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The Great Wave of Anti-Christian Sentiment (from Christians)

Concerning popular Christian culture, there is no doubt we are currently living in The Great Backlash. It is a time where the cool and hip Christians critique and complain about the pitfalls of Christian faith. We have fun new tools like blogging and Twitter to give us a voice we never had inside the church. In addition, we have also discovered millions who feel the same way we do.

And can you blame us?

The late 20th Century witnessed the rise of mega churches and pastor celebrities, Christian apparel, alternative approved entertainment industries (including best-selling worship albums) and the WWJD movement. In short, the Christian culture created a bubble just large enough to coalesce American consumerism into the teachings of Jesus, the church, and the Bible.

As we aged, we began to think for ourselves. We started asking questions. We wondered if we weren’t Christians, but were, instead, just another market segment. We started wondering about others, the non-us’ we loved to condemn and pray for.

In, “When We Were On Fire,” Addie Zierman writes, (more…)

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Guest Blog: When We Were On Fire

The following was written by my lovely wife, Megan Carr. Woot! We are officially a blogging family now. The girl gives me a run for my money. Check it out: synchroblog-photohome_uk

When We Were on Fire

Today’s blog is in support of Addie Zierman’s book When We Were on Fire. Though I haven’t yet had the privilege of reading it, I’ve been deeply encouraged by her blog for some time now. Addie has a knack for saying things my heart has always wanted to scream; yet my mouth (or fingers in this case) has somehow been unable to say. To put it simply: her words have helped me see my self and my past clearer. I encourage you to check out both her book and her blog.

Prior to this, I’ve blogged exactly three times in my life. Once on a dare, again as a class assignment and now. Grace for the rough edges is appreciated.

On Fire

I suppose the term On Fire for Jesus could be used to describe the entirety of my youth. Especially my Jr. High and early High School years. I grew up in an Evangelical Christian home, went to a private Christian school, and participated in nearly every Christian youth activity under the sun. In fact, both the school and the church I grew up in were in the same building. More often than not, I literally spent every day of the week at the church.

Back then, it felt as though being On Fire wasn’t an option. Everyone was burning, and I succumbed to the peer pressure.

My weeks were filled with the overwhelming frenzy of being On Fire:

Youth group, where I learned essential skills such as how to share my testimony and “save” someone in 5 easy steps.

Ministry where I devoted my Saturday’s to driving around in a giant blue and red bus making balloon animals and playing red-­‐rover with some of the disadvantaged youth of our area.

Bible quizzing where my “holiness” was quite literally put into direct competition with others.

Christian concerts and festivals where I joined other Jesus-­‐loving youth delirious with the high of perfectly programmed corporate worship.

Purity workshops where I learned Modest is Hottest and True Love Waits. While at the same time making lists of the essential qualities my future spouse was to have, and creating mod—podged collages built from pictures cut out of bridal magazines.

My youth was marked by many “mountain top experiences” with other Christian t­‐shirt clad youth. It certainly was intoxicating.

Flickering Out

In retrospect, I am both grateful for and disenchanted by my over-zealous Evangelical Christian youth. It provided a foundation and backbone for my faith. However, like other frenzies, constantly being On Fire simply wasn’t sustainable past a certain point.

There are a few definite experiences that caused the flame of my hyper-­Christian youth to flicker. Perhaps it was just a natural byproduct of the maturing process, but during my last years of high school I started taking an honest look at some of the professing Christian’s around me.

Some of what I saw was encouraging and faith affirming.
-­‐But-­‐
Some of it was hard to stomach and devastated the Christian bubble that had encased my life thus far.

Without going into specifics, I’ll just say that several encounters I had with other Christians at this time seemed nothing but trite, judgmental, and sometimes just plain illogical:

  • Tough questions oversimplified and met by clichés such as “Jesus is Truth” and “Just trust God”.
  • Pointed accusations from fellow Christians that my life was not bearing enough fruit.
  • Older peers making drastic and devastating mistakes even though they were once on fire too.

After a while, these experiences had worn my spirit; the cracks in my Christian foundation becoming more and more pronounced as time wore on.

Why is it that in times of struggle, we too often allow the seeds of doubt to overwhelm the seeds of hope? I don’t have an answer, but this is exactly what started to happen to me. Doubt and angst settled into my life at a frightening rate.

Burn Unit

Feeling both burned and burned-­out, the period of time directly after high school was difficult for me. I was in uncharted territory. Before, faith had come easily, Christianity felt natural. Now, I struggled with hurt, confusion, and doubt.

Not knowing what else to do, I distanced myself from the so-­called Christian lifestyle. I stopped participating in the ministries I played a role in; I fled from the Beth Moore Bible Studies often forced upon me by well-­meaning women of the Church.

