Barbara Kingsolver and Church Misfits

So right now I owe about fifteen people articles or interviews, but instead I’ve gotten myself lost in Barbara Kingsolver’s excellent new novel, Flight Behavior, which in Chapter 3 includes an absolutely fantastic church scene that you really must read for yourself.

Kingsolver often writes about church, but in a way that suggests she might have been something of a misfit in that context. A church misfit myself, I soak these stories in every time. Two excerpts in particular capture some of the tension I’ve felt through the years. 

The first is from her 1998 novel, The Poisonwood Bible. When I first read these words from the character Adah Price, I drew in breath. They so perfectly captured my own discomfort with my church’s teachings about hell:

According to my Baptist Sunday-school teacher, a child is denied entrance to heaven merely for being born in the Congo rather than, say, north Georgia, where she could attend church regularly. This was the sticking point in my own little lame march to salvation: admission to heaven is gained by luck of the draw.
At age five I raised my good left hand in Sunday school and used a month’s ration of words to point out this problem to Miss Betty Nagy. Getting born within earshot of a preacher, I reasoned, is entirely up to chance. Would Our Lord be such a hit-or-miss kind of Savior as that? Would he really condemn some children to eternal suffering just for the accident of a heathen birth?…Miss Betty sent me to the corner for the rest of the hour to pray for my own soul while kneeling on grains of uncooked rice. When I finally got up with sharp grains imbedded in my knees I found, to my surprise, that I no longer believed in God.

And then this excerpt is from Flight Behavior, describing the main character, Dellarobia:

For a year she’d gone with Cub to Wednesday Bible group and loved the sense of being back in school, but her many questions did not make her the teacher’s pet. Right out of the gate, in Genesis, she identified two completely different versions of how it all got started. The verses could be a listen-and-feel kind of thing, like music, she’d suggested, not like the instruction booklet that comes with a darn appliance. A standpoint that won no favors with the permanent discussion leader, Blanchie Bise, cheerleader for taking the Word on faith. For crap’s sake, the first rule of believable was to get your story straight.

The church scene is not entirely negative if you keep reading, and is in fact quite inspiring. Kingsolver never sets out to slam the Church; just to put into print the words that are secretly running through a lot of people’s heads.

My first awkward Sunday School moment happened in first or second grade when I raised my hand and asked why, in Noah’s flood, God would drown all of those innocent animals when it was the humans who were being disobedient. The teacher pointed out that God spared two of each kind, but that hardly seemed fair to me.  What made those two camels more worth saving than the rest of them?  (Apparently, my aversion to salvific election goes back a few years.) It didn’t occur to me until junior high or high school that the flood would have also drowned thousands of children….which didn’t seem particularly pro-life on God’s part.

What about you? Did you ever ask the “wrong” question in Sunday School? Do you still ask those questions?

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5 Things You Don’t Have to Leave Behind When You Leave Fundamentalism

…although sometimes you have to rediscover them: 

1.  Love for the Bible

Fundamentalists often treat the Bible as a set of propositional statements designed to conform to modern, enlightenment-influenced expectations. It is flattened out and simplified, used as a weapon against other people and a prop for pet political and theological positions.  And so I see a lot of people leaving their Bibles behind on the bookshelf when they leave fundamentalism. This is understandable, but heartbreaking and unnecessary.

Leaving fundamentalism means learning to accept the Bible on its own terms, loving it for what it is, not what we want it to be.  It has been such a joy to rediscover the Bible in a way that respects the cultures and contexts in which it was written and assembled. For example, the creation account of Genesis 1 is arguably more meaningful and more profound when we understand it, not as a modern science text, but as an ancient Near Eastern temple text that honors Elohim as ruler over creation.  Similarly, it will not do to simply shrug off as irrelevant those sections of the epistles that seem to relegate women to certain roles. Instead, we have to get a better sense of their context and purpose, which in my experience has revealed them to be radically progressive and Christ-centered, meaning quite the opposite of what they are often said to mean. Of course, there are still those text that trouble me profoundly—the genocidal conquests of Canaan, for example—but I’ve come to believe that wrestling with the Bible is better than ignoring it. To those willing to keep digging, the Bible will not disappoint.

