i just finished reading my friend, Rachel Held Evans' first book, "Evolving In Monkey Town: How A Girl Who Knew All The Answers Learned To Ask The Questions". i even have a chapter in the book! Thanks so very much, Rachel for asking the questions and for including me in your journey! i suggest reading the book as i don't think you will be disappointed. i loved her honesty and the wrestling she did with her faith! "If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that serious doubt - the kind that leads to despair - begins not when we start asking God questions but when, out of fear, we stop." (p. 226) This is her journey out of fundamentalism and into a more progressive faith that enjoys the questions and doubts more than all the certainties of a black and white faith.
i could totally relate to her journey and resonated with much of what she said. Here are a few examples from the book that resonated with me:
"We are not saved by information. We are saved by restored relationship with God, which might look a little different from person to person, culture to culture, time to time...When we require that all people must say the same words or subscribe to the same creeds in order to experience God, we underestimate the scope and power of God's activity in the world." (p. 132)
"The more committed we are to certain theological absolutes, the more likely we are to discount the work of the Spirit when it doesn't conform to our presuppositions." (p. 155)
"I would tell them that the idea of a single, comprehensive biblical worldview to which all Christians can agree is a myth and that it's okay to ask questions about people's interpretations. I would tell them that this doesn't diminish the beauty and power of the Bible but rather enhances it and gives Christians something to talk about." (p. 185)
"The Bible is perfection crammed into imperfect language, the otherworldly expressed in worldly ways, holiness written down by unholy hands, read by unholy eyes, and processed by unholy brains...In truth, the Bible represents a cacophony of voices. It is a text teeming with conflict and contrast, brimming with paradox, held together with creative tension." (p. 189)
"The Bible doesn't exist in a vacuum but must always be interpreted by a predisposed reader. Our interpretations are colored by our culture, our community, our presuppositions, our experience, our language, our education, our emotions, our intellect, our desires, and our biases." (p. 192)
"Perhaps our love for the Bible should be measured not by how valiantly we fight to convince others of our interpretations but by how diligently we work to preserve a diversity of opinion." (p. 194)
"My interpretation can only be as inerrant as I am, and that's good to keep in mind." (p. 195)
"But it seems to me that if evangelical Christians were the only ones to have God all figured out, then they would be the kindest, most generous people around...Most Christians I know are only interested in winning arguments, converts, and elections." (p. 201)
"...But most rejected Christianity because they thought it means becoming judgmental, narrow-minded, intolerant, and unkind...Most weren't looking for a faith that provided all the answers; they were looking for one in which they were free to ask the questions." (pp. 203-204)
"In fact, I am convinced that what drives most people away from Christianity is not the cost of discipleship but rather the cost of false fundamentals. False fundamentals make it impossible for faith to adapt to change." (p. 207)
"In a way, we're all fundamentalists. We all have pet theological systems, political positions and standards of morality that are not essential to the gospel but that we cling to so tightly that we leave fingernail marks on the palms of our hands." (pp. 208-209)
Thanks, Rachel, for a deeply honest portrayal of your journey. i am a better person for having read and ingested this story.
i have been wrestling within my faith and teetering on the brink of converting to atheism. Yet, i am staying within the fold of Christianity after watching this Marcus Borg video. He made so much sense to me that leaving my faith right now is a no go for me. Now, i must find how to practice my faith. i have deconstructed my faith and through practice will hopefully begin to reconstruct my faith. It's a simultaneous process, i believe, to deconstruct and reconstruct as life circumstances change and as a human being, i evolve. As i have said before, i am a walking contradiction and can change my mind at my discretion. For now, i am choosing to remain in the context of the Christian faith, although i am still a Christian Agnostic. People ask me what i mean when i identify as a Christian Agnostic and in this post i'd like to discuss this.
i started this book a few years back but never finished it, as often is the case with me! i do plan on picking it up again and finishing it this time! The basic premise is that one can still remain a Christian and not have to sign on the dotted line to every doctrine. 'Christian agnosticism means being a Christian despite uncertainty about
whether Christian teachings are true. It is not an oxymoron because the
two terms refer to different things - agnosticism to knowledge, and
Christianity to belief.' (Zosima Kat Beliefnet)
My Apophatic Deconversion from Absolutist Christianity & Conversion to Agnostic Christianity:
This has been a very long and arduous odyssey for me. i come from a fundamentalist, charismatic, black and white, Bible believing faith that just did not resonate with me anymore. It crept in at times while i was involved in my charismatic church. Going door-to-door witnessing and handing out tracts ALWAYS made me feel really uncomfortable. i also had doubts about unbelievers going to spend eternity in hell. In 1998 i began exploring postmodernism and began to realize that G-D is absolute but that as imperfect humans, we did not have absolute knowledge of or about G-D.
