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Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

So the poet Rumi, the novelist Mary Shelley, the comedian Bill Maher, and the Apostle Paul all walk into a book . . .

It’s a book for, about, and by members of the Christian church, and it finds some helpful instruction in things each of these people (among others) have said or written.

The book is called Frankenchurch, and I cowrote it with my father Larry Tindall and our friend Matt Bissonette. It’s a unique conversation grown from a reading of Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein and comparisons we three see with the story of the church.

You can buy the book or download samples for iBooks and Kindle; and the book is available in print version at Blurb.

Here’s a little sample quote from the book:

Many new-to-church people are excited about life, like the newly-made Victim [the name we gave to Frankenstein’s nameless monster], and eager to create a strong and healthy church, like the young and brilliant Victor [Frankenstein himself].

And many jaded church people, including former church leaders, cannot stand the sight of the church they had a hand in creating, the church that also had a hand in creating them.

All of us church folks are both Victor and Victim.

It’s been nearly five years since we began working on this book, when I was still living in Owatonna. Matt conceived the idea, and invited my dad and me to help him with the actual writing and publishing of it. The first drafts were drawn up in my parents’ backyard garden and around their kitchen table as we three met to talk through the bones of the book itself.

I have fond memories of reading Frankenstein on my front porch swing and writing much of the content of Frankenchurch in the early morning hours before the rest of my family woke.

My dad, ever the pastor-teacher and life coach, poured his mentoring care of others into the discussion questions and revisions and additions to the text of the book; and his business acumen into learning and entering the world of self-publishing.

It’s been a true team effort, and we’re excited to finally send our monster creation out into the world!

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I haven’t been posting much lately. First, February always gets me down. It is the most melancholy of months for me. But it’s March first now, and I’ve emerged from yet another February, though I’m sure I bear extra wrinkles and gray hairs as evidence of the struggle.

Another reason for less postings, I suppose, is more typical of blogging – I said a lot of what I’d been storing up for years.

Another, is that the *even* more I learn these days, the things I have to say often seem repetitive or only halfway-thought-out. Songwriting continues to be my first love, I think because it’s easier for me to express myself through poetic language and music than through reasoned (or un-reasoned!) essays.

Anyhoo, I came here to post a link to someone else’s blog post. Here it is.

The faith question continues to spin in me, and personally, I have a difficult time even believing in an afterlife of any sort these days. But I try to hold on to hope even when belief fails. And I am refreshed to hear evangelical Christians stirring the pot about this whole eternal damnation thing.

Here’s to honest people and their courageous questions.

 

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This past week, my seven-year-old daughter asked me if I believed in Santa Claus. Not one of those parents too concerned about scarring my children for life, I told her, “no.”

“But, Mom, [neighbor girl’s name here] said that she got a present last year with a card that was in handwriting that was not her mom’s! Do you believe now?”

“Well, no.”

My four-year-old son chimed in. “[Preschool classmate’s name here] said that Santa came to her house last year, but he was very quiet. Do you believe now?”

“Sorry, no.”

Daughter whispering to son, something like, “if Mom and Dad don’t believe, Santa won’t come to our house!”

Then, aloud in ragged unison, “Please, Mom and Dad, believe in Santa Claus! Please!”

In his book Losing My Religion, William Lobdell says that Pascal’s wager just doesn’t work for him, because he can’t will himself to believe something he simply doesn’t believe. Lobdell says, “it seems to me that to indulge in Pascal’s Wager, you actually have to believe in Christ. The Lord would know if you were faking. I could no longer fake it. It was time to be honest about where I was in my faith.”

Christian apologetics seems to function from two underlying convictions – nonbelievers are either:

a) ignorant, and therefore needing to learn more information, or

b) rebellious, and therefore needing to repent.

There are other ideas, too, like the one I most easily gravitate towards. I can identify with wounded ex-believers, and think that the only thing holding them back from belief is healing and an introduction to the real God, the right God, i.e., my current understanding of God.

