course unknowing.  But thats what every year is.  Its what every month, week and day is.  We live on this constant path towards the unknown horizon– we do all the time.  But at the new year we mark this transition, and reset things.  We go on diets, determine to change our ways with resolutions, and make other dramatic changes sometimes.

But soon, like the Christmas lights we take down, new years day falls into the past and we leave it behind as a memory.  We walk again into the day to day regularness of our typical habits and forget about the newness of the new year.  A year from now it will be the old year, and it will all start over anew– again.

This is life.  So as with anything that renews, sometimes ideas fade and then come back as being good again.  We’ve decided to start meeting again regularly and openly for liturgy and study of the readings from the church calendar, probably on a weekly basis on a weekday– probably Tuesday, or perhaps Thursday, although Sunday pm is possible.  If you are interested in trying it out, we would be happy to have you join us.  Its a good supplemental for your Church commitments on Sunday, and its also a good alternative if you are in transition moving from one church but not yet finding the next (since we don’t meet Sundays, you can church-shop while you stay in some regular connectedness.  Feel free to contact Andy ( or Celeste (celestedawn@gmail) if you are interested or just have questions about joining us.

U2 NEW YEARS DAY video (1982)

Lasting Driscoll Effects in the Church Today: Bullying, Machismo, and Manly-Man-liness

2012124517masculinity by Andy Gustafson

Mark Driscoll has been the center of controversy for quite some time.  But now that he has left Mars Hill and is no longer associated with Acts 29, it is likely that his more damaging impact on the church at large will continue to resonate and have their effect through the young men he has inspired.  Most people know that Acts 29 network disassociated Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill church from its network earlier this year.  And most people know that Mark Driscoll has been asked to step down from leadership at his Mars Hill Church, for a variety of reasons.  And now Mars Hill attendance has dropped 30-40% and its likely they will have to lay off up to 40% of staff, and finally, Mark Driscoll has resigned as pastor.   Driscoll has possibly seen his heyday, but the problem is that the effects of Driscoll’s attitude, style, and behavior has infected a whole generation of young pastors and laypeople, and those damaging effects will likely live on long after the Mars Hill drama is over– not just in Acts 29 churches, but in the thinking, leadership and even pastoring of a whole generation of young 20-to-40-something pastors.

There are plenty of articles out there about characteristics of Driscoll, and even some about Driscoll followers.  I attended an Acts 29 church for a stint and got to know about Driscoll and some of his followers, and fortunately for our church, our leadership did not reflect many of these characteristics– and they were not all fans of Driscoll.   So these characteristics are not directly related to being associated with Acts 29.  Neither are these characteristics of complimentarians (as opposed to egalitarians)– I know of many complimentarians who don’t share any of these characteristics.  And as my reformed friends point out to me, the blame here isn’t Calvin or Reformed thought either (and I agree!)– mOST reformed Calvinists I know do not have these characteristics– so it seems that the common denominator of these characteristics may have more to do with being a fan of Driscoll than being reformed, complimentarian, or acts 29, or a young calvinist (although these can all get blurred–particularly for an outsider– these days).

Sometimes the apparent self-perception of Driscoll fans is that Driscoll and his fans are courageously proclaiming the unpopular truth in a world of political correctness.  They feel they are taking Christianity back as a manly-man religion from the pansy buddy-Jesus culture they despise as effeminate.  They are giving structure and order to a world without it, and helping take the asylum back from the patients who were running it.


Obviously there was a reason why Driscoll and his style resonated with people in the church– and many outside the church.  There is a need to call men to be accountable to take responsibility for themselves, and to not simply be passive, and some other key insights.  But these insights are distinct from some of the more troublesome habitual attributes that have at times been displayed by Driscoll and pastors who emulate him.  From experiences I have had and heard about, these are a few of the more disturbing key characteristics which seem to be common to many Mark Driscoll devotees:

1. Cursing as a sign of relevance: Its amazing to me that grown men who are pastors of church use coarse language like they are a 13 year old trying to impress their friends.  This is certainly immature and childish, as well as stupid.  It is not manly– real men know how to speak intelligently without using profanity. Even non-Christians like Aristotle knew long ago that what a man likes and how he speaks tells us about his heart and character, and that is true for these cursing pastors as well.

2. Being Flippant and Brash: There seems to be an underlying arrogance which leads to a flippant attitude of some Driscoll fans– and this leads to them being brash (which again, is connected to the cursing).  A rhetoric of repentance and being a sinner overlays a basic arrogance underlying this facade.  Love is patient and kind and earnest– but the spirit one often sees is the opposite.  Such behavior brings discredit to ministry.

