Category Archives: Inspirational

What I think when you say I haven’t really met Jesus

buddy-christby Chris Attaway.

So I get it. You disagree with me about whether I’m a “true” Christian. All my philosophical views and liberal theology rub you the wrong way. I haven’t checked off all the right boxes on your list (infallibility of Scripture, Creationism, so-called “traditional” marriage, etc.). Thus, because I don’t fit inside your concept of what it is to be a Christian, I must never have had a “real” encounter with Jesus. It is then your God-given duty to come down from off your lofty perch to preach the good news of Jesus to me, an apparent godless heathen in disguise.

I’m going to have to stop you right there.

First off, it’s not as though I haven’t heard the gospel a million times. I’m sure atheists in Christian communities feel much the same as I do. Do you suppose that by preaching it to me over and over, one day I’ll break down and agree with you? Why, that sounds like Nazi-esque propaganda. Conservatives must be like Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister.

Not really. I just wanted you to see how it felt.

Secondly, I actually believe in the gospel! But you keep using that word “gospel”… I don’t think it means what you think it means. The gospel means “good news.” Let me try this: good news! God loves you! He only requires that you subscribe to a questionable series of beliefs contrary to all reason and evidence, or else you’ll burn in the most painful fire imaginable for all eternity. Just have faith. Did I mention that if you don’t believe this stuff, you’ll go to Hell?

That isn’t good news.

The good news, as I understand what Jesus seems to have been teaching and what is apparent from observing the world around me, is that salvation is for all. All people can enter the Kingdom. It’s not about being the chosen people or having all the right beliefs. It’s about pursuing goodness with all your heart. It’s about loving others. There’s a lot more to it, but you can read more in other posts.

Thirdly, do you have any idea how condescending you are? Who are you to tell me which of my experiences are “real” and which aren’t? I was in every sense a bona fide evangelical Christian, even perhaps the poster boy for evangelicalism. That I no longer believe that way is not at all a detractor from whether or not my experience was genuine, so how dare you tell me I haven’t really met Jesus the way you think I should. I went through that phase, but, unlike you, I realized that it was corrupt and empty. Your arrogance is so profound that oftentimes you can’t even realize your arrogance when someone points it out to you. “I’m just preaching God’s Word,” you say confidently. Hogwash; you’re using the Bible as an excuse to mistreat me while keeping your own moral conscience clean.

What’s more, you look willfully ignorant. You take pride in not having learned more, and you bizarrely condescend to my increased knowledge which led me away from your beliefs, as though learning were somehow a bad thing. Maybe — JUST MAYBE — if learning new things is inherently destructive to your beliefs, it’s because YOUR BELIEFS ARE WRONG.

Sigh.

I’ll grant that everyone needs critics, but there are good and bad forms of criticism. Criticism which uses evidence and solid argumentation to demonstrate the problems with a particular viewpoint is great. Even if you’re a staunch literal 6-day Creationist, I will at least engage in a bit of discussion, though you and I may disagree about what we actually need to discuss in such a case. By contrast, if you come on here and just start preaching doom to me if I don’t repent, let me introduce you to CTRL-W (protip: it closes the browser tab). I don’t want to hear it, I won’t engage with it, and I will probably make fun of you like I’m doing in this post right now.

It might seem mean-spirited to be so dismissive. Well you know what, when you’ve put up with a whole lot of spiritual bullshit, and when you’ve been hurt in profound ways by people who don’t so much hold as wield their beliefs, then a bit of dismissive humor really takes the edge off the pain you feel when others say hurtful things. It’s a good coping strategy that helps me avoid internalizing all the guilt people try to throw on me. And when you’re out here discussing controversial issues as often as I am, people try to throw on a LOT of guilt. So excuse me while I cease caring about your opinion and fawning over your approval.

I know I’m writing in the second person a lot in this post, blaming “you” for this and that. Trust me, even though “you,” the reader, likely aren’t the person I’m talking about (you very well might be, though), it feels so much better to blame “you” than try to concoct strange sentences using gender neutral language which might describe in theory what’s going on. That’s because when I blame “you,” it’s personal. And if you are in that group of people I’m criticizing, I want you to feel my finger pointing out of the monitor at your face. When you insult me by trying to cast doubt on whether I’m really a Christian or whether I ever had the sort of experiences you’re describing, it’s personal, and I want you to feel that — not because I’m spiteful but because you need to feel it. You need to see that what you do hurts.

So that’s more or less how I feel when you say I need Jesus. I think you’re an arrogant jerk with no idea what you’re saying. If you want to have a discussion, please be my guest, but if you just want to condescend and tell me who I really am and what I’ve really experienced, then the door is right over there.

