Browsing Tag

Convergent Books

Social Issues

"Good God, Lousy World, and Me" by Holly Burkhalter

good god

It took me a little while to make it all the way through this book because I couldn’t stop crying– sad and happy tears. There were so many times when all I could do was shake my head and laugh and think dear LORD do I ever know what she means.

One of the things that I’ve loved about all the books I’ve read from Convergent has been that the authors are not just honest. I’ve read plenty of books where the voicing has been authentic, when you could feel how genuine the author is– but Convergent books take it one step further. Almost all of the other religious books I’ve read are desperately trying to wrap up all of their books with a bow, to tie it up with a neat, uncomplicated, applicable message. Even Rachel Held Evans– whose writing I love– sort of beats you over the head with her point at times.

Holly’s book doesn’t do that. She invites you into the struggles of her life and is straight with you the entire way through, but she leaves it to you to think about what she’s said. There are very few conclusions presented anywhere in the book, and they’re all in the context of this is my story, this is where I’ve gotten.

At times, it’s actually been a frustrating thing to experience, for me. The fundamentalist that lives in a tiny sliver of my brain gets upset and starts shouting no, just tell me what to think about this! Make an argument for your position and defend it, dammit! That Holly never does that is a beautiful thing, and I’m glad that the part of me that wants the neatly packaged apologetics manual is getting smaller.

I want an answer to the question that was at the core of Holly’s life: If God is good, why is there so much suffering? It is the single greatest roadblock to my faith, and there are many days when I can’t get around it, and Holly talks about the days when she couldn’t get around it, either– both as a non-believer and as a Christian. I’m still there, inhabiting this question, and I can’t see a point in my near future where I’ve settled this, where I’ve resolved it. Holly hasn’t either– and that comforted me. I’ve grown to strongly resent it when much older Christians are blithe about suffering, who seem perfectly content to ignore the darkness in this world and chirp about how amazing God is when they keep their tire from going flat.

That was one of my favorite stories Holly shares– it was about a woman who praised God for keeping their tires inflated when they were in the middle of a war-torn, genocide-stricken African country. Holly’s reaction is my reaction– seriously?! How can someone thank God for the state of some rubber when they just spent all day talking to people ripped apart by shrapnel?

That the bulk of Christian culture seems just as happy to not truly, actually confront the darkness and evil in this world is one of the biggest things that bothers me about it. They can effortlessly hide so far behind their privilege that they can’t even identify the fact that they’re hiding. Well, Holy confronts it– has spent her entire adult life face-to-face with it, and came out on the other side of it a believer.

That gives me a lot of hope. Some days I’m barely holding on to my faith, and the darkest moments come when I have to ask myself is the only reason why I’m still a Christian because I don’t want to face the bleak reality of a world without God in it?

Holly, over the course of her book, points to all the reasons why she believes in God. Because of prayer (a concept I do not understand … at all), because of compassion, and empathy, and love, and kindness, and help. Because of Christians, because of people, who see a world full of pain and want to do something to end it.

Reading this book helped settle some of my doubts, although they’ll never be completely gone. It’s nice when love is the answer to a question you’ll always have.

note: I received this book in exchange for my review on “Blogging for Books.”


"Spiritual Misfit" by Michelle DeRusha

spiritual misfit

Recently, I was invited by a friend of mine to join Crown’s Blogging for Books, which I think is a fantastic idea mostly because I get free books. The first book I ordered was Michelle DeRusha’s Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith.

The title resonated with me. I’ve always felt a bit like an outsider no matter what situation I was in, but most especially in church. There was always a part of me that wondered do I belong here, really belong? I still don’t have an answer to that question, but Spiritual Misfit helped.

If there was a single word I could choose for this book, it would be “comforting.” Michelle is approaching the questions I am struggling with right now with the perspective of someone much older. She’s been through a lot of what I’m going through, but now she’s on the far side of it looking back. I found a lot of value in that perspective, especially since Michelle is so honest about what it was like for her.

Another way to describe it would be beautifully ordinary. All my life I’ve never had to be told to “stop and smell the roses”—the simple wonders have always fascinated me, and it’s the small things I treasure. Cuddling with my partner while we watch Wolverine and the X-Men and munch on pumpkin loaf makes me so happy I could cry. Michelle’s book is filled with those kinds of moments—and her descriptions are delicate, but moving.

