Browsing Tag



how I learned to stop worrying and love listening


When I applied to grad school, it turned out that one of the classes I’d taken as part of my English minor didn’t count as an English credit at Liberty– it fit into their communications department instead; this led me to taking an online literature course from Regent University: American Women Writers. I decided to write one of the required papers on Louisa May Alcott and argue that Alcott wasn’t writing from a traditional Christian perspective– she was a Unitarian.

As I started doing research for the paper, I realized I knew absolutely nothing about Unitarianism, and I was having trouble wading through online resources or the public library. So, I turned to a forum I was a part of at the time– (which is dedicated to Jordan’s Wheel of Time series). I knew one of the members there considered himself a Unitarian, and I asked if he’d be open to talking about it.

Looking back at that conversation makes me want to cringe.

While I was respectful and did my best to simply ask questions, my mental state at the time was completely inappropriate. At the outset I made the assumption that Unitarian Universalists couldn’t possibly be Christians and none of them consider themselves to be Christians– without even bothering to ask. I knew what traditional, evangelical, and fundamentalist Christianity looked like, and believed that anything that didn’t look or feel like what I’d been exposed to wasn’t Christian. From the beginning of our conversation I had already dismissed him, and the only purpose for talking to him was to pump him for information so that I could write a paper. I didn’t really care about what he believed, or why he believed it, and I never even really bothered trying to really understand him. Him, as a person.

That was wrong. So very, deeply wrong.

A couple Halloweens ago, when I was in graduate school, I ended up in a conversation with two of my colleagues about the nature of death– and the existence of ghosts. I was unaware of concepts like Monism and annihilationism in Christian theology, but when one of my colleagues who had earned my respect over the two years we’d been in classes together said that he believed in ghosts, it took me by surprise. I’d been so accustomed to the belief that only children or superstitious cultures believe in ghosts– hearing it from an extremely intelligent and orthodox, sacramental Christian bowled me over.

But, I listened this time. And while I didn’t exit that conversation persuaded that ghosts exist, I had taken the time to hear out his argument and the questions I asked were because I was confused, and not because I was trying to eviscerate his argument.

One of the things that I have learned to absolutely adore about the online community I’m a part of is the sheer diversity. I’m getting to know and truly understand all the different ways my online friends approach faith– or non-faith. I have huge respect for people like Vyckie Garrison, Sarah Jones, Adam Laats, and Jonny Scaramanga. When I read their blogs, or their twitter rants, or what they post on facebook, or I have the opportunity to have a conversation with them, I sit down, shut up, and listen

And what I’ve learned about this form of listening is that any other kind is really pointless.

The only kind of “listening” I learned to do when I was growing up was paying attention to what they were saying so I could trip them up– to watch out for logical fallacies, for self-contradictions, for places where they were stretching, for times when what they said conflicted with my worldview. The only reason why I bothered ever talking to them was so that I could deconstruct their argument and prove them wrong.

I didn’t understand that when I was talking to someone who disagreed with me, that I was talking to a person. A human being that is worth getting to know and truly understand. I learned that when I was enduring their half of the conversation just so I could respond with a rebuttal that I was dehumanizing people. I didn’t care about them– I only cared about how they were wrong and I was right.

I bought a book on Sunday at a library book fair– The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality. I don’t know anything about it, I’ve never heard of the author before, but none of that matters. I want to know. I want to understand.

In the words of one of my favorite Disney songs: if you walk in the footsteps of a stranger, you’ll learn things you never knew that you never knew.


learning the words: on fire

burning bush

Today’s guest post is from April, who blogs about “taking back the church” at Revolutionary Faith. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

“Are you on fire for God?”

This question became the bane of my spiritual existence in my young adult years–specifically from 2000 to 2008. Every Sunday morning and every Wednesday night youth service, I heard how important it was to be “on fire” for God. Because according to Revelation 3:16, being lukewarm was the worst possible thing for any Christian to be. People cold in their devotion got a pass. Lukewarm believers received the distinct pleasure of being vomited out of God’s mouth.

In my view, Revelation 3:16 is one of the most misunderstood, misinterpreted “clobber verses” in charismatic, Penecostal churches–perhaps even more than Ephesians 5:22-24 (wives submit to husbands). I know that’s a pretty bold claim. But I had this verse shoved down my throat almost weekly, and it proved to be just as damaging, if not more so, to my walk with Christ.

See, according to my church, being “on fire” meant to be enthusiastic in worship. Very enthusiastic. Don’t want to raise your hands? You’re not on fire. Don’t feel like shouting? You’re not on fire. Don’t feel like dancing as King David danced? You’re not on fire. Don’t scream like a “Jesus groupie” whenever the pastor speaks the Savior’s name? You’re not on fire. And, someday, God is going to barf you straight into the Lake of Fire–because you once cheered louder for Michael Jordan than you did for the everlasting Son of God– who died for you!