I took a breather. Knowingly or not, I needed to create some space, some time to look back on my Evangelical Christianity-­saturated journey thus far. I needed to separate the good from the bad and to make amends with some of the experiences and people I’d been burned by.

Though difficult, I firmly believe taking time to leave and welcome the space was one of the healthiest things I could have done. If I had kept “pressing on”, I know the aftermath would have been far more devastating. I needed to question, to doubt, and to let the anger and hurt work itself out. I needed the burns to heal.

Salve for the Burns

Like burns often do, the ones in my life have left their mark. These scars come in the form of cynicism and distrust of many of the things most Christians eagerly embrace. But more than that, they also serve as a reminder of where I’ve been, and how far I’ve come. It would be too easy for me to have never moved on from the time of hurt and anger, to wallow in the injustices I’d experienced.

While I’d love to say I was able to move forward on my own strength, it would not be the truth. If it weren’t for a few dedicated people in my life guiding me through and out of the times of struggle, I would probably still be wallowing.

If I were to wrap the moral of my experiences up with a neat little bow, I would say this: fellowship is invaluable. And by fellowship, I mean the real (and often messy) kind where you’re free to question, doubt, and feel angry if necessary. Find someone to walk through your struggles with you. You are not alone in this. There are others who have been burned too. It many seem hard to do, but keep talking and questioning until someone recognizes what you’re saying and comes alongside you, if only just to listen. Simply being heard goes a long ways towards healing. Give someone the chance to listen.

Perhaps, eventually you’ll be able to do the same for another who’s been left with the smoldering aftermath of once being On Fire.

A Thick-Skinned Grin: My Reply to Your Response

Blog comments are a lot like yard sales, everyone puts in their two pennies.

(no?)

Blog comments are like yoga classes. It’s easier when no one knows your name.

(how about…?)

Blog comments are like crack. Writers lick lips, cry, and/or squeal at the sight.

(I tried. I’d like to see you come up with a blog comment joke!)

Getting Freshly Pressed was a big deal, but that sense of accomplishment didn’t even come close to the affirmation I received from the commentators of my last post, Professional Christians (and Other Oxymorons).

In that post, I spoke of my (and many others) discomfort over the some of the Church’s spending habits. I also shared my distaste for full-time, salaried positions—taking a stance but also looking for feedback and alternate perspectives.

The post came out fine. Sometimes I can clearly articulate the feuding religious thoughts in my head, other times not so much. Truth be told, it was the response of my reader community that made the experience so rewarding; I was absolutely floored by the vibrancy and the willingness people had to speak on such a tough topic.

Hey everyone, thanks for sharing, relating, and arguing. It means a lot.

Most readers were nice and understood the idea of a friendly, academic argument. There’s always that one unnecessary, negative comment that sticks; with each post, I think, I’m growing a thicker skin.

Here’s some highlights: 

-Regarding comfortable, salaried positions, people on both sides of the argument used the Bible—and Paul—to authenticate their position.

-I heard from an Atheist, a Mormon, a Vicar, a pastor’s kid, retired/former ministers, to name a few.

-I was praised, insulted, exhorted, and challenged.

-Anna from http://cannopener.wordpress.com/ gave an interesting comment about the connection between the apostle’s reaction to the pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet and my reaction to the church’s spending problem. I’m glad she brought it up; I think I might write a post about this in the near future.

A few stand-out quotes:

“I have to say that spending time on a Sunday with a cup of coffee, my kids safe in a bright, clean nursery, in a comfy chair really is something I crave, it has filled my tanks and made me excited to go to a church.” From http://thesisterslice.com/

“Go out and build yourself a great church. Then when people start complaining at you, you’ll have some context for what you wrote here.” Brian from http://www.fromnoahtohercules.com/

“Your post is part of the reason that I am Atheist. “Give us money so we can pray for the poor!”. Umm, what? Never makes sense…” Chuck from http://crowrath.wordpress.com/

“I’m tired of the “presentation.” Tired of the “show.”…  I simply want a church that provides a place for community and truly helps believers.” http://cognicide.wordpress.com/

“I come from a family of “professional” ministers. I’ve seen first hand just how taxing a job the pastorate can be, mentally, emotionally, even physically. I can tell you, it’s worth a salary…” Ian from http://churchified.wordpress.com/

“The full-time salaried, sit at Starbucks, read books and be on social media promoting yourself,/your service/your church./your good deeds pastor is nowhere to be found in Scripture.” BL from http://brianlen.wordpress.com/

“I was already fully committed to following God and trying to make a difference in the world in my previous job, but now I’m able to give all of my time and energy to facilitating that happening at the church I lead… ” Andy from http://baldvicar.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bernadettes-Art-Photography/196062867074019

Today’s featured image is a drawing by my friend, Bernadette. Click the link to see her other great work! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bernadettes-Art-Photography/196062867074019

The conversation is still going on. What are your thoughts?