This is how I’ll feel if you tell me that I didn’t cite the Bible in this post and therefore have no valid point:

brainisfullof

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About Chris

Chris is the author of “The Discerning Christian” blog.

blogbanner14Ten years ago, the last thing I would have dreamed I would be is a writer. I had my sights set on studying computer programming, but as it turns out, you don’t go to college just to receive praise for being smart; you actually have to work. Several mistakes and unforeseen hardships later, I find myself at the end of my philosophy undergrad degree, with an eye toward graduate school or perhaps a career in writing.

Along the way, I have witnessed first-hand the immensely destructive effects of Christianity done poorly. Raised in the Bible Belt South, I grew up around conservative Christian culture, and while I accepted it wholesale until about high school, I saw it tear people apart as my friends and I grew up. If we were to know the followers of Christ by their love, then I knew this was not Christianity. Something was wrong.

After my changing beliefs tore apart my engagement to a young woman (and destroyed pretty much the rest of my life, too), I sought answers by studying philosophy and theology. Suddenly, long-held intuitions became clear, and I realized that the world was far more complex and wonderful than anything I had known previously. Illusions shattered, even as I learned how much still remained mysterious.

Christianity has reopened to me in almost a completely different form. While it is sometimes frightening to carry these new beliefs in a culture which often despises you for doing so, I muster what courage I can and press toward what I believe with all my heart to be the truth.

Now, I work by day and write by night as I save to finish off my schooling. I write because the life of the Christian compels us to bring restoration to the world. That might sound like a lofty goal for a guy who hasn’t yet finished his degree, but I’ll let the quality of my content speak for itself.

Oh, and there is a happy ending: while studying philosophy, I met a beautiful redheaded girl whom I successfully and happily married!

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Open Letter to a Too Small God

3328188By Mark Sandlin – The Christian Left

To a Too Small God,

I don’t really know how to say this. Honestly, if you were bigger this would be so much easier. If you were bigger, you could take the questions and I wouldn’t be so worried about hurting you.

Look, I’ve been trying to make this “us” thing work for awhile now, but it just feels so increasingly and shamefully dishonest that I can’t take it anymore. This is it. You are just too small of a god. We’re finished.

I’ve known it for awhile, but it all came together when I was watching Cosmos. I’d never heard of this Giordano Bruno fellow but I like what he had to say when the institutional Church of the day came after him for entertaining rational thought (a.k.a., thinking for himself, not towing the party line). He said, “Your God is too small.” Frankly, in those five little words he completely nailed the problem.

Any understanding of God that cannot withstand questions and rational thought is a “too small” god.

I’m sorry, but that’s you.

At least, it’s the version of you that far too many of your followers worship and I just don’t get that. I mean, just look at their tweets after Cosmos aired. They sacrificed logic and reason for you. I never thought those were the kind sacrifices that pleased you. Why would people want to worship something that frail and insecure?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried to make space for you. Even long after I didn’t believe in the “too small” version of you they talked about. I tried to make space for you, believing we are all on different journeys and the “too small” version of you some people worshiped was okay for them where they were on their journey.

I was wrong. It is not okay.

As a matter of fact, that version of you is so myopically infinitesimal in comparison to what a god worthy of worship would be that it begs to be put down for the betterment of humanity. That version of you hurts people. That version of you encourages one group of people to feel superior to others. It justifies self-righteous judgment and it’s not uncommon to see it lead to violence.

You see, a god who could have stopped the Yom Hashoa (Holocaust) and didn’t is not a God I can remain in relationship with. A god that is so afraid of mere questions that people must be burned at the stake (even metaphorical ones on Twitter) is not a god I can respect more or less worship. A god who graces some lives with the opportunities to win Oscars while seemingly turning his back on the 2.6 million children who die of hunger-related causes each year on a planet with more than enough food for everyone is not a god who deserves honor let alone worship.

That god is a god of the privileged. It is a god designed to reinforce exceptionalism and justify the unjustifiable behavior of the powerful. That god is a god tailor-designed to make lemmings of his adherents to the point of denying realty and dismissing science for the sake of further propping up a bastardization of the god I believe Jesus was trying to teach us about.

So, it’s over. We are finished. I simply can’t make space for you any longer. I won’t play nice. You need to go away. You are “too small” of a god.

Don’t worry about me. I’ll be just fine. It turns out there is a bigger god — full of love, compassion and revelling in the questions – oh, and a bit tired of the dogma and sacrificial bleeding of reason.

Here’s the thing: I don’t actually miss you. If anything, I feel better than I ever have — and that tells me something: from the very beginning, our relationship doomed one of us to die (even if it’s just a metaphorical death).

I choose you.

