Tag Archive | faith

Notable News: Week of August 10-16, 2013

It’s been hard staying in a rhythm over the summer, with both kids and my husband home.  I’ve also had twice as many editing/proofreading projects as last summer, so that’s left me little time to keep up on my blog.  Along with that, we’ve had several unexpected things happen, including sending my faithful Nissan Altima to the Great Body Shop in the Sky.  I’m now the proud owner of an SUV.  I never thought I would say that–it really does make me feel like such a suburban mom.  Anyway, I may not have been writing much, but I’ve definitely been reading.  This week’s list is a bit short, due to my own limited time, but here are some of the things I really liked this week.

1. Penal Substitution

Anyone who’s been reading my stuff for a while probably knows (or has at least guessed) that I’m no fan of the penal substitution view of salvation.  This Naked Pastor cartoon nearly made me snort my coffee out my nose.

2. Too many to list separately

Registered Runaway is my go-to blogger when I feel like I’m just done being harsh and frustrated.  I have a pretty forceful personality, and that’s not going to change, but the gentle people in this world are a good balance and keep me from toppling over the edge into cyclical rage.  I couldn’t pick just one of his posts this week, so I’m just linking the blog and you can read them all.

3. Well, all righty then.

Simon Chan wrote this.  It made me wish I’d had time this week to write something scathing and witty in response, but buying a new car broke my sarcasm function.  Fortunately, there are other good writers on the Internet.  Check out these excellent responses: Women Are People, Too: A Conservative Baptist Take On Inclusive Language and Why We Call God Father: a response to Simon Chan.

4. Today’s short story

I just posted this on my fiction blog.  Haven’t put anything up there in a long time, so it feels good to add a new story.

I’m not sure how the next week will go.  I’m volunteering every morning at a summer camp, so it will be sporadic.  I’ll do my best to keep up, though.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

Faith and art at the monster truck rally

Recently, the question of faith and art came up in my online writers’ group:  How does your faith affect your writing?  My first thought was, It doesn’t.  Of course, that’s not strictly true.  I write about faith here on this blog all the time.  But when I think of Christian writing, what comes to mind is usually non-fiction books that explain different aspects of faithful practice or junk fiction like Left Behind and Amish romance novels.  How could I explain what the intersection of faith and art are for me?

I’m not always sure that I’m writing about spiritual matters in the right manner.  I frequently don’t write in an explicitly “Christian” way–or at least, not the way I think some Christians expect me to.  I worry about the same things fellow writer Andrea Ward does:

I worry that my writing will not reflect God.
I worry about putting God in there artificially thereby making Him artificial and the story weaker.
I worry that writing about him will just make people tell me how wrong my theology is.

I often think my writing reflects God the same way monster trucks reflect safe driving tips.

Have you ever been to one of those monster truck rallies?  You know, the kind where the trucks drive through mud and run up ramps and pretty much just cause chaos?  My faith and my writing collide like a monster truck at a rally.  Creativity is the truck, splattering the mud of my faith everywhere.  Or perhaps it’s the other way around; it doesn’t really matter.  What’s important is that it’s messy and random and sometimes only makes sense from the inside, but it’s exciting and intense and one heck of a ride.

My faith is what drives me to seek justice and equity for all people.  When I write, it’s out of a deep need to put words to the feelings that bubble deep inside.  I can’t separate the two.  So when I take to my blog or I crank out a story, it’s infused with my sense of what-should-be.  Because of my faith,

  • I write about the ways the church has failed to exhibit “love your neighbor”
  • I plead for open minds and open hearts
  • I seek to write stories that don’t reinforce tired stereotypes and tropes
  • I ask others to do the same

I no longer worry that I need to mention Jesus every couple of sentences as a reminder that I’m technically a Christian writer.  I don’t expound on Bible texts, and I don’t often have fictional characters go through a moment of Christian salvation.  I work harder to explain the domestic abuse in Fifty Shades than I do to condemn the premarital sex.  Where my faith and my art collide, that is the space in which I find justice, peace, and wholeness.

How does your art reflect your spirituality?

Sunshine, Happiness and Gum*

The youth at our church are going through a series called “Happy,” on the Beatitudes.  In yesterday’s message, the youth pastor asked what culture says they should chase after to find happiness.  The answers weren’t surprising: Looks, relationships, money, popularity, possessions.

Not much changes between adolescence and adulthood.

It set me thinking about a couple of things.  First, it occurred to me that we don’t just tell people that they will be happy once they beautify themselves skinny, meet Mr./Ms Right, and settle down in their McMansion with their 2.4 children.  We also tell them that if they don’t have all that and a side salad of career power, they should actually be unhappy.  It goes beyond conveying the message that having it all makes your life good, but that your life simply cannot be good unless and until you do.

