flirting_w_faith2

It’s official. My humble little blog has captured the attention of the kind folks at Beliefnet.com and they’ve asked if I would like to join their team of daily bloggers. So, beginning Sunday, March 1, Flirting with Faith will be living at Beliefnet under this snazzy new banner (thank you Bnet designers – it is lovely.)

Those of you who know me and are familiar with my journey know that the only thing more unbelievable than my becoming a Christian is my becoming a Christian writer. And yet, with a book coming out next spring and this blog moving to Beliefnet, I guess I have to pinch myself and accept that this is really happening.

The Beliefnet blog will be an extension of what I’ve been doing here, plus the insights of some guest bloggers (maybe you?) who are trying to make sense of God, faith, religion and spirituality  - wherever they fall on their journey.  More info (i.e. links, guidelines for guest bloggers, etc) will be posted on the new site. 

Hope to see you (and by you I mean believers of all faiths, Christians of all flavors, de-converts, atheists, seekers, skeptics and  others) over there…

Joan

Not sure why, but starting 2009 with a repost from Sept 13, 2008 just felt like the right thing to do on this snowy day in New York.  Happy New Year to all…

I don’t think I am remotely cool enough to roll with some of the new Christians. I’m forty-two and I sometimes watch mindless television. I wear pointy high heels and makeup and I don’t drink beer.

Of course, I used to be cool enough. Back when I sat on the roof of my apartment smoking cigarettes, reading A Clockwork Orange and looking down my nose at the people who didn’t get it. Back when I didn’t wear shoes or makeup but I did drink beer…and rye whiskey, which I preferred.

When I was cool God was in the poetry of the Bhagavad Gita or captured in a rose quartz crystal or dancing next to me at a Grateful Dead show. God was in a kiss or on a breeze or buried in the deep recesses of my mind when I’d created the perfect chemical storm.

And then, once I’d applied my considerable intellect and more considerable arrogance to the question, God was nowhere. I stopped searching and I was alone.

Fast forward a couple of years, a couple of kids and a couple of drinks and God became a “power greater than myself.” And, armed with a hint of humility I began to change.

Jesus had not called me yet—but I think he was watching.

When he came it was unannounced and uninvited. There was no frenzied altar call or sinner’s prayer. There was no hip pastor or tail-kicking band. No French roast coffee or modern art. There were no candles and no incense. No Power Point presentation or fill-in-the-blank bible study. It wasn’t even a particularly welcoming environment.

No, my Damascus Road was not modern or post-modern or denominational. It was God doing what God does wherever and whenever God wants to do it. Once I assured myself that the pain in my chest, inability to breathe and nausea was reverential fear and not a heart attack, I somehow knew that I believed something and that I would never be the same.

Of course I knew nothing of Christianity or Jesus or the Bible at the time. I thought I did, having debated the atheist party line for years. But, in the true spirit of Amazing Grace, I went from blindness to sight in a moment and was compelled to learn.

This story could go on for pages—and it eventually will—but I need to get back to my original premise, why I am not cool enough to be a new Christian.

It has been a little more than five years since I came to believe. In that time I have had some of the most wonderful and some of the most terrifying experiences of my life. I have learned from everyone—the whole mismatched Christian family—including televangelists, silver-haired, hymn-lovers, Southern Baptists, emergents, people who used to believe and Mike Seaver from Growing Pains.

While I might not share their style, or their politics or their history or their views on what it means to be a Christian (or a follower of Christ), each and every conversation, sermon or rant is a gift from God. These folks— like it or not—are my new family. And I am learning to love this new family; every quirky one of them. Even when I don’t really like what they say or how they act or what they claim to believe.

This unconditionally loving approach to life is brand new for me and it makes little sense. It is often uncomfortable and always counter intuitive. Sometimes I fail miserably. But sometimes I don’t. And when I don’t I have come to believe it is a gift from God.

Because, back when I was cool, I loved conditionally, starting with myself and extending to a small group of people who also read A Clockwork Orange and smoked cigarettes and drank beer…or rye whiskey…and looked down their nose at people who just don’t get it.

Thankfully, I’m just not that cool anymore.

Tonight is Christmas Eve and I find myself facing the first Christmas in recent memory, maybe ever, that I wish was over before it began. I’m not bah humbug, nor am I falling apart sad. I am just not feeling it. Not interested. Indifferent.

Part of it has to do with the loss of both of my parents this year.  Those of you who read my piece on Stages of Grief know that they died at ages 67 and 65 within 20 days of one another in April.  He from a stroke and she from cancer.  Loss and Christmas can be difficult to reconcile.

Part of it has to do with watching one of my children struggle with the first sober Christmas and all that entails for the addict that is turning their life around. I remember that feeling from my first sober Christmas a number of years ago and I wish this child well.  Sobriety, depression and Christmas can be difficult to reconcile. 

Part of it has to do with having spent down the last of our savings and having had to borrow the money for our mortgage and Christmas presents this year while navigating the difficult bridge of having no predictable income or health insurance until January.  Financial uncertainty and Christmas can be difficult to reconcile.

