Last November, I was invited (and excited) to join Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne on their TV show in Nashville to discuss the topic of ‘The Role of the Church in the Broader Culture.’ The idea for the topic stemmed from my popular (and first) post on Campolo’s Red Letter Christians site titled ‘It is Time For the American Christian Church to Surrender the Gay Marriage Fight, Apologize, and Share Love.’
The producers asked me to record a brief introduction to the topic which you can watch by clicking through. As for the half hour conversation between Campolo, Claiborne, and yours truly, it will air in late January on TBN and its affiliates across the country.
The cross at Ground Zero. Photo credit: 2002 Ernie Bello/flickr. Use does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
I grew up in an Evangelical Christian home where conservative media was considered part of a healthy diet and fear was a key ingredient. I was raised to believe that the walls were coming down on this planet, and that Christians were target number one. The implication was that it was best to stay close to the people and beliefs I knew, to hold tight, and pray hard. Plug into conservative media today and you will see that little has changed when it comes to employing fear. Consumers are greeted with a barrage of alerts and other perceived attacks on Christianity. The internet piles on, with end-times newsletters forecasting yet another development on the path to Armageddon and scary emails warning of the latest threat to religious freedom. Not only are most of these reports fictitious, but corrosive to faith in Christ.
Photo credit: 2007 Marc Nozell/flickr. Use does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
In my experience, conservatives are the ones who insist there should be no separation of church and state. While on the campaign trail, Rick Santorum told America that the idea of such a separation makes him want to vomit. So I guess he’s against it. Conservatives respond to the culture war by asserting that we’re a Christian nation with the can’t-miss implication that our government (when not highjacked by liberals) is godly, founded by Christian men, with laws and freedoms based on Judeo-Christian principle. I know these positions well, having grown up in conservative circles.
But when it comes time for the government to act in ways congruent with Christianity, like feeding the hungry (food stamps) or caring for the sick (health care), conservatives grimace, play the small government and personal responsibility card, and argue that we can’t have government in the role of the church. So which is it?
Photo credit: 2008 fa73/flickr. Usage does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
It can almost feel like there’s nothing left to say about the cross and resurrection of Christ, but that in itself is saying something. In being so captivated, humankind has pondered this story, exploring the events with great detail for 2,000 years. Even those who deny the resurrection happened or doubt it mattered are interested and often invested in the debate. The power of the cross does not rely on the pageantry of an Easter service (or a blog post). I wonder if this points to our universal need to be truly known, rescued, loved, changed, and accepted. We all long to discover the deepest meaning, and try to capture that elusive sense of completion.
Donald Miller (left) and Steve Taylor. Photo credit: 2012 Ian Ebright | The Broken Telegraph
I get a call from Donald Miller’s tour manager Jim Chaffee as I’m turning into the parking lot at the Southcenter Mall, a complex located about 10 minutes south of Seattle if you take the interstate, hence the name Southcenter. The theater won’t let us in ahead of the screening so we’ll have to do the interview somewhere else. Chaffee thinks Starbucks, maybe. “I’ll go get Don, he’s in the car,” Chaffee says as I close my outdated flip phone. Why is Miller, a New York Times Bestselling author on tour to begin with, and at a theater of all places?
His second book ‘Blue Like Jazz,’ a collection of essays on faith and doubt published in 2003, went on to sell over a million copies, propelling the author into the national spotlight. Miller’s ‘A Million Miles in a Thousand Years’ arrived in 2009 and documented the unlikely journey of adapting ‘Jazz’ into a film, with musician-turned-director Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson pursuing the author to write the screenplay as a threesome. As for ‘Blue Like Jazz,’ it’s one of those works so often mentioned by young evangelicals as the spark that re-ignited their faith after years of dismay and an upbringing in religious fundamentalism. Miller and Taylor have been on a tour bus for weeks, taking the film around the country to screen ‘Blue Like Jazz’ before it opens April 13, and tonight their stop is Seattle.
Photo credit: 2007 Matthew Venn/flickr. Usage does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
If you are anything like me you grew up with a Christianity that involved a strict set of rules. The Bible, starring as the rule book, never seemed at the time to be much more than a list of legalities one had to follow to be apart of the Christian club. One area that I found particularly terrifying was the possibility of ending up in hell. It seemed like there were so many ways to land down there. Without daily diligence it could almost happen by surprise.
If someone asked me to describe my faith, like giving a State of the Union for the soul, I’d say “don’t call it a State of the Union for the soul because that sounds like you’re elevating the government to a god-like position,” and when the person realized that I was making a dumb joke on purpose, I’d finally answer. Sorry, I’m a little wary to get into this post when it’s all about my own religious doubts. But I’m going to share them because I have a feeling that many of these doubts are universal.
Photo credit: flickr/racineur. Usage does not represent endorsement by the photographer.
It begins at a young age. We are trained to hide our doubts. As we grow, this is reinforced by the adoption of labels- Christian, agnostic, atheist, for example. Comfort can be found on both sides of the religious fence. We’re told to keep things simple for ourselves. We’re told to not peek through the hole in the fence at our neighbor’s party, lest we catch a glimpse of his opposing views and be overcome like the incredible melting Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark. But doubts persist. Whether as the result of cruelty that crashes into life changing everything in unwelcome ways, questions and desires unanswered, the wear and tear of painful relationships, or consequences from personal mistakes, we doubt ourselves, we doubt God, or spend years trying to figure out who is to blame; questions that float on the rising tide of resentment. While religious doubt varies by the individual, it is a transformative and often grueling process that cannot be solved with a formula, but all is not lost. There is a way through it; a path that can even be nourishing.
As Christians we started with the fish. Something simple. Something intended to let people know that we were, indeed, Christians. No words were necessary, it was as simple as carrying a Bible around. We just wanted people to know.
Then it grew. The popularity of catchy bumper stickers became extreme.
“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” -Max Lucade