The thing that I appreciated the most about Spiritual Misfit was that Michelle’s approach to her faith is a bit like what mine is growing into. She emphasizes the importance of living your faith. The time in her life that the book focuses on was a time when she wasn’t sure if God existed, or if she had a “relationship with Jesus”—she saw other people having experiences that she didn’t share, and that was when I identified the most with Michelle. When other people are busy having spiritual epiphanies, I’ve been the skeptic silently observing, unable to believe in a reality I couldn’t seem to experience.

Instead of fixating on the intellectual questions, however, Micelle chooses to make her own “leap of faith” by trying to live by the teachings of Jesus. That decision makes so much sense to me, and it’s what I’m currently trying to embrace. I may never have a come-to-Jesus moment, but I can do my best to follow his teachings. She says something toward the end that I loved:

For a long time I was waiting for the perfect moment to declare my faith: the moment I had everything figured out, all the questions answered, the wrestling match finished. In the past I assumed my faith would “begin” when all my questions had answers, when I felt a certain way, when I acted in a certain way. I was waiting for all the pieces to fall into place so I could declare, once and for all, without a shadow of doubt, that I believed in God.

The reality, of course, is that the pieces of my faith had been falling into place all along. Asking “Why not?” was my way of surrendering, of accepting that the single, perfect moment, the moment when my questions were finally answered once and for all, was never going to happen. Asking “Why not?” was my way of realizing I could jump and still have questions. I didn’t know it at the time, but asking “Why not?” was my way of saying yes to Jesus’ invitation to jump.

Part of me doesn’t really like that. Like Michelle, I am an intellectual person, and I crave order and understanding. I just spent the last few months studying Trinitarianism, and it was … unbelievably frustrating. The fact that 2,000 years later Christians are all essentially shrugging our shoulders about something that is supposed to be one of THE defining doctrines of our religion… yup. I do not handle that well. I’d rather believe in a heresy like modalism than have it be that nebulous and incomprehensible.

So the fact that Michelle has gotten to this point in her life and has never found the answers that I spend most of my time desperately searching for—makes me sad, while somehow, still offering me peace. I’ve been trying to learn to “live in the gray,” to accept that it’s the questions that matter, but that is difficult when everything inside is screaming but I want to know.

Spiritual Misfit is a book about living in the gray, of not just enduring, but embracing the questions. It was comforting, and peaceful, and beautiful, and funny, and touching, and honest. I’d recommend giving it a read.

Social Issues

Convergent Books and the Evangelical Imprimatur


If you’re not familiar with the term imprimatur, it’s a Latin expression that means “let it be printed.” It’s associated with the Roman Catholic Church, and depending on the context, was used to actively censor books that either a) disagreed with the Church’s teaching, or b) could possibly damage the Church’s reputation. Many of these books– banned because they contained “doctrinal or moral error,” supposedly– would appear in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum. Books included in the Index could not be printed, and considering the influence that Roman Catholicism had over Europe during the dawn of movable-type printing, this religious censorship targeted many Protestants and early European scientists with brutal efficiency. They still issue imprimaturs, although the context is very different today.

A little while ago I reviewed Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian, and gave it my endorsement. I think it’s a good introduction to sexuality in the Bible, and when I read it I knew it was going spark an . . . interesting discussion. The day it came out, Albert Mohler put out a collection of essays by several contributors titled God and the Gay Christian? — which, honestly, throwing on a question mark to the end of someone else’s book title in this digital publishing age seems really dirty and underhanded. But hey, they contributed to the conversation, so good on them I suppose.

Convergent Books, Vines’ publisher, has recently come under fire for daring to publish his book. Not only that, but the talking heads have gone after Waterbrook-Multnomah, too– because Convergent is a sister imprint.

If you’re not super familiar with how publishing houses work, an imprint is essentially a marketing method. W-M is a well-known Christian imprint owned by Crown, which is owned by Penguin-Random House, and they’ve published everything from Francine River’s Redeeming Love to David Platt’s Radical. Crown decided to create Convergent alongside W-M, in order to “explore the contemporary faith experience for a broad range of Christians who are drawn to an open, inclusive and culturally engaged exploration of faith.” Crown also owns a Catholic imprint, too– Image Books.

As seems to be pretty typical– of new imprints, especially– there’s a lot of overlap in the staff between W-M and Convergent. They’re just getting started, and no one goes into book publishing for the money. As a freelance editor, I can swear to that.

Frustratingly, the National Religious Broadcasters has forced W-M to resign from their organization because they published “unbiblical material.” Albert Mohler, who’s been published by W-M, said that Cobb’s decision to publish Vines puts W-M “in serious danger of crashing its brand in terms of evangelical trust,” and Robert Jeffress, who has not even read the book, said that ” it is a mistake for any Christian publisher to legitimize a point of view that is a clear perversion of Scripture.”