A truly difficult thing for believers to do is to simply believe nonbelievers’ explanations of their personal faith stories. When Lobdell, and others like John Marks (Reasons to Believe), tell us that they tried, they really tried, to hold on to their faith in Jesus, even their faith in God, and lost it in spite of their knowledge, their desire, and all – it is often incredibly difficult for believers to take that simple explanation and let it be.

It’s ironic that people who treasure a belief in the unseen can have such a difficult time believing what is plainly spoken to them. I know from personal experience that with enough practice believing “impossible” things, it becomes easier to discount obvious things, including the weight of doubt and unbelief going on inside one’s own self.

What good is a faith that feels compelled to ignore or explain away the disbelief it encounters in others and oneself? I think that sort of faith is rightly called blind faith. What I’m after is a wide-eyed, open-eared, expectant sort of belief that takes for granted that the world is bigger than me, that other people have wisdom I don’t, that if I feel my belief system is threatened by someone telling me the truth, then it’s time to do some reworking with that belief system.

Which reminds me of another post I promised recently and have not yet delivered – thoughts from The Myth of Certainty. That would be a counterbalance of sorts to this post. Belief systems are never complete, are always needing reworking, and yet – to gain some traction, one must take a point of view from time to time.

My point of view at this moment is that I have written enough and I need not bother with a tidy conclusion. Feel free to write your own conclusion as a comment!

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copyright 2/26/2010 by Julia Tindall Bloom

i thought
i knew
i learned
i doubt
i guess
i hope
i live

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Good grief. Here I go again. Thanks to those who are reading and journeying with me through the dark and doubt. I don’t particularly enjoy these posts, but nevertheless feel compelled to put them out there – probably because I believe I’m giving voice to something felt by more believers than just me. Take comfort – you are not alone – and you can be angry and bewildered with God and still be faithful (in fact, if you are angry and bewildered with God, being honest about it is the only way to be faithful!) Maybe we can call these latest entries in my blog the “angry Psalms” section.

God says, in Ezekiel the book of the Bible, through Ezekiel God’s prophet to Israel, “I’ll slaughter these people – I’ll obliterate that nation – then they [Israel] will know that I am God” (my paraphrase of much of the book).

In church these days, it’s fashionable to say, “God is good all the time.” I can’t say it without wincing anymore. That doesn’t sound like the God of Ezekiel. I am quite aware of what the beaver said about Aslan, the Christ-figure of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” I even admit that when Aslan slashed Aravis’ back in The Horse and His Boy, to help her feel the pain she had carelessly inflicted on someone else, it seemed right to me. Maybe it even seemed good.

But how could God’s total annihilation of a nation be good? What is “good,” if it includes threats like those in Ezekiel? What is “good,” if we are to believe that the prophet Samuel was truly speaking for God when he said to Israel’s King Saul – “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ ” (I Samuel 15 – a mercilessly decreed holocaust that was actually carried out)? How is it good that God commanded the slaughter of babies? Or is it possible that God is not good all the time? I hope not, but an honest reading of Bible passages like these begs this question.

Whatever his reasons, God’s destructive ways towards people never seemed to stick in convincing Israel “that I am God.” Some might say that the most concentrated destructive act of God – in slaughtering the innocent Christ, in being slaughtered as the innocent Christ, has resounded as the most convincing of God’s ways of communicating “that I am God.”

In the crucifixion, they may say, God threw out the angriest, deadliest arrows imaginable, fully worked-up righteous wrath, lashing out completely; and then traveled at the speed of light out through the universe, circling back, and absorbed every shot. The anger and the agony met in their most intense moments, in the person of Christ, in the center of God, and the big bang of that moment set in motion a whole new creation, one that is spreading like the indestructible mustard plant all through the old world order, transforming it from inside – even destroying evil systems and pulling down evil power structures – and maybe that is good, but it is surely not safe.

Some might say that. I said that not long ago, and it sounds profound and poetic. But underneath it all it just sounds like more destruction. I’m weary of violence being the only problem-solver, unwilling to accept that God’s ultimate fix for a sick world was self-destruction.