2.  Church

This one has been a real struggle for me, and I know it’s a struggle for others as well. One of the hardest things for a recovering fundamentalist to find is a community of faith where they feel safe yet challenged, included yet taught. I don't know about you, but sometimes it seems like cynicism follows me through every church door, nipping at my heels like a pesky dog as I find my place in the pews. If you’re like me, you’re a little bit scared, a little bit picky, a little bit tired. You’re rolling your eyes about the American flag in the corner, or the special music, or the building fund, or the lack of diversity. Sometimes it’s just easier to stay in bed. (Okay, often it’s just easier to stay in bed.) But we have to be careful of applying the same fundamentalist attitude we’re trying to leave behind to our thoughts and reactions to church. It’s not about finding the perfect community; it’s about helping to build the right community. …Now if someone could tell me exactly how to do that, I’d love to know.

3.   Discipline

There’s legalism, and then there’s discipline. One is practiced out of guilt and fear; the other out of love. One sucks all the grace out of faith; the other nurtures grace and helps it grow. I know a lot of people who, after leaving a more legalistic church environment, go through a period of detox in which they avoid any sort of spiritual discipline—prayer, fasting, tithing, etc.— altogether, as these things had always been used as measures by which Christians judged one another. This detox period is understandable and perhaps even necessary. But it can be helpful to reintroduce these disciplines into your life when you’re ready, when they can be practiced out of love and commitment to Christ rather than guilt.

4.  Friendships

It can be tricky navigating relationships with old friends after you’ve left fundamentalism. Some will inevitably be changed; others will be lost. Often, in an effort to get a new start, folks will cut off all their connections to a certain faith community. In some extreme cases, this may actually be the only healthy thing to do. But most of the time, it’s worth putting in the extra effort to maintain relationships with friends and family with whom you disagree. This may mean some uncomfortable moments over coffee or at the dinner table, but as much as it depends on you, look to Christ as your example and try to live peaceably with the people around you, even when they start yelling about Barack Obama being the anti-Christ. (Check out our series on changing faith and changing relationships.)

5.  Holiness

This is a scary word because it can be easily manipulated and lorded over people to require submission and conformity. But I’ve known many people to leave fundamentalism only to make a string of bad choices that alienate them from God, themselves, and other people. Folks who had once been forbidden from drinking any alcohol at all find themselves getting drunk every weekend. Those who had once been forced to find their identity in their virginity end up swinging the opposite direction by growing reckless with their sexuality. Those who had once been made to feel guilty for each purchase end up succumbing to materialism. Perhaps the hardest part of being released from prison is knowing what to do with your freedom. But leaving fundamentalism doesn’t mean leaving behind your self-respect or your commitment to imitating Christ. It means pursuing holiness out of love, not fear or guilt. 

One person who is great at all of these things is Justin Lee, who blogs at Crumbs from the Communion Table and recently released a book entitled Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians DebateHaving been subjected to some of the worst that fundamentalism has to offer, Justin has managed to emerge from his negative experiences in the Church as a man of wisdom, grace, and love. So be sure to check him out. 

So what would you add to this list? What have you struggled with leaving behind as your faith has changed and evolved?

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Gifts That Give Back, 2012!

It’s cyber-Monday! As has become tradition here, I’ve included some ideas below for gifts that give back. This year I focused on people and organizations that are close to my heart….so there aren’t as many, but I can vouch for each.

Coffee

Our dear friends Quentin and Jessica McCuiston are hoping to adopt a little girl from South Africa, but international adoption is expensive. They still need to raise close to $20,000 dollars before Christmas in order to bring this particular little girl home with them. I know without a doubt these two will be amazing parents. They are creative, fun, courageous, wise, committed to their faith, and they make a great team together. I’ve known them since high school and could not be more proud to call them friends.

gifts-q&j.jpg

One way you can help out is by purchasing fair trade coffee from Just Love. This stuff is tasty, let me tell you!  Best of all, for every bag of coffee you order, $5 goes to Quentin and Jessica’s adoption fund.