It’s a mistake. It should not have been published.

While American evangelical culture doesn’t have the ability to enforce censorship the same way that the Roman Catholic Church did during dawn of modern printing, they hold an unbelievably massive amount of power when it comes to communication and media. LifeWay and Family Christian have refused to even put books written by more progressive authors (like Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey) on their shelves. God and the Gay Christian isn’t even listed anywhere at

They are like the Sanhedrin, who would rather stuff their fingers in their ears and scream than listen to Stephen.

This isn’t government censorship and technically these organizations and companies have every right to enforce whatever standard they want, but it doesn’t change the fact that what they’re doing is wrong. They are stifling discussion and blatantly refusing to even have a conversation about difficult and charged subjects– like marriage equality and feminism, for example.

It’s like evangelicals don’t even understand the purpose of books.

Christian publishing is extremely difficult because of this. A few years ago, I spoke with Dani Pettrey, a Christian fiction writer, and one of the things that came up was how careful she had to be as she was editing Submerged— evangelical consumers are notorious for being easily offended by content. When I was in undergrad I fell in love with Karen Hancock’s Legend of the Guardian-King quartet, and I asked a local independent Christian book store if they had any copies. The store owner said they had decided not to carry any of her books because so many people had returned them (they had allegorical “magic”).

I understand the desire to maintain an ideological bubble. I have trouble not isolating myself from differing points of view in the media I consume and the people I talk to, especially because I’m an ISTJ. Being black-and-white is second nature to me, and it’s something I deliberately make an effort to overcome every day.

But while I can understand this impulse, it angers me that evangelicals, collectively, hold so much power over what can be written, published, sold, and broadcasted. Books exist in order to expose us to new ideas. If people like Jeffress declare books to be a “clear perversion of Scripture” when they haven’t even read the damn book can get away with not just silence, but open applause, it’s a clear sign that the evangelical community is broken. Evangelical culture, evangelical leaders, seem wholly and entirely incapable of even listening to people who disagree with them. Instead, they become “heretics”– for simple things, like using “Herself” in a poem or emphasizing the eternal, long-suffering Grace of God.

*full disclosure: I’ve written for the Convergent Books blog, and will continue to write for them. They do not pay me for those posts.

Feminism, Social Issues

"God and the Gay Christian" by Matthew Vines

vines book cover

I’ve posted Matthew Vine’s video “The Gay Debate” before, and I’m planning to watch it with my small group this Thursday. The first time I watched it, I was deeply compelled by the idea he opened his talk with: that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. To me, the idea was remarkably similar to something Augustine said:

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.

I appreciated this emphasis on the consequences of what we believe and teach, and I’ve tried to incorporate it as I’ve been delving into my theology. If my “theology tree” would result in harm and damage to people, then I really need to re-think it and maybe go and plant another tree.

I did feel, however, that the video, while effective, wasn’t complete. There are limits to what a videotaped talk can do, and it left with me more questions than I had answers. I started looking into what Vines’ opponents had to say in response, and while their counterarguments were lacking, they did raise some important points.

When I found out that Vines would be writing God and the Gay Christian (set to release April 22), I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I knew that a book was a much better format for his argument, and I thought it might answer some of the questions I still had.

It’s a well-researched book, but obviously not exhaustive– or exhausting. While a book like Torn helps illuminate the reality of being both a Christian and gay, God and the Gay Christian moves just beyond that and gives a substantive argument for why the two are not just compatible, but healthy and good. By the time I set it down, I was absolutely convinced: being gay is not a sin. Being gay and being in a relationship is not a sin. Sex between same-sex partners is not inherently sinful, although Vines takes the traditional evangelical stance of reserving sex for marriage.

One of the most interesting things about reading this was the approach he took– very often, people who believe that God doesn’t condemn a gay person who wants to be in a relationship are accused of “dismissing” or “ignoring” the Bible. It happened here on my blog last week– I was told that I was “cherry picking” Bible verses because I was obviously ignoring what the Bible had to say about homosexuality. I insisted that I was not ignoring the presence of those passages, but that I did not agree with the “typical” interpretation of those passages. Vines could never be accused of not taking the Bible seriously or of ignoring the passages (although I’m positive some people will still try to say exactly that), since the book is devoted to those verses.

But, more importantly than that, Vines has something I certainly don’t: a traditional evangelical “high” view of Scripture as inspired and inerrant. I lost that a long time ago, so it was fascinating to watch him unfold his argument from that perspective– and it helped me feel more comfortable with those who also believe in inspiration and inerrancy. It helped reassure me that just because someone believes that the Bible is “inerrant” it doesn’t mean they’re going to fling it around like a weapon.