The second thing I realized is that Christians are just as guilty of this.**  We like to tell ourselves we aren’t.  After all, aren’t we so counter-culture in our insistence that life isn’t about money, sex, and power?  We’re all about Jesus!  And Love!  And Following God!  I don’t even mean that in a self-righteous way.  I mean in the sense that we define ourselves by being people who have relationship with the Living God, and what could be better than that?

It’s certainly noble.  The problem is, we make the opposite mistake from “the world.”  We assume that people who are “far from God” are the most unhappy, miserable people who do nothing but run after all the wrong things.  We assume that people of other religions are unhappy because they are too busy making sure they follow all the rules.  We assume atheists are sad because they have no hope.  We assume that people who tick the “none of the above” box on the census are miserable because they have no morals.  We assume that anyone who doesn’t follow Jesus is desperate to have his or her life turned around from the wicked ways of lusting after earthly pleasures.

Not quite.

I don’t know about you, but I know plenty of joy-filled, content non-Christians.  I also know an awful lot of Christians who are unhappy, and it isn’t because they don’t have enough faith or because they are still caught up in pursuit of cultural happiness.  Religion that dictates whether or not we should be happy with our lives is religion gone bad.  It diminishes the real joy and the real pain that people experience.

I see why it happens.  People are reluctant to frighten their friends and neighbors by telling them they will go to Hell if they don’t convert.  (Not that this is bad; scaring people into faith is pretty sick.)  So what can we do, if we don’t just want to turn everyone off to Christ with our fire and brimstone?  Aha!  We can remind them how hopeless and tragic this life is unless they know Jesus.  Unfortunately, that isn’t an improvement.

We need better ways to communicate the Gospel without reducing it to a set of before-and-after pictures (either the Hell kind or the happiness kind).  I suggest we start by living the way Jesus taught, pursuing love, peace, and justice.  The rest will come.

*For the morbidly curious, the title of this post is a line from a Phineas and Ferb song.
**This isn’t meant as a criticism of the message the youth heard in church on Sunday.

Listening, Heart Wide Open

We need to hear people’s stories. Not just the ones we want to hear, the triumph-of-grace-over-sin, feel-good, happy-ending tales of a life turned to Christ. Not just the kind that make the people cheer in victory, that another soul has been rescued from the clutches of Satan.  We need to hear the stories that make us squirm. The ones that cause us to lie awake nights, asking the deeper questions about sin, salvation, and grace.

Here are a couple of links to just such stories: Life Abundant, a guest post on Andrew Marin’s blog; and this one, the most recent post on Ryan Nix’s blog, Queer as Faith.  (Nix’s posts are much less about being the “gay Christian dude” and more about drawing us back to the heart of the Father.  Incredibly inspiring and often convicting, the posts are very well-written; it’s worth checking out some of the others as well.)

Often, we might say that we ought to get to know real-life LGBT people. But the subtle underlying message we hear or sometimes speak is, “So that they come to know Christ and give up their lifestyle of rampant sin.”  The fault in that is two-fold. First, it’s incorrect to assume anything about someone’s faith (as seen in the links above). Second, it’s never a good idea to enter a friendship with an agenda.

Most of you know where my heart is.  If we’ve talked, then chances are I know where yours is.  No one is being asked to jump immediately on board the train and change their thinking, certainly not overnight. But we do need to hear what people different from ourselves have to say. It’s not a matter of listening with an open mind but an open heart.  When we do this kind of open-hearted listening, we are offering ourselves to G-d to work through us and in us.

Who will you listen to today?

Misplaced Trust

Can we really trust the Bible today?  That’s a question a lot of people ask.  Depending on who’s posing the question, it has different meanings.

Some people ask it because they view the Bible as an outdated book with no meaning in the contemporary world.  It’s less of a question and more of a mockery of those who still read the Good Book.

Sometimes, it’s asked out of a genuine desire to know.  Underneath is a plea: “I desperately want something I can count on, something reliable in this unpredictable world.”

For still others, they see the way things actually work as being radically different from the way they’ve been taught to believe.  They see a disconnect between the real world and the insulated bubble of the church, and want to know what to keep and what to reject.

I’m sure there are other motives behind the question.  I don’t want to try to psychoanalyze the emotional and spiritual baggage adhering to such a query, because I think that it’s the wrong question.

The answer to, “Is the Bible the inerrant Word of God?” only matters if you think there is a right answer.  It only matters if you read the Bible as a legal document, a list of Life Rules to be trotted out like a reference book or an owner’s manual.  It only matters if you believe there is one ultimate translation and interpretation for every word of the sacred text.  It only matters if your goal is achieving doctrinal purity and perfection.  It only matters if you view the Bible as your personal tool for living your own life.

Imagine that we didn’t even need to ask such a question.  What would that kind of faith look like?  What would a faith look like if we stopped idolizing our denominational interpretations of Scripture and instead began really reading what it says in there?