I recommend the fair trade Sumatra and the fair trade Ethiopian Sidamo: Oromia

gifts-coffee-Sidamo.jpg

Or, you can always just make a tax-deductible donation to Quentin and Jessica’s adoption fund via Lifesong. Quentin and Jessica’s home church, Apostles NYC, has paired with Lifesong and has graciously given a matching grant of $5,000, so your donation will go a long way! Be sure to specify preference McCuiston #3252 adoption in the form provided. 

Accessories

If you’ve spent much time on the blog, you know I’m a big fan of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit that provides supplemental income and marketable skills for Burmese refugee artisans living in Austin, Texas. Not only do I love their products—(I own three necklaces that always get compliments)—I love their community. As you may remember, we partnered with HCHT for our Women of Valor essay contest. One of my favorite contributions to that series was the story of Ra Noe, a HCHT artisan and true woman of valor.  

For gifts, I recommend one of the kachin necklaces made by Christine, or the woven eternity scarf made by Ra Noe.

gifts-scarf.jpg

Prints

If you’ve been considering purchasing an Old & New print since you saw the project featured on the blog a few months ago, today would be a great day to do it. Old & New donates proceeds from print sales to Blood: Water Mission, a fantastic charity. For Cyber Monday, they’re hoping to raise $300 in print sales. As a special offer, they’ve reduced the prices in their Soceity6 shop today. With each print sale, they’ll make $2 for Blood:Water Mission, which means if they sell 150 prints, they’ll reach their goal of $1,000 donated this year—a mark that will provide a rain-water catchment tank in Lwala, Kenya.  These are gorgeous prints. You my recognize a few that have been featured on the blog:

Design by Brian Danaher for the Old & New Project

Design by Brian Danaher for the Old & New Project

Design by Lindsey Mccormack for the Old & New project, used with permission.
Design by Lindsey Mccormack for the Old & New project, used with permission.

Chocolate

Don’t forget to buy fair trade for you stocking stuffers!

My #1 favorite:  
Divine 70% Dark Chocolate with Raspberries

My #2 favorite: 
Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds

My #3 favorite: 
Green & Black’s Organic Dark Chocolate Espresso

Bath & Body

Founded in 1997 by Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest on Vanderbilt's campus, Magdalene is a residential program for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets. Thistle Farms is the organization’s social enterprise. The women of valor enrolled in the program create natural body care products and candles.

I recommend the travel survival kit.

General

Pure Charity & The Legacy Project: So this is pretty cool. With Pure Charity, your everyday purchases at stores like Target, Best Buy, and Walmart can earn you money back in a personal giving fund.  All it will cost you is a few minutes of time to sign up with Pure Charity. You can still shop sales and promotional prices, and the rewards will add up with no cost to you. And once you’ve racked up a little money in your fund, you can in turn donate the money to a cause on Pure Charity. I suggest supporting the Legacy Project from Help One Now. Some of our favorite bloggers—Sarah Bessey, Kristen Howerton, Mary DeMuth, and Jen Hatmaker—are building a school in Haiti, an I don’t know about you, but I dig the idea of a portion of my wrapping paper purchases going toward this goal! 

Ten Thousand Villages: one of the world’s largest fair trade organizations and a founding member of  the World Fair Trade Organization, Ten Thousand Village has been around for a long time and has just about the best variety you’ll find online. (They also have plenty of brick-and-mortar stores across the country.) You can always count on beautiful, quality products from Ten Thousand Villages.  They’ve got some pretty serious Cyber Monday deals going on today.

http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/golden-star-ornament

http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/golden-star-ornament

Goats and Stuff (for others, not you)

From World Vision: Ducks ($18), chickens ($25), or a goat ($75). In Bolivia, I saw firsthand just how effective World Vision’s agricultural fund can be. The gift of livestock helps families lift themselves out of poverty in a way that is sustainable and dignifying. Last Christmas, we gave chickens in honor of extended family members who live far away, and each of them received a personalized Christmas card letting them know that a chicken had been given in their name. It was a hit, and so much better than sending bulky packages or gift cards they may or may not use. You can check out their gift catalog here

gifts-pig.jpeg

From Samaritan’s Purse - an organization that is swift in responding to disaster relief and does amazing things to help refugees around the world. You can check out their gift catalog here