i choose to follow in the way of Jesus but not sure G-D exists. If G-D does exist, i am simultaneously vacillating between being a deist, where i believe G-D created, pulled away, and is no longer involved in our lives, and being someone who has had glimpses of what i could formulate as G-D moments, or mystical experiences where G-D is ruptured in me. i am unable to answer the age old questions of why evil exists, why natural disasters occur and kill innocent people, why there is cancer, etc. i also have doubts about things like Jesus being born of a virgin, a literal resurrection of Jesus, a literal hell, and a literal Adam & Eve. i do not believe G-D had to pay for our sins through the sacrificial death of Jesus. i don't believe the Bible is the inerrant word of G-D and for me, it is not a rule book. i live in a tension between faith and doubt, and not knowing things to be certain. i do not interpret the Bible in a fully literal way and do not see the Christian faith as black and white.
i do believe in following the Golden Rule of treating others as i would like to be treated. i am commanded to love G-D as i love myself and others. i am to pray for my enemies. i am to care for the poor and our earth/environment. i believe in religious pluralism as Borg teaches in the video in my previous post. i believe in the salvation of ALL G-D's children.
This all entails living out the Kingdom of G-D in the here and now as best as i can by the grace and mercy of G-D. i don't claim to have any answers and i am still not certain how to incorporate the scriptures into my life. i am on an odyssey to live and to know G-D, myself, and my fellow humans. It's often messy and painful. At times it's magical and glorious. As Marcus Borg says in the video in my previous post, "Religions are means of ultimate transformation...Ultimate transformation in the sense of spiritual transformation...where we become more compassionate."
Is open to Christian
faith claims while acknowledging the inability to know factually.
Values doubt as complementary to faith, and who engages instead of
Acknowledges the lack of a satisfactory answer to the problem of
evil and suffering, but who carries out the struggle with this problem
in the context of faith rather than the rejection of faith. But those
who reject faith are respected for their honest response to this
Leaves the answers to specific questions open to the individual,
such as whether the resurrection was both a physical and a spiritual
event, or only a spiritual one. But a Christian agnostic is unlikely to
understand the crucifixion as a death demanded by an angry God, but
rather as a sacrifice in terms of the risk God was willing to take
knowing what would happen should He become incarnate. As such, the
crucifixion is for our sins not in the sense of a debt to be paid to
God, but instead as humanity hearing the victim's voice to show us what
sin is capable of, so that we can be led away from sin. (See Gil
Bailie's Violence Unvieled.)
Believes that the moral life of a Christian is best expressed by
living the Beatitudes, the Golden Rule, and love of God and neighbor.
Judging others is inappropriate because no one is perfect, and so no one
has the moral superiority that judgment implies.
Understands the Bible as a collection of books written over a
1,000-year timeframe. As such, it represents a conversation with and
about God, with God as the central conversation partner. But the people
who wrote the Bible were working within the cultures and worldviews of
their day, so the Christian agnostic is unlikely to view the Bible as
inerrant. This stands in contrast to the conservative view that the
Bible is a divine monologue written by God, inerrant not only in
theology but in history and science as well. In contrast, the Christian
agnostic tries to understand the dynamics of the conversations happening
within the Bible, and to engage these conversations. Many Bible stories
are understood not literally, but as parables. (See Marcus Borg's Reading
the Bible Again for the First Time.)
Instead of searching for the "historical Jesus," understands this
quest not as history in the scientific sense, but rather as
deconstructionist theology. As such, it is misguided because the Gospels
are narratives of faith. The Christian agnostic recognizes that the
resurrection experience, however understood, has always been the
starting point of the Christian faith. The Gospels were written to
explore the answer to the central question, "Who do you say I am?" (See
Luke Timothy Johnson's The Real Jesus.)
Recognizes that the details of eternal life are unknown to us, but
even if one believes that salvation comes only through Christ, one can
also believe that Christ could save people of other faiths."
i just watched this Marcus Borg video on pluralism over at my friend, Crystal Lewis', blog. It's nearly an hour long but so worth it! Because of this video i feel able to remain a Christian, albeit, still an agnostic Christian, which will be a future blog post soon.