One can imagine the intense guilt this bred in me over time. I couldn’t worship quietly without feeling judged by my pastor, youth pastor, worship leader, and peers. Nothing I did during worship was ever good enough for them or, I thought, for God. Simply meditating in His presence was not good enough. Folding my hands and bowing my head was not good enough. I had to prove to everyone that I loved God more than anything else, and that meant jumping higher and singing louder than the average tween at a Justin Bieber concert. If ever I showed the slightest reservation in this regard, someone was always there to remind me of my fate as God’s future spew.

Needless to say, worship soon became a miserable experience for me. I often left youth service feeling sick inside. I was stuck on an emotional roller coaster without a way off. I’d come to church desperately wanting to feel the Holy Spirit, spend the whole time participating in a big pep rally, and leave feeling even more empty, guilty and confused than when I showed up. Something seemed terribly wrong with this scenario. I began to suspect I was being manipulated. But how? The verse was right there in black and white, wasn’t it?

No, it wasn’t. Not like my leaders claimed, anyway.

I eventually stumbled upon Revelation 3:16 in my private studies and read it in its proper context. And do you know what I discovered?

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

Revelation 3:16 has nothing to do with the outward intensity of one’s worship. Not. a. single. thing. It’s referring to people who know Jesus in name only–who refuse to draw close to him because they find fulfillment in the power of their wealth. They are self-righteous people who have allowed their materialism to blind them to their spiritual shortcomings.

It’s entirely possible for a person to be blind to their spiritual shortcomings while dancing around the front of a church. Dancing, jumping and shouting do not indicate spiritual awareness (as a visit to any night club will clearly demonstrate).

So why did my leaders twist this verse so far out of context? Probably because my jumping around made their ministry look more spiritual than it really was.

Over the past few months, God has been showing me exactly what it means to be “on fire” for Him. And it has nothing to do with how much I jump up and down in the pews. Instead, it’s about how much I’m willing to abide in Him, trust Him, lean upon Him for strength, guidance, and transformation. It doesn’t matter so much how I’m worshiping Him as long as I am worshiping Him, as the Bible says, in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24). And the truth is, God isn’t easily impressed by people’s outward displays. As always, He’s looking into our hearts to determine our true attitude toward Him (1 Samuel 16:7).

Finally, in 2013, I can say with humble assurance that I’m “on fire” for God. No crazy jumping or waving required. And my walk with Him has never been more intense.


learning the words: wisdom


Today’s guest post is from Physics & Whiskey, who blogs about his journey away from absolute certainty and toward endless curiosity at Science and Other Drugs. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

As far as fundamentalist homeschooling families go, mine was fairly average. We saw a lot of families that were definitely more extreme. Growing up, I felt like my parents had balanced everything out fairly well. They swallowed the Pearls’ teachings on discipline hook, line, and sinker, but they shied away from the patriarchal teachings. All of us envied the sense of community in the local ATI group, but we knew there was something a little off about the whole business. My dad preferred the KJV, but we recognized that the KJV-only dogma of most Independent Fundamental Baptists were ridiculous.

We sampled a little here and a little there, never entirely diving into any one system or group or ideology. Perhaps that’s why the word I’m most thoughtful about is wisdom.

“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” (Proverbs 4:7)

Growing up, this passage always seemed tautological. “In order to get wisdom, get wisdom.” Boy, that sure tells us a lot. Of course, the presupposition of Biblical Literalism obscured the poetic depth of many such passages, but still, it was puzzling.

In our family, wisdom had a very specific meaning. Wisdom was a special piece of knowledge or insight provided by the Holy Spirit apart from any epistemic process.

Epistemology is the study of how we acquire knowledge our information. For example, empirical (observational) epistemology says that we use our senses to arrive at most or all knowledge. An epistemic process is a pathway to making a claim; it follows the basic principles of logic and reason and includes both premises and arguments. Because it has all these elements, a statement based on an epistemic process can be questioned, debated, and ultimately understood.

But wisdom was something different. A piece of wisdom couldn’t be questioned or argued or analyzed. It came from God, so it just had to be accepted. You weren’t allowed to understand wisdom; you just had to follow it.