And yet, in the midst of all of it, I have many things to be grateful for and there are millions of people on earth who have things far, far worse than we do. I am sitting in a warm home with a loving husband and three children who I love and who love me. I expect the first advance on my book to arrive in the mail any day now and I begin a new teaching job (with benefits) at the end of January, so there are good things on the horizon.  

Fortunately, hope and Christmas are not only easy to reconcile–they go hand in hand.

So, this is a shout out to all of the people for whom Christmas festivities are feeling like more of an assault than a gift. Those who are doing their best to go through the motions because of grief, or empty bank accounts or trying to stay away from a drink or a drug.  Let’s have a Merry Christmas anyway and pray for an even happier New Year.

I’ve been trying to write a follow-up blog post about my trip to The Great Emergence event in Memphis since I returned to New York last week.  This should have been a no-brainer, really.  The event was well produced in a stunningly beautiful Episcopal cathedral.  Author and keynote speaker Phyllis Tickle delivered her thought-provoking thesis about the unfolding of a new Christian reformation with a perfect balance of humility, humor and passion.  The more than 300 attendees were engaged and friendly and I was able to connect with a handful of people with whom I look forward to keeping in touch. I even had the opportunity to sample some down-home Memphis cooking on Beale Street with some new friends.  All in all, this should be a simple and stellar review.

But…

This is the point at which each of my attempts to capture the event derailed.  In the midst of it all, there was—something—that gave me pause.  I’ve spent the past week trying to put my finger on it.  I even reached out to the organizers of the event to see if I could gain some clarity.   And yet, while they were responsive, I’m left with a mixed reaction that I am finding difficult to articulate.

When a couple of people who generously follow my blog asked when I might write a follow up, I told them the same thing.  This conversation is important, I said. It tends to create more debate than dialog outside of the folks that embrace and follow it.  I want to take care before I write to be sure that I am part of the dialog, not adding to the he-said-she-said noise and contributing to what appears to be a growing dis-unity between those who embrace a new vision for the church and those who view it as everything from irresponsible to heretical.”

So I decided not to force it. To wait and write nothing unless I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to do so.

On Saturday morning, my intention to work on my manuscript for an hour or two before heading over to help set up the room for my son’s Christmas play was thwarted by a familiar compulsion. So I closed my computer and pulled out a small black leather Bible that I opened without intention to the first page of the book of Ecclesiastes. As I began to read, I knew there was something there for me.  Something relevant to my struggle to understand my place in this conversation and, ultimately, my place in this disparate Body of Christ. 

Then, as I read, it hit me.  This one-two punch that came in the form of a deeper understanding of meaninglessness and what the author of the book repeatedly calls “chasing the wind.” 

Phyllis Tickle may be right. We may be in the midst of a dramatic shift away from Sola Scriptura toward a more Christ or Spirit-centered expression of faith.  Then again, those that would call her a heretic or an apostate may be right.  Sola Scriptura may, indeed, be the way and this new movement may not be of God at all.  And, I suppose, it is quite possible that those who embrace the Catholic faith might say that both camps are wrong and have been for 500 years.

Which brings me back Ecclesiastes.

There is nothing new under the sun.  God is on His throne. We are broken people.  Some of us seek this God and attempt to do what we perceive to be pleasing to Him. Others like me don’t seek, but get found anyway.  Revolutions and reformations come and go. The sun rises and sets on Christians and non-Christians alike.  So we eat and drink and, if we are blessed, enjoy our families, our work and our lives. Wisdom is better than folly, but ultimately we (and our ideas, books, podcasts and blog posts) are miniscule when compared to Creator of all things. Big questions have big answers that we can wrestle with to our hearts content.  In fact, I believe that the pursuit of a deeper understanding is likely pleasing to God. But if we set out to know it all or have a hand in the big change that will finally get it all “right” we are, as the author of Ecclesiastes says, just chasing the wind.

So I choose to follow the author’s suggestion to fear God and follow His commandments.  Simple advice that I read as a call to love God with reverential awe and love God’s creation sacrificially. 

At least it’s a start.  

My sister in law, a long time and devout Christian believer who I used to (not so lovingly) refer to as “The Baptinista” in my atheist days, sent me a link this morning. She knows I am here in Memphis at The Great Emergence event and that I am unsure why. She does not know much about the premise of the conference or the content of the emergent conversation. She is a Chuck Swindoll gal and gets his daily devotional. As I read what she sent, it I thought two things.

It is true that there is nothing new under the sun…yet sometimes things need to be reinvigorated.

This may be communicated differently to different people across generational and process divides, but the call is coming from all corners to reconsider how things are being done. I hold out hope that we can do it as a unified intergenerational family.

I am pasting the piece below in full, so please pardon the length of this post.