Does God Leave?

God will never leave you. Have you ever heard that? I have. All my life, it seems. You could call it the core theme of my childhood spirituality. This idea—the one of an omnipotently present God—both intrigued me and frightened me as a child. The good news (back then), was that if God were always around then I’d be bound to catch Him sooner or later.

I’d walk around and flip my neck—like some sort of weirdo—trying to catch Jesus in the corner of my eye. I’d pray and strategically leave enough room for my eyes to peek through… just incase. The freeway held great potential. It made sense to me, “Angels ride on the back of motorcycles.”

“Those aren’t angels,” my dad would say.

The Guardian

My great grandma had the guardian angel over the bridge painting in her bathroom—you’ve probably seen it somewhere along the way. Slightly crooked, her painting rested comfortably in the wall above the toilet—as permanent as God’s Word. I assumed it had always been there and always would be. Most plausibly, the painting was a gift, given by the house itself and birthed from its foundation.

To me, the painting was nothing but a stark reminder—angels watched you pee. I blame my shy bladder on this haunting print.

Then there’s that Footprints poem. (Don’t get me started).

In 200 years, I’m curious if Footprints will be canonized into scripture. Maybe we’ll be giving piggy-back rides in church on Sunday as an act of worship.

“God will never leave you. There’s guardian angels and footprints in the sand.”

An Example or Two

From youth we’re taught the doctrines of our faiths and of God, as concrete as a grandmother’s painting. Then we get older and read scripture for ourselves; sometimes, our doctrines turn to sand. Sometimes we discover our beliefs were never written in stone, but passed down through magnets on a fridge.

A couple Bible passages have recently revealed some startling news. God does, in fact, leave. Often in the most troubling of times, too! I’m not talking Bruce Almighty vacation or anything, but it would seem apparent that He leaves us, individually, from time to time.

God left Samson in Judges 16. God left Israel in 1 Samuel 4.

I don’t bring this up to unnecessarily riffle any feathers. It’s in the Bible and I believe it’s worth talking about. Hopefully you’ll want to join in on the fun.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Maybe it’s in response to sin. Sin is forgiven under Christ; sure, but there’s still consequence. Does God temporarily leave as a consequence to sin? (These may read as rhetorical, but they’re not. I’m asking you).

Maybe it’s an assumption of the Bible writer. Regardless of what you believe about scripture’s origin, it makes sense that each Biblical writer had a cultural and linguistic lens through which he or she wrote.

Maybe God is incapable of leaving his creation. This feels most comfortable to me, though I hesitate saying it. God is not a math function; there is no limit we can assign.

Maybe this was Pre-Jesus. The smart readers/bloggers out there may have a verse or two (or a personal experience) to back this theory up. I’d be interested in reading those.

Whatever the outcome may be, we most likely won’t fully know it anytime soon. Until then, I’ll continue to look for God where I can—in the corner of my eye, in every blade of grass, on the freeway, in my heart, in my friends, in my family, yes, even WordPress.

Even WordPress.

Well, what say, you?

The Christian Dilemma of Disagreement

Do you remember your first time? I do. A bet a lot of Christians do. There’s nothing like the first time, the one where you expose everything and… share a theological stance when—worst case scenario—the ear on the other side of the table disagrees with you.

Disagrees? Can Christians do that? Should Christians do that?

My First Time

I’ve gotten better, since my first time that is. I remember it well. I was in youth group, in high school, and the hot topic of teenage dating came up. I argued for it; he argued against it. I hated him. Well no, but he was the type of Christian who always seemed to think the opposite of what I was thinking. I’ve grown to cherish people like this—because, well, it seems that everyone disagrees with me these days—but back then, I couldn’t really handle it.

I remember feeling so caught off guard, I didn’t know what to do. One of us is right, I would think, which means God is against one of us—obviously, not me. 

Processing disagreement has less to do with spirituality and more to do with maturity. At some point we become adults and our emotions dwindle down a bit. We learn to listen and smile—even when we feel like calling someone Mr. Poopy Pants.

For some reason though, spiritual arguments exist on a different level. Our beliefs are very special to us. We’re allowed to have political arguments, sports arguments, American Idol arguments, but when we disagree over spiritual arguments, we take real offense.

