A Melancholy Lament –OR– Things I Lost While Listening to Contemporary Christian Music

“Wish You Were Here” – Pink Floyd

So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell, blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found?
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.

Today on the way to my son’s basketball practice a song from 1997 came on that I didn’t know I loved until at least 2003.I hadn’t really heard it until then. It was How’s It Gonna Be by Third Eye Blind.  And so it began. The rest of the drive was spent mourning the loss of the music, the people, and the parts of myself that I couldn’t reconcile with my conditioning.

I lamented the beauty and the pain, the melancholy and the truth that I had been conditioned to discount in “secular” music during the season of my life where my personal soundtrack was made up of CCM (for the uninitiated that stands for contemporary Christian music). Little did I know I had been bamboozled (mostly by other well-meaning bamboozlees) into exchanging a sanitized and tamed version of life for what I was told was a life apart from God and truth. In reality, what I was exchanging was a small and bland life for the technicolor version. (Not unlike exchanging the Chris Tomlin version of Where the Streets have no name for the U2 original).

It is funny, but we were talking at Novitas this week about asking the hard questions. The questions we were taught not to ask. The questions we were told were a slippery slope. And guess what? They were.

FLASHBACK: When I was in high school there was little I allowed to stop me from loving my friends. It did not matter if we shared the same faith tradition or the same family structure. I loved them and they loved me. Interestingly enough, the more I immersed myself in evangelicalism and the gospel of less of me more of you. (a “gospel” I could never quite stomach in the secret places of my soul)  the less inclusive, less loving and more judgmental I became. Funny, that I have now come full circle and have reconciled the cognitive dissonance I used to experience when I believed the Bible contained ALL the answers to EVERY situation and was without error. I still believe the Scriptures contain the answer: LOVE.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. -Romans 13:8-10
We have been doing a series of discussions/debates/meanderings at Novitas called the lies we’ve been told and the truth that sets us free. In this case the lie I was told was that there was a difference; a difference between sacred and secular, a difference between the redeemed and the damned, a difference between Jesus and the least of these. The truth that sets me free? There is only sacred. There is only redeemed. We are all reflected in the face of Jesus.

So yes, today I lament my losses. I lament the rejection of the poetry of Kurt Cobain that moves me to tears. I lament the loss of the connections I had with the friends of my youth. Friends I began to see as other when they were the marrow of life in my bones all along. I lament the loss of books and poetry and music and the people I floated by in my evangelical bubble thinking that what they needed was a bubble when what I desperately needed was a pin to burst mine.

Enter the slippery slope.

How I love the slippery slope.

I am going to let you in on a little secret, “they” are right about the slippery slope! It is slippery as all get out and it is the best ride going.

When you start asking questions and refuse to be silenced by easy answers, platitudes, accusations and apologetics, one thing happens…you have MORE QUESTIONS. Can this be unsettling at first? Of course. Is it the best thing that could have happened to me at this point in life? Without a doubt.

Because of the slippery slope, I am a better follower of the one who commanded us to love one another than I ever was when I thought I had all the answers. Funny how that works. Sometimes when we let go of the thing we have clung to the hardest we find the freedom we thought we already had.

In my uncertainty I am certain of one thing. Love wins. (Nod to Rob Bell) It is THE thing. The one big idea that if embraced could change literally everything.

So yes, I lament what I have lost. And yes, I rejoice in what I have gained. Perhaps it is like the prophet Joel said, God has restored to me what the locusts (of my evangelical years) have eaten. My bubble has burst. I can hear the music. And guess what? It sounds like teen spirit.

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Beauty, Ugliness & the Meaning of Life

I began writing this post once already and the Internet ate it. For a few minutes I was quite upset as I really liked the direction the post was taking. But now that the mourning period has ended, I have decided that perhaps those words were for me and me alone, and that because of their death, the evolution of my thoughts will have new life and I will be able to communicate with greater clarity.

Just a quick note: This is not a post about Frank’s book. This is a post about Frank and Genie (This ain’t no book cult after all – see what I did there Frank?). The book is all well and good and taught me a lot, however why would you sit with your nose in a book when its author is in the room and you can speak to them face to face?