From CWJC - Christian Women's Job Corp: This is another organization my sister has worked for (yeah, she's that kind of woman), and I know from firsthand experience it does amazing work. Right now, during the CWJC's "Be a Light" campaign, you can choose a "star" that will help empower a family in middle Tennessee break the cycle of poverty. $25 will provide free childcare for a child of a mom or dad enrolled in computer classes. $50 will provide a job coach to an unemployed job seeker. $125 will pay a single mom’s GED testing fee. $250 will enroll internationally-born residents in Conversational English Classes. $500 will provide food, rent assistance, and bus passes for an unemployed woman as she searches for jobs. $1,000 will enroll a GED graduate in a college/job training program. Learn more here. 

Christmas Cards

I love Unicef’s Christmas cards because they have so many bright and colorful ones to choose from. I buy them almost every year. But you can find a nice list of charities that make Christmas cards—from Autism Speaks to The Humane Society to The Make a Wish Foundation—here.

***

I’ve got my own little Cyber Monday deal today. Leave a comment in the comment section with your own suggestions for gifts that give back and you will automatically be entered to win a signed copy of A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Contest runs through 12 a.m., November 27.

So, what gift ideas do you want to share?

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Sunday Superlatives 11/25/12

'Vintage Thanksgiving Greeting Card, c.1870' photo (c) 2011, Playing Futures:  Applied Nomadology - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Around the blogosphere...

Funniest Caption: 
Catalog Living with “Lighting a Fire Under You” 

Best Thanksgiving Series: 
Kristen Howerton reports from her family’s trip to Peru—the funny, the inspiring, and the scary

Best Imagery (nominated by Kelley Nikondeha
Amy Lepine Peterson with “Speaking Faith as a Second Language” 

“At some point, despite feeling like all my neural pathways for language were overgrown with weeds, I began to appreciate what happened when our communication was reduced to the lowest common denominator. Beauty existed in that simplicity. We agreed on the most basic things, and didn’t have to push beyond them. When words failed us, we took action. When my electric motorbike ran out of battery power on a lonely stretch of ricefield, I found a pregnant woman, my age, alone in her small house. She plugged in my bike and macheted through a coconut for me, pouring out the sweet milk of hospitality for the stranger… It was in Vietnam, when my English was slipping away in my first year of teaching, that my faith language began to be renewed. Out of the Bible Belt for the first time in my life, I met people who had literally never heard the story of Noah and the ark, or Esther and Mordecai, or Mary and Joseph. I was shocked. The words were all new to them, and that made them become brand new to me…”

Best Response:
N.T. Wright with “Women Bishops: It’s about the Bible, not fake ideas of progress

“All Christian ministry begins with the announcement that Jesus has been raised from the dead. And Jesus entrusted that task, first of all, not to Peter, James, or John, but to Mary Magdalene. Part of the point of the new creation launched at Easter was the transformation of roles and vocations: from Jews-only to worldwide, from monoglot to multilingual (think of Pentecost), and from male-only leadership to male and female together. Within a few decades, Paul was sending greetings to friends including an “apostle” called Junia (Romans xvi, 7). He entrusted that letter to a “deacon” called Phoebe whose work was taking her to Rome. The letter-bearer would normally be the one to read it out to the recipients and explain its contents. The first expositor of Paul’s greatest letter was an ordained travelling businesswoman."

Best Reflection: 
Winn Collier with “Like Thunder Follows Lightening” 

“‘Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth,’ say Barth. ‘Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.’” 

Best Discussion: 
RJS at Jesus Creed with “Job is innocent and he proves faithful”

“Longman has a serious discussion of the theological implications of the innocence of Job. As Christians we need to take the entire Bible into account. The story of Job does not negate the words of Paul in Romans, or render the atoning work of Christ unnecessary. But it should, perhaps, challenge some of our assumptions and presuppositions as we try to understand the nature of God’s relationship with his creation.”