These days, my faith has lost its resting place. From without, from within, it’s being pulled forward down a path of uncertainty, of wondering and wandering. How does one live faithfully when faith itself comes unglued?

Or maybe faith was never meant to be glued, nailed down, safe and snug in a resting place. Maybe that’s why Jesus’ call to his disciples was “follow me.” Movement. Road trip. Flux. Big bang setting everything in motion. Doubting believer faithfully tussling with the living God.

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These days I am losing my faith. The faith of my past, that is. I’m not sure how it will grow from here, and I’m doing my best to live in the tension and uncertainty of asking questions I’ve pushed away at other times in my life. Questions like, was Jesus’ crucifixion necessary to redeem humanity, or was it more of an inevitability for someone who loved so fully and stood so faithfully with the marginalized in the face of corrupt power, both religious and political? Did God really require an innocent sacrifice to compensate for the sins of the world? I seek to emulate a savior who is the prince of peace. Why would the God with whom that savior is one be thirsty for innocent blood (taking alone the teaching that Jesus is God’s son, differentiated from God the father?) Is there really ‘power in the blood’ of Jesus, and if so, does that power come from his blood crucified, or is it the living, healing, incarnate and resurrected Christ alone that was only ever necessary for the salvation of the world? (I understand resurrection could not happen without death, but my question is, did that death have to be an execution, a bloody sacrifice to appease a wrathful God?)

That’s a significant question for a lifelong evangelical, ever-so-familiar with the simple drawing of a stick man, a chasm, and God at the other side, with a cross bridging the man and God. There is much more I am pondering about this question, and I am hungry to ask other questions too – to research the canonization of scripture, the formation of the doctrines considered fundamental to my faith tradition – not to disprove, but to understand.

It’s clear to me that I couldn’t have faced these questions honestly or bravely earlier in my life. I would not have been able to live in the tension of uncertainty. For the years that these questions have been forming in me, I have often chosen to remain willfully ignorant, believing that my only other choice was to make a clean break and declare myself an atheist or agnostic. It’s complicated and difficult to face doubts and questions, to speak honestly about them, and at the same time to remain in community with other believers with whom I really do want to commune. It’s tempting and would be easier, in the short run, to be the extremist I often have been – to throw it all out, even the stuff I love and believe, rather than pursue the path of growth my inner life is demanding in all its twists and turns and switchbacks.

There is so much of my faith tradition that I do love and believe. At the core of these half-understood, inconsistent doctrines and dogma is something alive, a power and a love and grace that has undeniably pursued me, carried me, drawn me to itself. I have always called that presence God, understanding God to be three persons – a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit. But my hungry mind is dissatisfied these days with leaving it at that when it has not meaningfully wrestled with the larger questions of who God is, who Jesus is, how these doctrines and ideas we call orthodox have been decided.

Some of us are dancers, some dreamers, some thinkers, most of us are unique combinations of these and more. The thinker in me wants to build a faith she can sink her teeth into.

The people-pleasing pastor’s kid in me, however, shrinks from all this. She sees the agnostic shortcut as much less messy – “just cut the cord and be done with it!” she begs. “What will people think if I ask these questions out loud and expect to still be accepted as a fellow believer? Escape, escape!”

It’s my mounting suspicion, however, that most of us – at least, those of us with significant ‘thinker’ sides – have doubts we are afraid to voice; and that the fear of what others will say or do in response to our doubts keeps us paralyzed, going through religious motions or else walking away from it all. I’ve decided to be more transparent with my own doubts and questions, and to hold fast to my faith that God and God’s people have arms wide enough for every seeker, every believer, every doubter, every messy mix of believer and doubter.

When I started this blog, I titled it “The More I Learn the More I Wonder,” with the intention of hashing out some of these doubts and questions, musings and wonderings I have, and hoping others will interact, challenge, agree or disagree, move the conversation along. I’ve done that a bit, and I hope to keep working at it – not just in cyberspace but in every space of my life.