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headshotMark Sandlin is a PC(USA) Minister & co-founder of The Christian Left and owner of The God Article. This article was originally posted on Huffington Post.

Follow Mark Sandlin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/marksandlin

Meaningless Church Jargon

blahby Nadia Bolz-Weber

After my quiet time with the Lord, where I was bathing in prayer, God laid it on my heart to be a transformational leader by just loving up on my blog readers and offering them some ideas from my missional imagination.

Earlier this morning, I saw a tweet from @JesusofNazareth316: Blessed are they who stop using the word “‪#missional“, which caused me to post something on Twitter and Facebook asking people what their favorite church jargon is – mine being “Missional Imagination”. The response was unbelievable and also quite interesting.

I realized upon reading the #meaninglesschurchjargon tweets that the responses tended to fall into several categories

1. Mainline Protestant church consultant/bad seminary class lingo. (“Missional imagination”; congregations as “centers for evangelical mission”; pastors as “transformational leaders”; referring to members as “giving units”; and churches “doing life together”) this language has a commonality with corporate jargon and like corporate jargon, refers to the culture and practices related to an organization.

IDEA: Let’s make sure that in seminary classrooms and at church conferences and in congregational life when we use a term or a phrase, that it points to an actual thing, or person or event and is not just a string of words that sound like something meaningful but in fact, lack real meaning. There is a reason that my computer does not recognize the word Missional. Try it at home.  Go ahead.  Type that shit and see.

2. Evangelical piety lingo.  This was overwhelmingly the most common type of answer: using “just” repeatedly as a placeholder for “um”; wanting to “love up on” someone, “God laid it on my heart to tell you ___”; I just have “a heart for” children in Africa; asking God for a “hedge of protection” – (this one was new to me)

IDEA: Stop it. This is crazy.

3. When we say ___, but we really mean is ___. “We have discerned” when used to make a simple decision sound special, holy, and beyond reproach; “I’ve got a word from The Lord for you” which is usually followed by some kind of manipulation; “I just don’t feel a peace about it” = “I’ve decided not to do it”; “I’ll pray for you” is code for “Let’s stop talking about your stuff now”; “laid on my heart” usually means “I want my idea to have extra authority”

IDEA: Let’s just tell the truth.  Doing otherwise hurts other people and makes us look like assholes. Related IDEA: Let’s have churches where it’s ok to say you don’t want to do something and where it is ok to just have an idea be your idea and not something co-signed on by the Almighty.

4. Stuff that just sounds creepy. “We just want to love up on these kids”; a speaker saying Jesus had just “nailed her to the floor”; a post-evening service thingie called…”Afterglow”; keep “pressing into God”, you should “bathe that in prayer”

IDEA: Maybe we could take a minute and actually hear what we sound like to normal, non-churchgoing folks. Seriously.

Honorable mention: The Grammatically problematic.  “Christian” as an adjective, “Disciple” as a verb, “fellowship” as a verb, “Gospel” as an adjective.

Sure, jargon has it’s place.  We sometimes experience real things – things that have to do with actual people and events and physical reality, and in an effort to describe that, or in an effort to look toward something more, something bigger, we create language to sprinkle on top.  We make new phrases.  This is natural.  The problem becomes when these phrases and jargon replace speaking about things that are real.

Maybe there was a moment in prayer when someone felt really vulnerable and exposed and in his or her mind they saw an image of protection from God, and it seemed like it was almost like a hedge. There is nothing wrong with that.  The Psalmist did this kind of thing all the time.  And maybe there was a moment in time when, in reaction to a real situation, someone realized that the church was too focused on itself and focused enough on God and they realized that God is not just in the church but outside it as well, and in an effort to think broadly about this they thought “maybe what we need is to imagine what God wants to accomplish – we should have a, I don’t know…like, a missional imagination”.  Fine. Nothing wrong with this. But what happens is that the farther that “hedge of protection” and “missional imagination” is from the actual feelings and events and people it was created to describe, the less actual meaning it has.

So, as someone who is constantly being told to “watch her language” I offer the same. Let’s watch our language out there.  The church has some beautiful things to offer.  Let’s all speak of God and faith and community in clear and simple language. I’ll try and do the same. (right after I ask God to form a hedge of protection against my web-enemies)

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widow pic croppedNadia Bolz-Weber is the mission developer for House for All Sinners and Saints (HFASS) in Denver, Colorado. They are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Check out their site for more info.

Nadia Bolz-Weber: Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (This is her book. It will change your life.)

The Wisdom of Bishop John Shelby Spong

spong1For those seeking to experience Christianity in a new and vibrant way, Bishop John Shelby Spong offers fresh spiritual ideas. Over the past four decades, he has become one of the definitive voices for progressive Christianity.

