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

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 have never been one to set writing goals.  In fact, despite the fact that many creative and prolific writers swear by them, there is something about having to write a certain number of pages or for a certain number of hours every day that sucks the creative wind right out of me. I prefer the romantic notion of waiting for the muse to inspire over the practical matter of sitting down and hammering out a certain number of words a day.  

But, in writing as in life, the practical often trumps the romantic and we are forced to create within the bounds of deadlines and responsibilities.  For me, that means delivering a 60,000 word manuscript to my acquisitions editor by February 15, 2009.  This is not a loose deadline.  I am contractually bound to make it happen.

To get there, I’ve set a personal goal of writing 1000 words a day, six days a week for six weeks. 

In an effort to prevent self-sabotage, I’ve decided not to “bank” words.  If I write 1500 words today, I still have to write 1000 tomorrow. If I succeed in writing at this pace I will have a rough draft by December 15 and two months to rewrite and edit.  I’ve never done this before, but I think this sounds like a workable plan.

And yet, I keep wondering…

“What about creativity?”

“What about beauty?”

“Is it possible to write (or paint, of sculpt) artfully on a tight deadline?”

“Is creative discipline an oxymoron?”

Would love to hear your thoughts… 

         

 

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