I think the one issue that I have with the book is that I personally feel that it participates in bi erasure. Just like there are only so many things you can do in a video, there are also only so many things you can do in a book, but I think one element of his argument is troubling, and since it’s a rather core part of his argument, it’s worth mentioning.

Vines points out that, historically speaking, sexuality wasn’t understood in terms of orientation, and that ancient societies tended to perceive sexuality as a matter of appetite. Men who had sex with other men weren’t gay– they were seeking “more challenging” experiences in order to satiate an enormous appetite for sex. Vines argues that was a central part of what Paul, especially, was writing about: not orientation, but excessive and uncontrollable (possibly abusive or exploitative) appetites.

In the midst of presenting all of that, however, he spends a lot of time talking about how ancient Greek society saw everyone as being capable of wanting sex with opposite-sex and same-sex partners, and how that was generally understood to be a result of excess. In bringing that up, he does nothing to mention that bisexuality, just like gayness, doesn’t correspond to that model. Being bisexual is just as much a matter of orientation as being gay or lesbian, and it has absolutely nothing to do with being “greedy”– which is a common misconception hurled at bi people.

He doesn’t actively lump in bi people with that historical conception, but that conception lingers today, and he didn’t address it at all. I personally felt that he did what straight people commonly do; being bi isn’t a part of his lived experience, so he . . . just forgot. This is not an egregious failing and I still think his book needs to be read and shared and discussed, but it bothered me.

There is, however, something I really appreciated about Vines’ approach. I just finished reading Boyd’s Benefit of the Doubt, and one of the central focuses of the book is reading the Bible not as a legal contract but as an illustration of the covenantal, trust-based relationship God wants to have with us. I think God and the Gay Christian is an excellent example of how to do that– even with his “high view of Scripture,” he wrote out a way for us to stop seeing the Bible as a legal contract to constrain our behavior and put boundaries on our relationships, but as the open, loving, give-and-take conversation with God that it was intended to be.

That all said, I think God and the Gay Christian needs to go on every Christian’s to-read shelf. I think that the biggest reason why bigotry seems to be such an integral part of the evangelical cultural experience is simply because many people have never encountered what Vines argues. Not everyone is going to be convinced, of course, but at least they’d be more aware– hopefully they’d even stop telling people like me that we’re “clearly ignoring the Bible” and understand that there is more than one way to interpret the Bible, even when it comes to LGBTQIA persons and their lives.

*edit: I talked to Vines, and he said that one of the things he tried to correct in the final version was about my concern here– I only have the ARC, so I haven’t read the final version.


"Girl at the End of the World" by Elizabeth Esther

girl at the end of the world

I started reading Elizabeth Esther’s blog around this time last year. I don’t remember how I found her– probably by following a long trail of link-crumbs– but the second I stumbled into her talking about Michael and Debi Pearl and Victoria’s Secret panties, I was hooked. When I found out that she was writing a book, I knew I wanted it. When I found out that she was writing about her “escape from fundamentalism in search of faith with a future,” I knew it would be a book I’d need to read.

I was right.

I got it in the mail a few weeks ago, and I finished it by that night because I couldn’t put it down. Handsome (my partner) would try to ask me a question and I would just make a shushing motion and then read him a quote, mostly because I wanted to start running through the streets reading it out loud, but that would be crazy.

Fortunately, I have a blog, and I can run through the internet’s streets shouting about this book.

There were so many moments when I had to stop and cry because all I could think was I’ve been there, I know this, I know what this is like, this is what it’s like SOMEONE KNOWS WHAT IT’S LIKE.

When she described Sister Kathleen I thought of one of the women in my church-cult. She was bright, and vivacious, and she laughed as loud and as free as she wanted. She did her hair in fancy up-dos. She wore makeup. She came to church once wearing a slightly-shorter-than-knee-length chiffon skirt that scandalized the 12-year-old version of me, and yet . . . I wanted to be her. She was bright and lovely. She was my Kathleen.

She told of how she started seeing boys for the first time, the first time she had a crush, the first time she fell in love, and I remembered sitting in the Palm’s Grille with my first ever crush and he’s promising to write me letters and my heart is turning over in my chest because a boy just promised to write me letters, oh, what does this mean, could he be the one, no, don’t think about that you can’t give your heart away like this.

