That’s a good question…

Perhaps the most significant life lesson I’ve learned in my young adulthood is that knowing all the answers isn’t as important as asking good questions. So every now and then I like to use Fridays to 1) link to other bloggers and writers who have asked compelling questions during the week and 2) open the floor for you to share whatever questions you’ve been wrestling with lately.

Some things that got me thinking this week:

Don Miller started quite the conversation by asking,  Does God have a specific plan for your life?

Pete Wilsons asks, Do we really need the church?

Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times asks, Is PowerPoint making the military stupid? (Which of course made me wonder if PowerPoint is making all of us stupid.)

Jason Boyett asks archeologist Robert Cargill, Have we discovered Noah’s Ark?

Josh Mueller asks, What are the motives behind my comments online?

Micah asks, What does “literally” mean? And then Dan asks, What is Micah thinking? (A fun exchange between former college roommates.)

ThatGuyKC asks, Are you a slave to cliches?

My friends Sarah CunninghamRenee Johnson, and Kary Oberbrunner (along with Jesse Rice and Shawn Wood) ask, Are you ready to throw mountains? 

So, what questions are you asking this week—on your blog, at your dinner table, in your head, in your heart?

(Feel free to link to your own blog.)

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The message from Liberty University

Liberty University describes itself as “the world’s largest Christian college” with the stated mission “to develop Christ-centered men and women with the values, knowledge, and skills essential to impact tomorrow’s world.”

But as you’ve probably heard, the administration has invited controversial talk show host Glenn Beck to deliver the commencement address for the Class of 2010 on May 15.  

In a press release, Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. described Beck as a “conservative leader” and “one of the few courageous voices in the national media standing up for the principles upon which this nation was founded.” According to Falwell, Beck’s presence at the podium will “continue Liberty’s long tradition of Commencement speakers who are making a positive impact on society in all walks of life.”

Perhaps unintentionally, the administration at Liberty sends a clear message with this move.  By choosing Beck for a duty as symbolic as delivering the commencement address, they have in effect declared that:

  1. Conservative politics trump traditional orthodoxy. (Beck is a Mormon, and his beliefs are incompatible with the school’s own doctrinal statement.)
  2. Conservative politics trump Christian unity. (Beck is the definition of a polarizing figure, and offensive to many Christians who consider themselves moderates.) 
  3. Conservative politics trump compassion and justice.  (Beck has publically denounced social justice and instructed religious people to avoid churches that prioritize caring for the poor and oppressed, a position that runs counter to Christ’s teachings concerning the Gospel-Luke 4:18.)
  4. Conservative politics trump civility and love. (Beck consistently employs hateful language, name-calling, and fear to promote his views on TV and radio.)

The message this sends to me— and to many others both inside and outside the Church— is that you go to Liberty University to receive a conservative education, not a Christian one. For what is Christianity if not a commitment to orthodoxy, unity, the Gospel, and love? 

Graduation 2010 confirms once and for all what many of us have suspected for years. Liberty University is characterized not by Christian fundamentalism but by political fundamentalism. For Republicanism is clearly the university's highest and most sacred value.  

What do you think of Liberty’s decision to invite Beck as commencement speaker? What message does it send?  How should students/alums/supporters respond?  

Note: I know that for those of us who long for a day when a new generation of Christ-followers rise up together to pledge allegiance to the Kingdom of God over any kingdoms of this world, a move like this is frustrating. But please respond with the aforementioned civility and love or I shall delete your comment for blatant hypocrisy. :-)

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Doubting Together: A Review of “O Me of Little Faith”

When Jason Boyett and I realized we had both written memoir-style books about our experiences with doubt to be published byZondervan in the spring/summer of 2010, we decided to team up rather than compete—an arrangement that has probably worked more in my favor than his, seeing as Jason’s already published a shelf-full of books and has earned a reputation for being one of the industry’s most thoughtful and humorous voices.

We interviewed each other (here and here), struck up an email correspondence, and finally met in person at the Festival of Faith and Writing Grand Rapids a couple of weeks ago. Though our alligator- wrestling/circus-themed book tour never materialized (I’m sure it was just a liability issue), we’ve stayed in touch and Jason has been incredibly encouraging and supportive throughout the publishing process.

When I received my review copy of O Me of Little Faith, I must confess I was a little nervous. What if we essential wrote the same book? I wondered. And what if—God forbid— his is better than mine?

But what I experienced as I read O Me of Little Faith can only be described as the relief and joy that comes with knowing you are not alone. In fact, the first thing I said to Dan after finishing the last page was, “I really wish I had encountered a book like this back when I first started to doubt.”

What’s great about O Me of Little Faith is that it addresses doubt in a way that is funny, thoughtful, and disarmingly candid. Like a good traveling companion, Jason offers fellow skeptics the kind of wisdom and insight that comes from firsthand experiences and writes in a way that is both instructive and lighthearted.