Would we develop more compassion?  Would we seek justice in all things?  Would we stop politicizing faith?  Would different denominations be able to come together without tearing one another apart?

I don’t think it matters whether the Bible is “inerrant.”  That’s a man-made term, and meaningless.  That one word has led to countless debates over the discrepancies in the Bible, differences in the text that can’t be ignored.  If we waste time arguing over accuracy, it leads us down the rabbit hole of either denying or excusing the clear contradictions (yes, there are some), or throwing everything out because if you can’t believe one thing, you can’t believe anything it says in the Bible.  None of those are healthy approaches to reading the Bible.

But if we instead see the Bible as exactly what I called it at the beginning—the Good Book—it becomes something different.

A living document.

A covenant between ourselves and G-d.

A call to action.

A whisper of comfort in time of need.

A storybook of wonder to read to wide-eyed children.

A history of G-d’s love for people.

We can only see Scripture through our (limited) human perspective.  Different interpretations of the Bible have brought little but denominational strife.  Instead of worrying about whether the Bible is trustworthy, let’s trust that G-d is trustworthy.  All else will fall into place.

The Right Answer

Last night, sitting at the dinner table, my husband and I discovered that we both used to hate those stupid multiple choice questions on English Lit exams.  You know the kind I’m talking about, the ones that asked things like, “What is the major theme of this book?”  Then you have four or five options, at least three of which seem like they could apply.

The funny thing is, we disliked those questions for opposite reasons.  My husband is a big-picture thinker.  He doesn’t like to pin things down to just one way of looking at a situation or problem.  In his opinion, trying to find one single theme in a story is pointless, since different people would come to equally valid conclusions.  I hated those questions because I always thought that if there were a right answer, it ought to be obvious.  I want clear, precise direction, no ambiguity allowed.

I suppose that’s why I always liked math and science, even though I’m significantly better at language and communication.  Math has right answers.  If you add two and two, you get four.  It’s basic, simple, and numbers can be plugged into a formula.  There is no room for lying.  Even in exceptional cases, such as imaginary numbers, there is still a clear method for understanding how to work with them.  Science isn’t quite as black-and-white, but it’s close.  If we don’t actually know everything, there is at least the potential that everything is knowable.  New discoveries are made all the time, replacing old notions.  It’s comforting, somehow, to believe that somewhere out there, the Scientists are Finding Things Out.

Our discovery that our polar opposite personalities converge in this way came about while discussing (what else?) the Bible.  I had mentioned that when my Sunday school students played Jeopardy! in class, I had a hard time with one of the questions.  In theory, it should have been easy.  The kids were answering Bible trivia for 5-10-year-olds.  I know the Bible pretty well at this stage of my life.  As expected, most of the questions were simple, factual information about what’s actually written in the text., such as which Disciple denied Jesus.  The one that gave me trouble was, “What is the theme of Jonah?”

The answer my students gave, and which turned out to be correct, was “Listen to G-d.”  I suppose that’s true enough, at least in some sense.  I mean, who wants to get eaten by a fish?  At the same time, at least three other themes occurred to me: It’s never too late to repent; sometimes life isn’t fair and things don’t turn out as we expect; and G-d, not we, is in charge of the whole repentance/forgiveness department.  From other things people have written about Jonah, I gather that there are even more layers to the story than that.

As we played the game, I felt my annoyance level rising.  It was like being back in high school English class.  I never did well on those theme-related questions, because I invariably saw something different in the text from my teachers (and fellow students).  This often left me embarrassed.  I had the same sense of shame that my students could come up with a pat answer about Jonah, but I could not.  (Not that any of the other adults were aware of my predicament, as I managed to keep my mouth shut.)

This isn’t unusual for me at church.  I think there are multiple good answers, and sometimes none at all, to the question of themes within Scripture.  Unfortunately, too few people are interested in exploring more than a single right answer.  Sunday after Sunday, we’re drawn into the concrete world of “correct” interpretation.  But how can we possibly make sense of it all when branches of Christianity, denominations, and even individual churches disagree on the right meaning of Scripture?  How can we be certain that the important message of Jonah is that we must listen to G-d, when someone else says that it’s really a message of compassion for sinners?  And if, as I suspect, both are equally valid, then what do we do with that–how does it change how we live?

It can be so easy to just sit in the pews every week, waiting for the pastor to give us the answers.  I used to be like that.  Not that it didn’t affect my life during the week; I’ve never been a Sunday morning Christian.  But I used to believe that the pastor could supply the answers and I could then put them to work in my life.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that kind of faith to be flat and dull.  As much as I rebel against a big-picture, nebulous, abstract approach to the Bible, I know it makes more sense.  I can let go of the shame in finding alternate meanings, embracing it with my whole heart.  I can see the richness of the multiple themes in Jonah and rejoice that G-d has given us something so beautiful.

Where do you want to expand your views of the Bible?