August 2008


I started to write a follow-up to the “Am I the ‘Not the Religious Type’ Type” post in an attempt to share, as promised, my experience at the first (first annual?) Center City Summit: Where Faith and Secular Culture Meet in Cambridge, MA. In high journalistic style, I sat at my laptop and laid out the details:

  • More than 150 people from more than a dozen states
  • Compelling speakers sharing a heart-felt desire to connect with and communicate with secular culture
  • Interesting uses of models and psychological theories to help understand the variety of ways people approach (and retreat from) God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit
  • Passionate times of prayer and conversation.

This observe-and-comment format is easy for me. I get to play the role of subject matter expert. “Here’s what I saw. This is what I liked. This is what I didn’t like. This is what they should keep doing. This is what they should do differently. This is why.”

And, there were a number of things I liked. I enjoyed learning more about Dave Schmelzer’s centered-set verses bounded-set model of faith, Carl Medearis’ stories about two-decades of communicating with Muslims in the Middle East, Charles Park‘s amazing story of making and losing $43 million and his wife Caroline’s loving attention to prayer and obedience.

There were also a couple of things that gave me pause. Like how easy it might be for people to misuse M. Scott Peck’s stage theory to perceive themselves as spiritually superior to people at ‘lower stages’ or what I perceive to be some potentially confusing uses of the word ‘mystic’. But, when push came to shove, it was clear to me that even if I reread the books and reviewed my notes, I was no subject matter expert. In fact, as I considered this post, I realized that I came away from the Center City Summit with more questions than I did answers.

And that’s a good thing.

This conference made me think. It made me wonder what questions my new, thoughtful friends at deconversion.com would have asked if they had been there. It made me wonder how other Christian “factions”, particularly those who are less familiar/comfortable with the notion of having a direct “experience” with the Holy Spirit would react. (This was my first time rolling with people who I would describe as mildly ‘charismatic’ or ‘pentecostal’.) It made me wonder about the notion of Christian “factions” in general, the wide variety of ways that people experience God and how that frequently leads to in-fighting among Christians and confusion for people who are on the outside looking in.

And that made me think about my friend.

This is a real friend not one of those metaphors. She has a name and a home and a family that is crumbling under the heavy weight of untreated addiction. She and I spoke by phone several times while I was away. She is hurting. She feels very alone. She says she has no hope. She tells me that she has always needed “a rock” upon which to anchor herself. She has relied on her parents, her husband, and–more recently–friendship. She says that friendship has been “a shining light” in her life, that it has provided the “strength, the truth and the love” that she has needed to see through deception and see her circumstances “as they really are.” Without that, she says, there is “only darkness.” This woman is one of those people out in “secular culture” that they were talking about in Cambridge. She grew up without God. She had many successes in her life without God. And now, in her darkest hour, she needs “something” that she describes by unknowingly and unintentionally speaking the language of faith–without God.

And that made me remember.

I recalled that God was working in my life long before I knew he was. Back in the early 1990s when I was the one whose family was falling apart. Back when I was the one who was hurting and alone and needed a shining light and an anchor. Back when I thought I had no hope. Back when I found hope in a recovery program through a relationship with a “power greater than myself” that turned out (after 7 years of Christ-bashing agnosticism) to be the same God (with the Son and the Spirit) I pray to now.

And, ultimately, it reconfirms my belief that God is real. That, while I believe that there is one way to the Father, there are millions upon millions of ways to the Son. Unorthodox ways. Irreverant ways. Unpredictable ways. Doubt-filled, messy, leave-it-to -the-last-breath ways that I don’t always understand or even agree with. Ways that don’t fit into 45-minute Sunday school sessions, line-by-line intellectual assessments of Bible passages or high-tech “culturally relevant” A/V productions. Ways that paradoxically challenge my notion of love and mercy in the face of discipline and hardship.

And so, despite the uncertainty, I choose to continue to pursue this God. This Jesus. This unexplainable Holy Spirit of God. I seek Him/It/Them in solitude and in the community that is created in church, online, and at wonderful conferences like the Center City Summit. I try to understand him in the face of my friend’s pain–and in the memory of my own.