 

frankeddiedeens This weekend Kent and I had the rare privilege of mingling lives with Frank and Genie Schaeffer as they stayed with us in our home. They were in town to promote Frank’s most recent book,
Why I Am An Atheist Who Believes in God.
Frank Schaeffer (son of evangelical royalty,
New York Times best seller and erstwhile architect an purveyor of the Christian Coalition and the Moral majority) and his lovely wife are among the most gracious, generous, unassuming and fun house guests we have ever had the pleasure of hosting.

 

This post is my attempt to allow you a glimpselilacs into the joy of this weekend in the same way that Frank’s painting of lilacs can transport me to my childhood backyard and the smell of spring. While it is a mere attempt to mimic the beauty, no painting can be spring and nothing I write can take the place of having been here.

 

 

f&gFrank almost always travels without Genie, as most groups do not choose to spend the money required to purchase the extra plane ticket or they somehow do not find value in having the spouse of the speaker at their event, I do not pretend to know their reasons. However, I can tell you that Genie Schaeffer is an endlessly interesting person and if you have read any of Frank’s memoirs like Crazy for God, you already know that. Genie is a pure delight and I feel very confident that Frank would agree that she is his “secret sauce”. By that I mean that without knowing Genie, you will never truly know Frank. Without her, he is an incomplete picture, as am I, without Kent. She is his muse, his greatest love and his anchor in a stormy sea. She is, as he says, the only person who truly understands him and knows with a knowing that only comes with experience what complexities of life have made him the man I now know.

 

As I mentioned before, Frank was in town to promote his book, and though we only brought together a whopping 30 people at most, Frank spoke to us with all the passion of a person who was in town (as Frank was in a former life) via a flight on Jerry Falwell’s private jet to be introduced as the keynote speaker at the Southern Baptist Convention by Tom Landry and Roger Staubach. And although Frank Schaeffer has held court with many, many famous and “important” people, he was most at home on the floor of the bar where we meet, building a castle of blocks with a 6 year old little girl. Why? Because, as he says, that is what is real and important. And believe me, Anika knew she was important to Frank. You could feel it.

 

IMG_8752My children who are 12 and 13 also knew that they were important to Frank and Genie. Do you know why? They took the time to see them­–to focus on them. They were never an afterthought to be ignored or talked down to. That is why my daughter’s lock screen now glows with the inspiration of the picture she took with Frank. When he heard she wanted to be an actress, they spent time one on one discussing Shakespeare. Frank challenged her and connected with her over her dreams. He recommended readings and movies and agreed to Skype with her to talk more about it after she read or watched. Frequently during the weekend when I would be looking for my son, I would finally find him sitting and talking with Frank and Genie in the backyard or showing Frank funny YouTube videos and Frank calling Genie over to watch too. “You have to come and see” he would IMG_8751say. One morning I even found Frank in the driveway feeding Caedmon the basketball so he could practice his shooting. When Frank or Genie were with them, they were the only thing that mattered. It was pure magic.

As for me, this weekend was transformative. We drank wine, we broke bread and though we did not call it communion, that is what it was. We talked about beauty. We talked about art. We shared music. We spoke honest words and we shared empathy. This weekend helped me along in my evolution. After all, life is about becoming not simply having the “right ideas”.

One thing Frank did say while he was here is that he tries to look at every situation and ask “Is it beautiful or is it ugly?” Does believing it help me behave in ways that are beautiful or ugly? Does saying it, or doing it make the world a more beautiful or a more ugly place? I will tell you this, Frank and Genie Schaeffer came to visit and they made our world more beautiful.

 

 

Painting the Stars Review, Part 1: “We are moving!”

pierre-teilhard-de-chardin-firePierre Teilhard de Chardin (May 1, 1881 – April 10, 1955) was a French philosopher and Jesuit priest who was also a trained paleontologist and geologist.