He is a retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church, formerly the Bishop of Newark, New Jersey. Bishop Spong is a liberal Christian theologian, a commentator  on religion, and an author.

Spong often speaks about the need for a fundamental rethinking of Christianity, including a move away from traditional doctrines and theism, in general.

Here are two videos from the “Future of the Progressive Church” conference, held at the Community Christian Church in Springfield, MO

First Lecture:

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Second Lecture:

Losing whose religion?

cfa9528a595d2813163637b6fd0b55f6Originally posted at Day At a Glance‘ by Tammerie Day

Surf’s up on religious doubt. We’ve heard about millenials leaving the church in droves (although—trust me—young folk are not alone in disenchantment with organized religion), the spiritual-but-not-religious, the backlash against SBNRs, and atheists holding Sunday go-to meetings.

Now we are turning to the Janus of doubt/faith. But rather than Doubt and Faith facing away from each other, it seems Doubt is taking a hard look at Faith, and Faith is taking a hard look right back.

Of late, pastor-turned-agnostic Ryan Bell is blogging his journey and its surprises at Year Without God. He spoke with Becky Garrison at Religion Dispatches about his experience:

To be honest, it feels a bit surreal. Having lost my career after being a pastor for 20 years, I’m really questioning the virtue of religion. Yes, I know people tell me religion and God are different, but everything we know about God comes to us through religion.

So to lose one’s religion in such a dramatic fashion as I did, it made sense for me to just walk away and examine the basic tenets of my faith, especially now that I’m not responsible for a church full of people.

It’s early in Bell’s quest, and he is still searching for language to express his questions. Perhaps he will discover, as I have, that we do not have religion to thank for “everything we know about God.” Framing the God question in terms of “knowing” makes it an epistemological concern. But for many people, God is more mystery than epistemological challenge: their God is beyond knowing, a God of sense and experience. I am in that camp; my experience of God is direct and of a mystical bent. I have never felt excited, convinced or reassured by arguments for God’s existence. Can I then doubt? If my experience of God is not based in “knowing,” what is the nature of my faith?

Bell seems to have lost his religion (or was it just some of his privilege?) when he crossed the line in solidarity with LGBT folk. As an activist for LGBT rights in the conservative Seventh Day Adventist church, Bell gained enough notoriety that his church asked him to resign. When he embraced the questions to the point of evaluating life without God, he lost his adjunct teaching positions, too. He acknowledges that he has often felt like the odd man out, and so this is nothing new (albeit more costly).

Welcome to my world, Brother Ryan. I am too queer for most churches, too Jesus-y for others, too much a pastor to work in the academy or sit comfortably in a pew. My friends appreciate my spirituality but feel constrained by my Christianity. My mystic’s heart is left cold by most worship services. I don’t fit in available religious settings.

I doubt, all right. I doubt I fit anywhere.

I have found encouragement, though, in the writings of poet Christian Wiman. He has written compellingly about doubt’s enlivenment of faith in his book The Bright Abyss, and he had this to say in his interview with Krista Tippett for On Being:

Doubt is so woven in with what I think of as faith that it can’t be separated. I am convinced that the same God that might call me to sing of God at one time might all me at another to sing of godlessness. Sometimes when I think of all of this energy that’s going on, all of this what we’ve talked about, these different people trying to find some way of naming and sharing their belief, I think it may be the case that God calls some people to unbelief in order that faith can take new forms.

That is me, I am both frightened and convinced: called by God to disbelieve what doesn’t need to be believed, so that faith can take new forms. I respect the atheists I know, at the same time as I wonder how many SBNRs and agnostics are spirit-embued persons for whom traditional religious forms do not work. Can I get an amen?

David Brooks apparently thinks so. In column for the New York Times, “Alone, But Not Alone,” Brooks peers into the “yawning gap between the way many believers experience faith and the way that faith is presented to the world.” He claims there is a “silent majority who experience a faith that is attractively marked by combinations of fervor and doubt, clarity and confusion, empathy and moral demand.”

I don’t know about “silent majority” (they usually don’t like my kind) or “attractively marked” (sounds like a designer zoo animal), but the rest of this is dead on.

Fervor and doubt: in my heart, they go hand in hand. Perhaps that’s why some freethinking friends have invited me to contribute to The Gospel of Doubt, a book project exploring what happens when Doubt casts a gimlet eye at Faith, and Faith gives as good as it gets… particularly empathy and moral demand.

Because neither doubt nor faith should distract from feeding hungry people, waging peace, welcoming immigrants, and achieving living wages. Getting to those realities; that’s the question I’m living into. How about you?