Unbelievable.

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I’m travelling from New York to Cambridge, MA (home of Harvard U) on Sunday evening to attend the Center City Summit: Where Faith and Secular Culture Meet. The event is billed as:

A first-of-its-kind event where you can connect with and be inspired by folks from all over the country who have a passion for robust faith, for secular culture, and for becoming influence leaders at the point where those two things meet.

I learned about the event from its organizer, Dave Schmelzer, who is a formerly atheistic pastor in Boston and the author of the recently released book Not the Religious Type: Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist. He and I connected about two weeks ago when I sent him a cold e-mail asking if he might read my book proposal for a possible future endorsement (part of an ongoing quest suggested by an acquisitions editor that is considering my book for publication.)

Dave graciously agreed to read the proposal, introduced me to another author and pointed me in the direction of his blog where I read about the conference. Sensing that this might be a Holy Spirit coincidence (I tend to follow these into all kinds of interesting adventures), I spoke to Martin and reserved a room at a B&B in Cambridge.

Since then, I’ve kept up with Dave’s blog and read his book with interest. He shares stories of conversion (including his own) and modern miracles (more than I am used to) and discusses psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s four-stage theory of human spiritual and emotional development as it relates to the development and maintainance of faith (this was originally introduced in Peck’s book Further Down the Road Less Travelled.) I won’t go into the theory in depth here, but it creates an interesting space for the skeptical, deconverted and deconverting people I’ve been encountering in the past couple of weeks in a way that I would like to learn more about.

Headline speakers include:

Chris Lowney,

author of Heroic Leadership: Best Practices of a 450-year-old Company that Changed the World, a book about the Jesuits. Formerly a Jesuit himself, Chris was named managing director of J.P. Morgan & Co. holding senior positions in major international cities. He is currently president of the Catholic Medical Missions Board.

Carl Medearis,

advisor on Arab Affairs for members of the US Senate and House of Representatives who spent over 25 years in Lebanon, Iraq, England, and Saudi Arabia and “has found Muslim communities to be very open and interested to his perspective on faith and what Jesus has to offer.”

Charles Park, who

earned his PhD in economics at MIT. After striving to achieve the American Dream, he found getting tangled up with the story of God made life much more interesting and unpredictable. Now he lives right in the heart of Wall Street and is the leader of the innovative faith community, The River.

Dave Schmelzer, who

graduated from Stanford, went on to get his M.A. in Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, and worked as a former playwright. Currently he is the leader of the two-site Vineyard Christian Fellowship Greater Boston and author of Not The Religious Type, Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist.

This is a very different cast of speakers than I have seen advertised for conferences in evangelical or emergent circles. It will be interesting to hear a whole new take on the ongoing question of where faith meets culture in 2008. Will be sure to follow up and share what I learn.

Yo decido escribir en Espanol todos los Miercoles a mis Miercoles en Espanol. Hablo con suceso para quatro semanas, pero excribo solamente un tiempo. Es muy dificil, especialmente los frasas. Tengo muchas palabras, pero las frasas son diferente. Mi esposo dice y yo me acuerdo que yo necesito memorizo muchos frasas tipicos. Si tu tienes sugerencias, escribe los aqui por favor. Muchas gracias y buen dia.

Joan

I’ve spent the past week or so knee-deep in a very interesting dialog about “deconversion” that was spurred when a posting on this blog titled “Atheism Sells” caught the attention of the folks at de-conversion.com. I’ve enjoyed learning a little more about this community of people and their journeys toward and away from God. It has also make me think a lot about my own conversion experience and what it would be like to lose my faith.

As I pondered this, I found myself in touch with author Dave Schmelzer on another matter. Dave, a self-descibed former-atheist, is now a pastor in Boston. He wrote a book called “Not the Religious Type: Confessions of a Turncoat Atheist” and is hosting a conference in Boston in a couple of weeks that is intended to discuss the place where “faith and culture meet.” I sent him a note about this conversation and he promptly shared the information on his blog which has brought a number of new people into the conversation.

You just gotta love the Internet.