He was the first truly evolutionary theologian. He publicly sought to reunite science and religion. What has become embraced by many was first lauded by this man, and like most geniuses, he was not understood and was even ridiculed at the time. I have just learned of him today and I am utterly mesmerized. Consider this:

The conflict dates from the day when one man, flying in the face of appearance, perceived that the forces of nature are no more unalterably fixed in their orbits than the stars themselves. But that their serene arrangements around us depicts the flow of a tremendous tide. The day in which the first voice rang out, crying to mankind peacefully slumbering on the raft of earth, “We are moving! We are going forward.” It is a pleasant and dramatic spectacle, that of mankind divided to its very depths into two irrevocably opposed camps, one looking toward the horizon and proclaiming with all its newfound faith, “We are moving!” and the other without shifting its position obstinately maintaining, “Nothing changes. We are not moving at all.”

To quote my friend Steven Baxter, “Holy shit you guys!” This is amazing. It makes me want to go out in the street and yell, “We are moving!” It is a revelation and a truth that stirs my soul. This is not how it ends. The beginning was just that the beginning and the whole of humanity and creation and time and space is moving. Isn’t that exciting? We started out moving and we are still moving. Lovelies, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I think our new friend might even take that a step further and say, “The arc of the entire [moral, spiritual, relational, emotional, physical] universe is long and it moves toward justice [all things made right].” I believe this with all my heart. It makes me feel alive.

I was having a talk with my friend Josh Mitchell the other day about tattoos and we were saying how if either of us were to get a tattoo that it would have to be words. Words that meant something. Words that were personal. Words we didn’t want to forget. Today, if I had to pick, I might choose, “We are moving!”

Jesus was continually pointing people toward the future. He called it, “The Kingdom of Heaven“. The teaching carried with it the idea of already but not yet. Jesus had come, history and evolution and movement had brought people to the moment of being brought face to face with Jesus. Both man and God, he declared that the Kingdom of heaven was at hand and that also it was yet to come. More movement, more evolution, was and is required.

 

But I am getting ahead of myself.

This post is part one of a review series I am starting. I will be reviewing Painting the Stars: Science, Religion and an Evolving Faith. Each of the 7 sessions is 20 minutes long, and I will be writing one post about each session. After viewing session 1, I am very excited to be sharing this experience with you. The makers of the series, Living the Questions, produced the series in order to celebrate and explore the promise of evolutionary Christian spirituality.

The first session begins with the suggestion that like tectonic plates, the realms of evolution, religion and science often butt up against each other causing philosophical earthquakes, tsunamis and dramatic changes in the intellectual and spiritual landscape. Ironically, this is an evolution all its own. When some new reality in science collides with our beliefs about God, religion and the origins of the world, “something must eventually give way or merge” in order for a new landscape to emerge.

Evolution. What immediately comes to mind when you hear that word? Biology? Survival of the fittest? Charles Darwin? The big bang? What about personal, psychological, emotional, relational, culture, language, belief systems, political and economic systems? When we think about these areas, we find evolution is simply a fundamental universal reality.

This video series proposes to address how people of faith can engage difficult questions about science and faith in ways that decrease conflict and may even benefit us with new and challenging understandings. Questions like:

How are Christians who work in the disciplines of the sciences and technology able to accommodate and even embrace evolution?

Is the voice of the Scriptures somehow diminished by descriptions of a cosmology that no longer serves?

Is the Genesis story of creation voided by descriptions of a creation no longer seen as complete but rather driven by evolutionary processes that embody randomness and mortality, mutation and adaptation?  Or is the Genesis story deepened each time we discover more and more about our universe, about the amazing complexity of species and life that live on this planet?

How can people of faith engage such questions in ways that decrease conflict and even may benefit by new and challenging understandings?

The session titles are:

  1. Toward Healing the Rift
  2. A Renaissance of Wonder
  3. Getting Genesis Wrong
  4. An Evolving Faith
  5. Evolutionary Christianity
  6. Imagining a Future
  7. An Evolving Spirituality: Mysticism

The DVD series features over a dozen leading theologians and progressive thinkers including:

To learn more about Living the Questions, Painting the Stars or to purchase the DVD, click here.