Best Point: 
Kristen Rosser with “‘Men must be spiritual leaders’ – Real Life Consequences

“A few minutes later, I asked her why. “He’s just not a spiritual leader,” she answered. After we parted ways, Shawn turned to me and said, “I can’t help wondering how many otherwise beautiful relationships have ended due to misconceptions about spiritual leadership.” 

Most Informative: 
Neil Godfrey with “Why New Testament Scholars Should Read Ancient Novels” 

“So Hock’s concluding message is that ancient novels are indispensable reading for New Testament scholars…Hock asserts that ancient novels are, ‘in a word, indispensable — for corroborating and clarifying any number of details in the New Testament and for gaining new insights into the central interests and claims of the New Testament, whether Christological or moral.” 

Most Instructive: 
Brian LePort with “Educating the local Church” 
From “Avoiding Quick and Easy Apologetics” - 

“The flip side of this coin is the danger of what I call “quick-and-easy apologetics”. I am fine with apologetics. Apologists have strengthened my faith in many areas over the years, even when I come to disagree with a wide variety of their arguments. I don’t know how useful apologetics function as a means of converting people, but I have found that writers ranging from C.S. Lewis to Michael Licona have caused me to think afresh about my beliefs in ways that encouraged me to be a “thinking Christian”. But “quick-and-easy apologetics” can be the dangerous side of apologetical works. Sometimes apologists are desperate to provide an “answer” and often the answer is overly simplistic, or even worse, wrong in such a way that it is obvious that the apologist wanted to provide an answer more than the apologist wanted to provide a careful, thoughtful response.”

Wisest: 
D.L. Mayfield with “Mutuality

“so we are learning here about mutuality. how it is the slowest of slow-cooked meals (starting with planting seeds and all). it drives me batty, to be honest. i would love to march down these graffiti streets like a 60-year old nun, head held high, doing the work of the Lord. heavens, i would like to use the degree i paid thousands of dollars for, to teach people how to read and write and help make life more bearable here. i would love to see a need and pounce on it, fix it, serve somebody. because this has always been who i am. please, please don’t ask me to give it up. but i have been asked, and my fingers have been uncurling slowly. just being a neighbor is one of the hardest, most boring things in the world.”

Truest: 
Addie Zierman with “When it’s like baptism” 

“And who knows if it’s faith or writing or both, but you edit like mad, and you submerge yourself in the dark mystery of it. You relive it and rehash it and turn it in 15,000 words shorter, and it’s all a kind of baptism. You come out a little clean, a little healed, a little bit more whole.”

[A big congrats to Addie! I cannot wait to read this book.]

On my nightstand...

Flight Behavior: A Novel
By Barbara Kingsolver

On the blog…

Most Popular Post: 
The Real Evangelical Disaster

“This, I believe, is the real evangelical disaster—not that Barack Obama is president and Mitt Romney is not, but that evangelicalism has gotten so enmeshed with politics, its success or failure can be gauged by an election.”

Most Popular Comment: 
In response to “The Real Evangelical Disaster,” Chris Routley wrote: 

It's so interesting that Mohler speaks about "the cause of Christ" being at risk by people not voting the way he wants. I've lost count of the number of conversations I've had over the past few months where I've expressed my concerns at how the merging of right-wing conservative politics and evangelical Christianity that he endorses has in itself hurt the cause of Christ more than anything else in recent history. 
Having "good Christians" in office hasn't brought a single soul to Christ. Passing laws to make "unChristian" things illegal hasn't saved anyone. Supporting Chik-fil-A didn't demonstrate to a single person that they are loved by God and welcome in our churches to learn more about this God who loves so extravagantly.
What those things HAVE done is turn people away from God, and from wanting anything to do with the people who deem to speak on His behalf.
Want to help the "cause of Christ," Mr Mohler? Stop worrying about politics and start worrying about loving the people who need to know Him.

So, what caught your eye online this week? What’s happening on your blog? 

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Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are constantly negative or a general ass, troll, or hater, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us.