3. Fight-Club Mentality.  Call it Ultimate-Fighting-Fan Christianity, Machismo, or simply a love of crudeness and brutality under the guise of manliness, but a lot of Driscoll fans seem to be on the prowl for a fight– like when he said he wanted to ‘go all Old-Testament’ on dissenters.  I’ve heard stories of veins bulging in hot tempered yelling matches by pastors who supposedly are shepherds of their church.  Everyone has moments of failure, but unrepentant habitual aggressive-machismo-as-godly-manliness is a sign of immaturity and inappropriate for ministry service.

4. Bullying in the name of righteousness: Strange as it may seem, some pastors are bullies, and do their bullying in the name of love.  Of course Driscoll is known for tweeting about effeminate worship leaders in a bullying and unchristian manner.  But bullying goes way beyond that– talking over people, bullies push their agenda over others, and they simply don’t listen to others points of view (because they know they are right, and others are stupid).  Not listening is the flip side of being a bully, and many Driscoll devotees seem to have a blind spot there.

5. Anti-Egalitarian: This isn’t mere complimentarianism though– Driscoll has said women’s thinking skills are inferior to men, women need to stay attractive or its partially their fault their husbands cheat, and that women just aren’t capable of leadership in the church.  There is an extreme higherarchical system in the minds of many Driscoll followers– and women are to submit to men as the followers in the pew are to submit to the elders.

6. Dismissive attitude towards most laypeople: In the words of Mark Driscoll, congregational governance of a church is like letting the patients run the asylum.  Driscoll fans tend to have an exceedingly high view of power structure in the church, and the capacities of the leaders to do all and know all. The distrust of laypeople is parallel to the distrust of women in this worldview.

7.  No Questioning/No Accountability: Driscoll fans tend to see questioning of authority as inherently sinful– a failure to submit to divine authority (which the leadership represents) which leaves pastors who are Driscoll fans for the most part unaccountable to anyone.

Alan Molineux points out in a recent article that it is shallow and short sighted to put all the blame on one individual like Driscoll– the blame must go around to all the enablers in the church.  A problem leader needs followers– call them yesmen, uh-huh thugs, starstruck disciples, or whatever you want– and the followers have responsibility for the promotion of these bad practices and styles of leadership as well.   Molineux points out, “It only takes a few good men to do nothing for a problematic leader to create an unhealthy culture.”

He says you need enabling leaders who co-lead with the bully, who look the other way when the lead bully acts wrongly.  Also enabling staff, whose livelihoods, friendships and spiritual life are all so intertwined with the continued success of the leader that it is difficult to speak out about problems you see.  Third, the enabling enthusiast, who want to believe the vision, and trust the leader, and are often willing to look past even obvious failings of their leader.  Fourth, the enabling constituency– other leaders will often remain silent if there is popular support for the problem leader (‘how can one speak out against such a widely popular gifted preacher?’, they might ask) Fifth, the enabling peace proclaimers, who always call for unity, not division.  These people sound high minded, as they simply defend the status quo to not rock the boat.

In business, we say whistleblowing is difficult because it requires dissent, the appearance of disloyalty, and accusation.  This is no less true in a church culture.  Speaking out against a leader will require you to disrupt the status quo, it may make you appear disloyal, and it usually will require some sort of accusation, no matter how kindly you put it.  And it is scary to do that when it is your own church family.

Almost a year ago now (October 24, 2013) Tim Suttle wrote these (hopefully) prescient words forcasting the future of Driscoll’s influence:

Driscoll can only work within the very early immature stages of Christian discipleship, where rules, dualistic black and white thinking rule the day. Defiant about his immature behavior, Driscoll will continue to shun accountability and control people through fear and intimidation. Without the capacity for self-criticism, his glaring issues become will only become more pronounced over time. Those who follow him will see that his only mode of building community is to force community by erecting rigid boundary markers enforced through intimidation and fear. It’s simply not enough for us as we grow older and begin to crave wisdom and sacrifice. Any Driscoll devotees who grow beyond that narrative of dominance, dualism, and control will see that conformity is not the same thing as transformation. When that happens Driscoll’s influence will immediately melt.

Driscoll could at times be a powerful effective preacher, and for that we can be grateful.  And many people positively impacted by some of Driscoll’s ministry shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  But as for the Driscoll-macho-style which sometimes accompanied it, we can hope and pray that Driscoll-influenced pastors and laymen will eventually see the limits of this style of Christian behavior and the stunted worldview which goes along with it.  In the meantime, damage will continue to be done to churches, communities, families, and individuals who live under the teaching and authority of  their cursing, flippant and brash, machismo bullying women-suppressing unaccountable pastors and the yes-men (and women) who support them.

To stand by and let these things continue is wrong.  In not speaking out against sin, you are complicit in it.  If you see this in yourself or your leaders, something must be said.  These attitudes and practices are like a cancer which spreads throughout the body.  And its not as though its just a matter of opinion or a matter of theological difference.  Cursing, arrogance, bullying, belittling, and brashness are not a matter of theological difference or style– they are a matter of sin.​