Then she talks about how her father forced her to resign from the positions she’d earned at school, and my heart stops. And I start crying. Because I know that feeling. I know the weight of that boulder crushing my chest. I wish it wasn’t something I could understand, but oh I do.

That is what Elizabeth captured. She took all those moments– all the heart-thrilling, heart-shattering moments– and wrapped them up in a book. She wrote a book about what she went through, but it is also a book about what we went through. There are burning-bright memories in the minds of every child who grew up in cultish fundamentalism, and they are so bright we flinch away from them, so gharishly vivid we don’t know how to put them into words.

She gave that to us. She gave us the words.

But the most wonderfully beautiful thing about what she’s written is that it isn’t just a book for us. I believe it could be powerful and healing for many of us, but it’s also for the not-us.

I’m looking across the living room at my partner as I read it, at my wonderful partner who loves me but doesn’t understand. It’s good that he doesn’t know this, that he doesn’t have to carry this, but there are times when he looks at me and his eyes are sad because I am at the dining room table trying to eat a grilled cheese sandwich and I can’t because I’m sobbing into my tomato soup because the pastor made a joke about spanking infants in the sermon that morning and all I can see are terrified baby eyes staring at me.

If you care about someone who grew up in a spiritually abusive church and you didn’t– you need to read this book. It’ll show you the way things probably were for them.

If you’re a pastor, you need to read this book, because it will open up an entire world of hurt and suffering and pain that is mind-bendingly difficult to understand unless you’ve been there. Elizabeth will take you there.

And she’ll show all of us what it looks like on the other side. The still-hurting, still-healing side, but also the getting better side.


God doesn't need our legalism


I have a guest post that went up today over at Convergent Books! This is my second post for them, and I’m proud to be a part of the community. I very much appreciate what Convergent is doing– they’re willing to ask hard questions, and coming from an religious imprint that’s rather incredible.

Legalism is so pervasive it has become invisible. Growing up, I would have denied any accusation that my church was legalistic. We didn’t force our rules on anyone; they were simply our personal convictions. But as I moved into less conservative environments, and as my definition of legalism changed, I kept running into the same claim: I’d be at a church, and if I saw legalism coloring the way the community approached things, I would be told, “we’re not legalistic! They’re legalistic!” “They,” of course, would be some other church that was seen as having more—and more restrictive—rules.

To many people, legalism means “excessive adherence to law,” and that is the central part of the problem. “Excessive” has a different meaning depending on whoever is making the rule, whether it’s a church leader or an individual. In the church my family attended when I was a child, we followed a long list of rules: women couldn’t wear pants, men couldn’t wear shorts, we couldn’t go to movie theaters, girls couldn’t sit next to boys, and we couldn’t use any version of the Bible besides the King James. The rules made us stand out. Other residents of our town could easily identify people who attended our church.  We were “that crazy church.” You know we were extreme when even the Southern Baptists on the north side of town would condemn us for our legalism.

You can read the rest here.


Jesus loves strong women

strong woman

Convergent Books is an amazing new Christian imprint from the Crown publishing group– unlike many (if not most) other Christian publishers and imprints, Convergent is focusing on books for the questions, the doubts, the struggles. They’re creating books for people like us– people who wrestle with God and Christianity. They’re also running a pretty incredible blog, and I was honored when an editor contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to write something for them.


I stared at the clock, watching the minutes creep by. I wasn’t really paying attention to what time it was—all I had was a vague notion that it was an hour or two before dawn. The clock was something to look at as I desperately tried to numb the pain. I was too distracted to read, far too preoccupied to write. I wanted to quiet my mind, to force it to shut up, but so far my pursuit of boredom wasn’t working.

As the hours passed that night, I had alternated between weeping silently and holding myself and rocking. The back-and-forth motion soothed me for a while, but exhaustion caught up with me and I didn’t know what else to do.

If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry for help though she was in the city.

That verse, Deuteronomy 22:24, had been spinning inside my head like a merry-go-round, faster and faster and faster until I was sick and heartbroken.

I was in the city and I didn’t cry out.

Oh God, I was in the city. I could have told someone, ANYONE, what he was doing, and I didn’t. And, and… God says I should be stoned to death! This was done to me, but because I didn’t tell anyone God thinks I deserve to die?

There are so many women, so very many women, God, who have been raped—raped just like me. And they didn’t feel like they could tell anyone. Maybe they are like me and they didn’t fight back. Maybe they had no idea what was happening until it was all too late. And because of that we deserve to be stoned?

I can’t. I can’t. I won’t.

No, God. If that’s who you are, I want nothing to do with you.

You can read the rest here.