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juliatakaminecroppedI wrote this a couple weeks ago and almost didn’t post it – because I realized I am SO out of touch with trends in worship music that I may be criticizing a relic of the past rather than the present situation. I changed the channel for my sources of church music roughly seven years ago. Here’s the post – what do you think (besides the fact that it’s awfully long!)? How have things changed or stayed the same in recent years?

May I confess something? Lean in while I glance around and try to be discreet. Okay . . . I do not enjoy worship music. I also don’t listen to Christian radio or have much familiarity with the latest and greatest contemporary Christian music, or praise songs, or whatever the hip terminology is these days.

I could say much about what I find to be the often uninteresting, generally poor quality of the music itself, while freely admitting the same could be said about much of the music I write. Interesting music doesn’t just grow on trees (or radio airwaves, Christian or otherwise). I’m sure there is well-done music on Christian radio stations, but frankly I’ve grown tired of listening through so much else just to hear something worthwhile now and then.

The God described in the lyrics for much of this music isn’t someone I feel inspired to worship. Date or marry, maybe – he sure sounds like a fantastic boyfriend in the sky (strong and sensitive and always there for me!) – but I feel cheap and plastic when I attempt to worship the Creator of the Universe by singing songs that could just as easily work by replacing “Jesus” with “baby.”

Don’t get me wrong – I do not wish to categorically denounce modern church music. I grew up in churches singing only hymns accompanied by piano and organ and a man (always a man) up front waving his arms like a conductor. Until I learned to read and got to hold the hymnal, I wondered what a “pyonder” was, because no one I knew said anything remotely like “when the roll is called up yonder” anywhere besides in church.

Occasionally we sang well-written hymns, like “What Wondrous Love” (that haunting melody and ageless lyrics from Walker’s Southern Harmony), “This is My Father’s World,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and anything by Isaac Watts. But page through any hymnal and you’ll discover reams of oldies-and-not-so-goodies.

Many of the old hymns that nobody feels like singing anymore were popular in their day. Some of them were set to corny music that was only trendy for a few years, and that’s why we don’t sing them anymore. While music can be changed if the words warrant singing again, many of these songs employed images that were powerful for the writer’s contemporaries but can’t connect across the ages. “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “Hold the Fort, for I am Coming” are two examples of hymns using war imagery in a time when wars and soldiers were highly idealized, before Vietnam produced a cultural shift in perspective about war (i suppose September 11th produced a pendulum-swing cultural shift, but that’s another conversation).

Maybe today’s preoccupation with God as the ultimate boyfriend is a reflection of our oversexed, Disney-princess-ized culture. Many of the songs we sing these days are written from an individual perspective (“I” the believer in Christ, not “we” the body of Christ), and describe that individual as a weak and helpless person who needs nothing else but God, strong and loving, who will rescue her from evil, hold her gently, love her forever, and one day take her home to his castle in the air (Heaven).

These aren’t necessarily wrong ideas, though I would argue against the “going away to Heaven” idea vs. Heaven coming to earth and healing it (see N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope), but pounding away on this one metaphor again and again, we lose perspective. Our God – and we humans – and the relationship between us – are more complex than that. There’s simply a lot more we could say when we sing about God, including some of my personal favorites: justice, the kingdom of God, and resurrection.

Some of the ultimate-boyfriend love songs are well-written, and I actually like and use them. I just don’t like singing more than one or two of them at a time.

There are fantastic songs, old and new, that can help us step out of our romance-novel mold. Some of my favorite newer ones are “He Reigns” by Steve Taylor, “Faithful” by David Ruis, and “Lutheran Hymn” by Michael Roe (the latter two are not popular but worth finding). And I’ll bet there are many more.

Because I am familiar with so many hymns, and because they’re public domain, and also because they connect us with our roots and the larger century-spanning community of faith, I have begun incorporating more of my favorites into the worship services I lead. It’s harder to keep up with, and access on a limited budget, newer songs.

So I’ll end my confession with a petition: does anyone have suggestions for places to look, or songs you enjoy that break out of the love-song mold? And what other comments do you have? I’m all ears now that I’ve used so many words!

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