Offense/Defense

The reason we take great offense to spiritual disagreements is because we associate God with our beliefs. If I’m wrong then God is wrong then there is no God. I would argue that this is not healthy; however, we have all done it.

I’ve had to learn this lesson many times over. I remember singing along to the mewithoutYou classic song, “Four Part Letter Pt. 2” where the singer yells, “We don’t want our beliefs, God of peace, we want you.” I would sing along and think I knew what that meant. Then I would get into an argument over salvation and walk away with my faith shaken.

If we are one body, if there is one God, if there is one truth, why are we disagreeing so much? 

Our beliefs are not God, but we associate God with our beliefs.

A Dull Stab

Since I chose (yes chose) the route of becoming a slightly left leaning, emergent apologetic Christian—I’m only labeling myself, which I hate doing, for the sake of this blog post—I’ve signed up for my fair share of disagreements. To make things worse, I also dislike the majority of whatever the church does these days. There are other things, but you get the point. I’ve signed myself up for a lot flak.

I’ve grown a pretty thick skin, and I’ve also matured a bit. At the end of the day, regarding our spirituality, we are all just taking stabs. Some use a duller knife than others, yes. But we are all just taking stabs.

There are few things the Bible maps out for us very clearly. Most topics in scripture, however, are meant for a life of meditation, reflection, conversation, and argumentation. We are not meant to have the answer to every question in our pocket, not yet at least.

Is there predestination? Are homosexuals allowed in Heaven? Is there even a Hell—in regards to how we currently think of it? Is church suppose to be how it currently is? And yes, have we made a mess of worship?

We may get the answer in Heaven; we may not care when we get there. What I’ve learned is that it’s okay to ask; it’s okay to argue; we should expect disagreement from one another. Argument proceeds understanding and develops our faith.

Listen, learn, and share what’s in your heart! Be mindful and understand that God speaks to other people as well. Also, you are allowed to be wrong. I do it all the time.

Questions to Argue

1. Have you ever had a spiritual argument that shook your faith?

2. Is there danger in equating God with beliefs (denomination, translation, political views, etc.)? Or should they be one in the same? Is that even possible?

3. If we learn to disagree—to listen and respond in grace—could the Body build a tighter bond?

Life in the Spiritual Fast Lane

Spiritual fasting. What do you think about it? Does it intrigue you? Personally, the thought of it makes me hungry, a bad sign. Fasting is definitely not my strong suit.

Recently, I read Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. The second book of Hesse’s I’ve read, and admittedly my first on Buddhism, Siddhartha follows a fictional character (paralleling the real Siddhartha Gautama) who throughout his life searches for oneness and truth.

My upbringing has taught me to read all non-Christian, even non-evangelical, religious material with a filter. This filter acts less like a screen door and more like an actual door. Closed all the time.

As I’ve aged in spirit and body, I’ve come to realize that much can be learned from other religions. We all yearn for God. If a life-long monk wanted to take me out for coffee, or better yet, donuts, then you can bet I would take his offer. I’d probably even have to pay and I would still take his offer. I love donuts. I love talking about God with donuts.

This theoretical monk has spent his life learning to fast, learning to think, learning to be less. I would love to hear his insight, wouldn’t you? Just because religious roads differ, this doesn’t mean travelers can’t bump into each other every now and then. And get donuts.

Consumerism, Buddhism, & Ism-ism

Fasting was never pushed on me. I’m not blaming anyone else for my ignorance towards it, but let’s just say that the culture I grew up in simply didn’t value it. “It’s more of an Eastern thing,” I would hear or, “Just don’t tell any one about it.”

Regardless of how I got here, I’m here now. I believe that Americans have much to gain from learning to fast.

Our eyes have been purchased by the cinema of must-have.

Our hearts foster inward desires over the outward love of Christ.

Our bodies sleep best in a commonplace of complacency.

What if consumerism was just another powerless foe? What if we could break the paradigm? I wonder about a world where Western Christians could chose others before themselves, every day, with every dollar and every minute.

In the book, the young adult Siddhartha wishes to go into business with a merchant. The merchant asks Siddhartha what he can do. Siddhartha replies, “I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

“… fasting, what good does it do?”

This is my favorite part:

It is very good, sir. If a person has nothing to eat, then fasting is the wisest thing he can do. If, for instance, Siddhartha had not learned how to fast, he would have to accept any service today, whether with you or with someone else, for hunger would force him to do so. But now Siddhartha can simply wait, he knows no impatience, he knows no plight. He can stave off hunger for a long time and he can laugh at it. That, sir, is what fasting is good for.

So what do you think, is it time Westerners start fasting? Can we still have donuts? Since I’m new to this whole thing, I hope to learn one or two things in the comments.