Highlights for me included Chapter 2 (“Turtles All the Way Down”), in which Jason manages to use a strange blend of Stephen Hawking and Dr. Suess to engage readers in a really helpful dissection of presuppositional apologetics, Chapter 4 ( “The Weight of Absence”), which beautifully illustrates the fear and emptiness that comes from not feeling God’s presence as often or as keenly as other people seem to, and Chapter 5 (“Reverse Bricklaying”), which describes Jason’s struggles with prayer and the comfort he finds in traditional liturgy.

Jason is known for his witty one-liners, and O Me of Little Faith is full of those (one of my favorite— “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who have read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, and those who want you to think they have read it”) but in addition to these, readers will bump into some pretty profound one-liners too. Some that stuck with me:

  • “…Faith isn’t the absence of doubt. It’s believing and acting alongside your doubts.”
  • “I need grace now because I’m a bastard. But God loves me anyway, and my faith is balanced between his grace on one side and my doubt on the other. I’m learning to live in the tension between those two poles.” 
  • [Faith is] believing that God will arrive, even if you can barely hear his song right now. Faith is not what you have when God is parked in front of your house… Is faith simply what remains when God is absent? 
  • “Hiding our doubt pulls us further from God and denies us the blessing of real community.”

It’s that last one that reminded me of why books like O Me of Little Faith are so important and why wanting a monopoly on the subject would be terribly selfish. Doubt is most painful and most dangerous when it is experienced in solitude, when we hide it behind religious masks or beneath cynical scowls. It is most productive and most redemptive when we wrestle with it together, in community—listening to one another, learning from one another, and loving one another through both the good and bad days.

As it turns out, Jason and I didn’t write the same book. Our stories are different. The issues that trigger our doubts are different.  Our responses are different. But like a lot of Christians, we both doubt. And like a lot of Christians, we’re ready to talk about it.

And that’s so much easier to do when you know you’re not alone.

So, what do you think about Christians writing openly about their doubts? How might such books be helpful to certain readers? Is there anything we should be wary of? Anything that should encourage us?

[And if you’ve read Jason’s book, feel free to link to your review or share your thoughts.]

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Some fun questions for YOU

So far this week we’ve talked about change and we’ve talked about fear.

Now it’s time to lighten up.

So…

1.    What was the last song you listened to?

2.    What was the last movie you saw?

3.    What was the last thing that made you laugh?

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Theology and Fear

I've been thinking a lot about fear recently.

It started last week at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, when bestselling author Mary Karr asked an audience of writers, “What would you write if you had no fear?”

I knew instantly that such a question had the power to transform and enliven my writing, that it would undoubtedly end up on a hot-pink sticky note above my desk, and that its implications extended far beyond the printed page.  For the next logical question is of course, “How would you live if you had no fear?”

Frankly, my initial reaction to both of these questions frightened me a little, for it involved asking harder questions about faith, confronting deeper insecurities within myself, and creeping farther down the dark rabbit holes of doubt that lie in wait in all the scary corners of my mind…which made me wonder, “Is hope really the thing that keeps me from disbelief? Or is it fear?”

Then, when I got home, Dan and I watched the movie “The Invention of Lying,” an okay film based off of a brilliant concept—mankind has yet to evolve the capacity to lie until one man (Ricky Gervais) tells the first. If you’ve seen it, you know that the movie touches on the human fear of death and implies that God, heaven, and hell are lies created to ease these fears. It’s not exactly a nuanced point (hopefully Gervais will eventually learn to direct without a 2x4), but it struck a chord because I often wonder if I would still be a Christian were it not for my fear of death.

And finally, today I came across an intriguing post by Donald Miller (who has been on quite the blogging streak recently), in which he asks if our personalities influence our theology. He uses Calvinism as an example, noting, “Have you ever noticed Calvinists think in black and white? And I’m not just talking about their theology, I mean they think in black and white about everything.” He goes on to suggest that perhaps our ideas about God correspond to our various positions on the Enneagram. [*See my first comment for my response to Miller's generalized statement about Calvinists.]

I’m glad Miller wrote on the subject because I’ve always noticed a tendency for certain personalities (including my own) to correspond with certain theological positions, particularly when it comes to the Calvinism/Arminianism debate. But as I worked on my comment after Miller’s post, I got to thinking about the role that fear plays in our respective positions on this particular issue. As I said in the comment, “I can’t help but wonder if the Calvinist’s deepest fear is things not being in control, while the Arminian’s deepest fear is being controlled. One is afraid of chaos, the other afraid of imprisonment.”

We’d all like to think that we live and work and pray from a center that is full of bravery and hope—(and when I think of the times when I have really stepped out in faith to follow Jesus, I think that perhaps we can indeed summon these virtues from time to time)—but I wonder if to deny the role that fear plays in our art, our faith, and our theology is to deny one of those dark but universal things that, deep down, we all have in common.

What about you? What are you most afraid of? How does fear play a role in your lifestyle, your faith, or your theology?

And have you ever thought about how you would live if you had no fear?

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