December 5, 2008

FREE INDEED

by Charles R. Swindoll

Romans 6:14 NLT

My hope has been to create an appetite for grace that is so strong nothing will restrain us from pursuing the freedom and spontaneity it can bring—a longing so deep that a new spiritual dawn, a “grace awakening,” if you will, cannot help but burst through the wall of legalism. Since I am a Christian minister, much of my involvement and exposure is in the realm of the church and Christian organizations. It has been my observation that even here most folks are not free; they have not learned to accept and enjoy the grace that has come to us in Jesus Christ. Though He came to set us free, it saddens me to say that many still live behind the wall of bondage. Regrettably, the stones of constraint are everywhere to be found. Instead of being places of enthusiastic, spontaneous worship, many churches and Christian ministries have become institutions that maintain a system of religion with hired officials to guard the gates and to enforce the rules.

In vain I have searched the Bible, looking for examples of early Christians whose lives were marked by rigidity, predictability, inhibition, dullness, and caution. Fortunately, grim, frowning, joyless saints in Scripture are conspicuous by their absence. Instead, the examples I find are of adventurous, risk-taking, enthusiastic, and authentic believers whose joy was contagious even in times of painful trial. Their vision was broad even when death drew near. Rules were few and changes were welcome. The contrast between then and now is staggering.

The difference, I am convinced, is grace. Grace scales the wall and refuses to be restricted. It lives above the demands of human opinion and breaks free from legalistic regulations. Grace dares us to take hold of the sledge of courage and break through longstanding stones. Grace invites us to chart new courses and explore ever-expanding regions, all the while delighting in the unexpected. While others care more about maintaining the wall and fearing those who guard it, grace is constantly looking for ways to freedom. Grace wants faith to fly, regardless of what grim-faced officials may say or think or do.

There is a “grace awakening” loose in the land. Will you become a part of it? While you take your turn with the sledgehammer and pound away, a host of us are standing near, and some of us may be half a world away, cheering you on. Don’t think of it as a lonesome, isolated task. You are breaking through to freedom, and no one is more delighted than the Lord Jesus Christ, who has promised you His grace. Never forget His words: “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” Stay at it. By the grace of Almighty God, the new movement will someday sweep across every continent and the longstanding wall that has kept people in bondage for centuries will come tumbling down. And we shall all, at last, be free indeed.

I leave tomorrow morning for The Great Emergence, a two day event in Memphis hosted by Phyllis Tickle and organized by Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt.  The release of Mrs. Tickle’s book of the same name is the premise for the event, but the schedule is jam-packed with speakers, breakout sessions and several opportunties to eat amazing BBQ.  You can find some background on Mrs. Tickle, her book, a list of speakers and other info here if you are interested in learning more.  

I’d love to tell you that I can’t wait to go or that this is my emergent dream come true, but that would not be true. On the contrary, I have a nasty cold (maybe the flu) and, while I have read and enjoyed the writing of many of the key emergent authors since I came to faith in 2003, I have to admit that I am still very much a listener in the emergent conversation.

That being said, since I come to the Christian mosaic as an adult convert (I was 37) with no church experience (I was raised in a secular home), I am taking my time answering the frequently asked “what kind of Christian are you?” question that I get over and over again from my new brothers and sisters. 

So, why not just read the book?  Why am I spending money I do not have to get on a plane, stay in a hotel, rent a car and attend a conference? 

I have absolutely no idea.  

All I know is that, informed by a barrage of Holy Spirit serendipity that I cannot explain but always follow, I believe that I am supposed to go.

So, I’m going. 

This is the part of the Christian faith that I never bargained for when I was an outsider looking in. There always seems to be a new and exciting adventure unfolding in front of me if I am willing to take the leap. So me and my aches and pains are off.  And, as if to confirm that I am there to listen, I am rapidly losing my voice into a froggy ‘yo quiero Taco Bell’ version of laryngitis.  

Isn’t God hysterical?

I’ll be posting dispatches from the road here and on Twitter if anyone is interested in following…

I’ve been thinking about Caroline’s Ferdinandsen’s post on ConversantLife.com called A Case for a Little Spiritual Quarantine. One line in particular has haunted me since I read it.  Caroline writes, “my Christian faith has suffered from my chronic reading, interfacing, and networking this past year.”  

I find this to be a chilling statement. 

I do not know Caroline beyond her published articles in faith-based magazines, blog posts, comments and Conversant profile. But, if this writer/educator is finding it difficult to discern among thoughts and perspectives of the bloggers and authors out there, who else is reading books, blogs and articles and struggling to find a foothold?

This question led me to ask my writing-self some probing and personal questions. Specifically, I wondered what part my words play that struggle?  Why is it that I write what I write? Do I take the time to consider how my words might impact a devout reader? A questioning reader? An unbelieving reader?  Does it matter? What is my intention? Am hoping to entertain? To teach? To win an argument? Am I just trying to sound smart? Or to impress? Or be funny?  Are my choices of topic and tone and perspective serving the reader? Or am I serving myself? In a nutshell, are the things I write part of the problem or part of the solution?

In her piece, Caroline made a somewhat counter-blog suggestion–for people to take some time off from reading to get alone with God and the Bible to gain a little clarity. I wonder if I might add my own counter-blog suggestion and ask that we take a break from writing long enough to consider these questions here together.

All you writers out there…would love to hear your thoughts…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.