Here are two gems from the video:
John Hick, "The poetry of devotion and the
hyperbole of the heart" for words that Jesus is the only way.
Marcus Borg: "Whenever one makes doctrine out of
hyperbole one is creating problems!'
Joan Ball’s journey from Atheism to a Christian faith
in her first book, "Flirting with Faith" (Howard Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.) resonated with me because I have gone through those similar experiences in my
past.It’s just that I am finding
myself no longer able to relate much anymore. Today I claim to be an Agnostic
Christian who does not believe in many doctrines and interpretations of the
Bible that run the gamut in evangelical circles. I am standing on the precipice
of A/theism because I am falling out of belief of my human constructs of G-D.
Yet, I really enjoyed Joan’s journey, and I will share some of my favorite
moments from the book.
It is an honest and authentic journey that never bordered on
preaching. She always owns her experiences and never tries to say that is how
everyone else should believe and/or do things.Her experience of having her own life and being in control
of her own destiny made the leap to belief in G-D all the more compelling.
The revealing things about her misery resonated with me as
well.“I had yet to read the clear
indications that I was at the root of my own misery.” (p. 63) This gut-level
honesty is one of the things I love about Joan! Her child-like faith became a
motif throughout her journey. It all started from the beginning of her
conversion: “Within weeks of my conversion, my journal was peppered with
erratic talk of surrender and repentance and desperate pleas to be changed from
the inside out” (p. 81) This continued in decisions from leaving her job and
selling the home her and her husband had built together.
Joan is a very creative and expressive person. An example of
her open and poetic heart is when she said this: “I felt like a human zipper
coming undone as God opened me up and showed me the best and the worst of
myself through the lens of day-to-day life.” (p. 122) She is also realistic in
her approach to faith in Jesus: “Jesus is no genie in a lamp. All the happy
thinking in the world will not keep life from being life” (p. 165)
There was a terrible church experience that rattled Joan and
her family. How they waded through it all and came out on the other side
inspired me. Joan says, “I can never be completely sure, but I think that God
allowed my comfortable church existence to be shaken up so that I could learn
what it means to forgive radically and to love beyond reason, even when dealing
with people I would have preferred to hate.” (p. 179)
Joan is now a teacher at a university and through her
friend, John, learned what teaching is really all about. I loved this as I can
see it reaching over to faith as well. John told her, ‘It is not about knowing
everything and dispensing wisdom from on high. It is about reaching each
student individually, heart to heart. It is about connecting with them as human
beings in a way that meets their needs, not your convenience.’ (p. 188) Now, if
more people like Joan could enact this in their daily lives when living out
their faith we’d be in a much better place spiritually!
Now, I admit I am a walking contradiction, and scoffed at a
lot of what Joan writes because I have been there, done that with so many
similar kinds of stories. I just do not experience G-D in those kinds of ways
anymore, let alone sensing the Holy Spirit at work. Maybe I am jaded or maybe
it’s a season. For this I do not know, but I find myself slipping from faith to
atheism, the reverse order of Joan’s journey. I feel like there is no plan for
my life and feel like a waste of space at times. Chronic illness ravages my
body. Not sure where I will end up on this odyssey but I want to thank Joan for
Katryna, aka wifey, is setting out on an ambitious odyssey NEXT Sunday, June 6, 2010, for a SEVEN day ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money in support of HIV/AIDS Services! She has to raise $3000.00 dollars and is a little over $500.00 dollars away from her goal. WOULD YOU PLEASE CONSIDER DONATING? You can even set up a payment plan! i have already donated because i believe in her and the cause. Won't you join me? i am so very proud of her and her hard work and dedication! THANK YOU!
My friend, David Henson, over at Unorthodoxology, has been kind enough to invite me to guest post at his blog today. So, i get to be unorthodox for a day! ;)
David is a fantastic writer and very prolific. i appreciate his point of view and respect him greatly! And he used to be a fellow Californian! Hopefully one day we will actually get to meet in person and have a beer or two or three together!
I'd like to tell you a little story. It's about a woman who wrote and performed innovative Christian music, becoming arguably the most popular female Christian artist of her time. So successful was she that her songs were even used in hymnals and songbooks across the world.
But a few years after her success, she came out as a lesbian and was buried under a heap of criticism.
