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.

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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.  

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…

 

After more than four years of drafting, bumbling, abandoning projects and starting new ones I am thrilled to share that a large publishing house has agreed to take on my first book. It is a personal narrative called (surprise, surprise) Flirting with Faith: My Journey from Atheism to Agnosticism to a Devoted Life.  

This is a mini-miracle for several reasons.  

  • I’m still floored by the fact that I wound up a Christian in the first place, so becoming a Christian author is further evidence that God both has a sense of humor and that He can (and does) do things that are beyond our wildest expectations.
  • New and untested voices are risky for publishers and I am about as much of a nobody from nowhere as one can be in this marketplace.  
  • While I’ve had articles published in magazines, I have no big ministry or church or radio/tv show to use as a stepping-off point to promote this book. This is a real sticking point for most publishers.
  • I am writing a personal narrative which is a tough sell in any market, not to mention today’s competitive and changing publishing marketplace.
And yet, against the odds, I find myself with a fantastic agent, an incredibly supportive editor and a February 15 deadline to produce and deliver a 60,000 word manuscript for release in Spring of 2010.  
 
So, like my own blogging reality show, I am shifting the focus of my ConversantLife.com blog.  From today forward (with a few exceptions I am sure) I hope to open a conversation with other aspiring and working writers about the joys and challenges of writing.  From esoteric questions like what it takes to find and authentic voice to practical matters like what it takes to find an agent, I am hoping that this blog (which has now been moved from the “Spirituality” category to “Creative Arts”) will be a source of shared information, encouragement, collaboration and prayer for people who feel called to write.
 
In addition to sharing anything useful that I have learned so far and my ups and downs as journey from here to Spring 2010, I am hoping to interview authors, agents, publishers, magazine editors, marketers, book club leaders and anyone else who might help us to grow in our pursuit of the writing life.  
 
If you are a writer or you’re interested in writing, I hope you’ll join me.     

There is a trend among some Christians that I would like to bounce of you.  

Some churches, having heard and acknowledged that the capital-c Church has done many “unChristian” things over the centuries (and today), have taken to apologizing for current and past sins that have been committed in the name of Jesus. From hypocrisy to slavery to poor treatment of homosexuals to the Inquisition, supporters of this trend believe that it is important to take responsibility for these warts on the nose of their faith in hope that it will lead to healing and, potentially, reconciliation.

Others feel that apologizing is either not warranted (since they were not directly involved in these actions) or that, since direct amends cannot be made, the apologies could appear to be pandering rather than a genuine desire for reconciliation. 

I believe an argument could be made in either direction.  

That is why I thought I would take the question outside of Christian circles and ask the people who would would be receiving the apologies…people who feel like they have been hurt by Christianity or the church.

If that is you, I would love to hear from you. Specifically, I’d love to know:

  • What happened?
  • How did you respond?
  • How did the church/Christian in question respond?
  • How would you feel if you got an apology from the person/church that perpetrated the “wrong.”
  • How would you feel if a Christian who had nothing to do with it apologized to you?

Hope to hear from you.

Joan 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not giving up on the Church… 

Despite some unfortunate evidence to the contrary, I believe that the church can be a place where broken and hurting people of all stripes can go to find Jesus shared and reflected in the lives of leaders and members.  I believe that it can be a sanctuary where poor, struggling, addicted, mentally ill, self-harming, harsh and hard-to-love people can mingle with and be supported by people who are wealthy or stable or sober or emotionally healthy and peaceful without feeling judged or unwelcome. I believe that Christians of different ages and backgrounds and interests can worship together out of respect for one another and Christ’s call to unity, sustaining the whole by putting the needs of others ahead of personal comfort, preference or ambition. And I believe that the core teachings of the faith—even the controversial or hard-to-swallow ones–can touch people without being watered down or hidden from view when they are delivered with love and compassion.

Since becoming a Christian in 2003 I have sought to find this kind of Church.

In some ways I feel like Goldilocks of Christianity. There I was lost in the woods without knowing it and I come upon a lovely house. 

Sanctuary.  Safety.

I walk though the door naïve and hopeful, only to find dozens of diverging choices, approaches and versions of what it really means to be a Christian or how one is really supposed to follow Jesus.

So I try a one church… too hot.

And another…too cold.

Searching for, but not finding, the elusive just right…

I hoped to land in that one community of people with the right approach with whom I could settle-in and ignore (or criticize) the‘other ones’ who clearly have it wrong. Regrettably, this approach assumes that it is possible (or advisable) for me to become part of “a church” and divorce myself from “the church.” 

I wish I had simplistic “how-to” list to encapsulate how I turned it around, but this is not a challenge with a single pole solution.  And, if it were, it is pretty unlikely that the big answer would come from the pen of this New Age seeker, turned atheist, turned agnostic, turned Christian.  No, I am not suggesting that I have the solution. I’m just hoping that we can do our best to remember that the Church is a family, whether we like it or not.

 Because really…who wants to step out of the woods straight into a big dysfunctional family?