I know that notions of conversion and “de-conversion” (I’m still not sure whether or not that is a word) lead to deep theological questions that could spur a lively (and possibly contentious) debate about scripture and history. There is a place for that kind of wrestling in any spiritual journey and many outlets for that kind of conversation on other blogs and websites, but I would like to focus on a different aspect of the conversation here if anyone is game.

I have come to view my conversion from agnostisicm to Christianity (I believed in and prayed to a “power greater than myself”) as a change of heart rather than a shift in intellectual understanding. As a result of that change of heart, I have pursued and continue to pursue a deeper understanding of God (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) through scripture and the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, silence and, in many cases, sheer perseverance and endurance as my life has radically and rather counterculturally shifted from one orientation to another.

The Bible has much to say about the heart–guarding it, hardening it, softening it, etc. I am interested in learning about others’ experience of the heart as it relates to their coming to (and leaving) their faith. Hope to hear from you.

Today is my one-month anniversary as a blogger.

Before all of you early-adopter types start giggling, you can rest assured
that I am well aware that I am behind the curve here. The impact of Web 2.0 on
communication and marketing was a hot topic in PR circles before the term Web
2.0 was coined in 2004, but it was only recently that I felt prompted to join the conversation.

If I put my old PR hat on, I could use this lead for a dozen different
articles; from the perspective of a “tip of the spear” Gen Xer on social
networking (I was born in 1966) to a light-hearted look at my online
relationship with my 18 and 19 year old kids.
Instead, a quick review of my blog stats for the month of July is driving
this post. As I assessed the pageviews and where they originated, I found that the bulk of the click-throughs to my WordPress blog came as a result of a piece titled I was Never a Real Atheist from people who had searched or followed a link to the word atheism tagged to the post.

Apparently atheism sells.

I followed the links backward and found myself in the land of Christian de-conversion.

Now de-conversion may be a hot topic in Bible-college circles, but I wasn’t
even sure if it was a real word. Webster’s online says that it’s not, but the folks that are contributing and commenting at http://de-conversion.com use it frequently.

The site claims to provide “Resources for Skeptical, De-Converting and Former Christians” and is a social network/support group for confused, hurt and angry Christians who have either already “de-converted” or claim to be in the process of doing so.

The site claims to have logged 667,660 hits since March 2007 and, while they could be elevating those numbers, the volume of comments on the featured posts is such that I would not be surprised if it were true.

I am sure that there is much to be said theologically about whether or not “de-conversion” is possible if a person had a genuine experience with Jesus, and I am not remotely studied enough to go there, but as I read the posts of dozens of self-proclaimed “former believers” I saw a pattern emerge:

1. I grew up in the church and loved the Lord once.

2. I began to question and doubt.

3. My questions and doubts were either dismissed or ignored or responded to with platitudes that I could not accept.

4. When it was clear that I would not be satisfied with platitudes, I was told that I was defective, i.e. I wasn’t
really saved in the first place, I was looking for an excuse to sin, etc.

5. I am grateful to find this community of people who are also doubters and skeptics (and ultimately unbelievers) so that I do not have to walk this path away from the faith of my childhood on my own.

The unbelief proposed by whoever designs and moderates the site (I could not find evidence of a clear “owner”) portrays in the site description a kinder, gentler version of atheism that might appeal to a once-faithful doubter…

“For the most part, we believe the teachings of Judaism, Christianity, & Islam, based on the perceptions and myths of a nomadic ancient Middle Eastern tribe, should be viewed critically – as should the holy books of these religions. This blog attempts to critically, but respectfully, address issues with these religious ideologies, especially Christianity. If you are a skeptical, de-converting, or former Christian, you may find these discussions interesting.

We also believe that whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God
reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds -when there is a significant lack of evidence on who God is or if he/she even exists.
(de-conversion.com, July 2008 )

That can’t be so bad, right?

And yet, many of the posts betray what I interpret to be sadness as a result of the perceived loss of faith. It may be wishful thinking on my part, but a number of the respondents still attend church and participate in ministry despite what they describe to be a sense of isolation and unbelief. It made me wonder who these people are and how their churches (and churches in general) tend to handle a person who is struggling with a perceived loss of faith?

Would love to hear thoughts on this…