Sounds a bit familiar, right?
But this isn't the story of Jennifer Knapp, the popular Christian artist who came out this month as a lesbian. This is the story of Marsha Stevens, the woman who has been called the mother of Contemporary Christian Music. She began her career in the late 1960s and penned the popular song "For Those Tears I Died." But her revelation of her sexuality in 1979 exiled her from mainstream Christian music.
Yes, the woman who birthed CCM was a lesbian.
She was excoriated by the establishment and for two decades, according to the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, had her songs ripped from hymnals and mailed to her, a kind of sheet music shunning. Today, she continues to play music, albeit obscurely, for her Florida-based ministry BALM, or Born-Again Lesbian Music.
Sadly, this is a narrative that would resurface time and again in CCM. In fact, the industry's most major scandals seem loosely centered around female sexuality.
Amy Grant's divorce in 1999 sent shockwaves through the CCM world. Once again, Christian music's leading lady had run afoul of sexual norms and the industry made her pay the price. One can't help but wonder, however, if it wasn't her divorce that was so shocking, but that she planned to quickly remarry another man. Whatever the motivation, Christian radio stations took her songs off the air and a number of Christian retailers pulled her albums from their shelves. The darling of the CCM world had become its demon.
Now, Jennifer Knapp, the industry's former darling, has revealed she is a lesbian and in a committed relationship. CCM history is repeating, again, centered around the taboo of empowered female sexuality. No surprise then, that industry backlash again is forming. Already, Knapp has been awarded the dubious honor of a Timmy (the industry's mock awards doled out to the worst of CCM that year) and many Christians and former fans have abandoned her with remarkable vigor.
Knapp's story is more complicated, however, because she has come out on her own terms and is releasing her album on her own terms, outside the power halls of the patriarchal CCM industry. (Other bloggers have commented about Christian reaction, so I'll leave it to folks like Scot McKnight, Chad Holtz and Jonathan Brink to discuss points of theology and culture). Circumventing the CCM industry has already proved possible with people like Derek Webb, formerly of Caedmon's Call, whose new album criticizes conservative Christian response to gays and lesbians.
But I don't think the response here, at least when viewed historically, is primarily about what the CCM and its audience would consider "sexual sin." It's not about sexual identity. It is about women who dare to challenge men at the most fundamental level, sexuality. It is about women bold enough to own their sexuality. In the CCM world, it is enough to be stoned in public eye.
Men are not held to the same standard. For example, when well-known Christian recording artist Michael English and Marabeth Jordan, the married singer of another Christian group, had an affair and Jordan got pregnant, English suffered minimal fallout by comparison. Instead of being exiled, his affair was cast as a lesson of the all-too-real temptations that Christian artist face. Notice, his affair was cast as succumbing to temptation, the temptation of a woman, the temptation of Eve, the ultimate seductress.
Instead of pulling the albums from sales, his records flew off the shelves! And a station that tried to moralistically ban his songs were subject to the angry calls of fans demanding they be played again. And they were.
English even tried to return his Dove Awards (Christian version of the Grammy's). They were sent back, with the explanation that he earned him. What he never received back in the mail, though, were the songs he wrote that were used in hymnals and songbooks around the country. Barely two years after the affair, he was back in the folds of the CCM world, producing awarding-winning gospel albums with The Martins and performing with the renowned Gaithers.
If that wasn't enough, after English did all this, he became addicted to painkillers, convicted on drug charges, accused of abusing a girlfriend and even began dating a stripper, in 2000, the CCM industry tried to relaunch his career!
What of Marabeth Jordan, rising CCM star with whom English had the affair? She never got a second, third, or fourth chance at a career. She only had a miscarriage.
Even the male stars of the Christian music industry who have come out have faired better, comparatively, to the women. Ray Boltz, Tonex and Azariah Southworth garnered attention, but quickly faded. None were as controversial as Knapp, or even Grant.
So this is the scandal of Jennifer Knapp, Amy Grant and Marsha Stevens and of CCM. It is not about their so-called sins. Rather it is about them standing up as empowered females to the patriarchy endemic in conservative Christianity. It is about three women who refused to know their place because they knew exactly who they were.
David Henson is a stay-at-home dad, self-consciously heretical blogger and a really bad Episcopalian who wants to be a priest. He also used to work at a Contemporary Christian Music radio station. Now he's ashamed of it. He blogs at unorthodoxology whenever his children nap at the same time.