In practice, this meant that whatever insight my parents gleaned (either from the Bible or from a fundamentalist parenting book or from a pastor or from special revelation during prayer) could not be questioned. According to fundamentalist belief, parents had a special connection to the Holy Spirit which allowed them to make the right decision 100% of the time, as long as they were “trusting God’s Word.” They didn’t have to understand it, they just had to apply it and believe that it would yield positive results. “No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Labeling intuition or church dogma as wisdom essentially made it God’s Word; since God is the source of all wisdom, questioning anything labeled as wisdom was tantamount to questioning God. Worst of all, not even my parents were permitted to question it. If my mom said something was wisdom, my dad was duty-bound to defend it; if my dad said something was wisdom, my mom had to do the same. Wisdom could be invoked at any time to end any discussion. If you continued to protest after wisdom had been invoked, the full weight of Proverbs was brought to bear.

“Fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
“He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.”
“A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent.”
“A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is the grief of his mother.”

Oh, and here’s my personal favorite. Any time we tried to defend ourselves: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.” In other words, shut up and face the consequences; the more you try to explain, the more foolish you are.

I say “favorite” with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek, because nothing could be further from the truth. Even now, I’m having trouble glancing through the book of Proverbs. These passages bring back a lot of difficult memories. My heart is racing and I have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Wisdom is hard for me to talk about. I can feel the nervous panic of sitting in my parents’ room waiting and waiting because I had made the painful mistake of “despising wisdom.”

The irony was that fundamentalists prize the doctrine of “solo scriptura to an extreme degree. Scripture is supposed to be 100% sufficient– except when it’s not, and you need to add wisdom to properly round it out. This practice is hard to spot, especially since most “wisdom” consists of Bible verses pulled out of their context and applied liberally to the current situation.

Wisdom was a way of cementing parental authority. “Do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction.” To question a parent’s wisdom was to rebel against God. It was our responsibility to simply pray until God gave us the same wisdom he had already given our parents.

So it’s easy to see how I might be a little hesitant about using the word “wisdom” now.

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:19)

Growing up, wisdom couldn’t be questioned. Wisdom was a guarantee of results. You simply applied it, and it always worked. No matter what.

But in Matthew 11, Jesus says: “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.” Even Jesus, who metaphorically embodied wisdom, didn’t act as though he was above question. He didn’t say, “I have divine wisdom on my side, so I’m right no matter what.” No, he said that wisdom was identified by what it actually did, not where it came from. If actions bear good fruit, they were wise; if actions bear bad fruit, they were unwise.

Wisdom isn’t magical. It’s the result of experience and reflection. If something works, it’s wise; if not, it isn’t.

If I want to be a wise father to my son, I can’t depend on “wisdom” as a fall-back that will guarantee the proper results if I don’t know what I’m doing. Finally, I understand what Proverbs 4:7 means: In order to be wise, I have to get wisdom. I have to pay attention to what works and what doesn’t; I have to be willing to change if my intuitions are leading me the wrong way.

“Test everything; hold fast to what is good.”

That’s wisdom.


on contemplating tone and direction


One of the things that I like to think about myself is that I’m willing to listen.

It’s not easy, and I don’t always (i.e., rarely) do it well, but I hope I’m at least willing to engage with different ideas, new thoughts, unique perspectives– even when those opinions, and the voicing of them, are difficult to hear.

One of my close friends is visiting at the moment, and our conversations have shown me something that I hadn’t really thought about. Wasn’t really capable of thinking about on my own. My writing here, I believe, is extraordinarily important. What I’ve had to say has caused me to lose friends, to strain relationships. I’ve gotten angry, blustering, threatening comments, I’ve gotten e-mails and facebook messages that have attacked what I’m saying. At times, I don’t want to do it anymore. It would be so much easier to go hide under a rock and never speak about these things again.

But . . . there’s the dozens and dozens of comments, e-mails, and facebook messages that have reached out to me. Some of you have told me your story. Some of you have encouraged me at moments when I really needed it. Some of you have ferociously disagreed with me at times, but you’ve been willing to engage with me instead of just dismissing what I have to say– and I’ve loved every second of it. It’s a miracle that the things that I’ve written have helped some of you, and I am thankful for that. It’s why I’ll continue writing about the same topics– I will continue attacking evil and defending truth and justice whenever and however I can. And I will continue to confront evil wherever I see it, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

But, I’m human. I’m capable of making mistakes. I’m not immune to seeing “evil” where it’s not really evil, and is just reminiscent of evil I’ve experienced. I am not above tilting at windmills.

There’s another side of my journey that, interestingly, is even more difficult for me to share. So much of deconstructing my beliefs and my upbringing is about facing dead-on the wrong, evil, twisted things that have been so deeply ingrained in me that I have a hard time knowing they are there. But, what is so much more difficult than identifying the evil inside of me is rooting it out and planting something new, something healthy, in its place. That is where the battle really is, for me– and I find it almost impossible to talk about, because most of the questions I have don’t have answers yet.

But, when I was talking about my seedling of a new understanding surrounding Ephesians 5:21-33, and our conversation led me to explaining my fledgling awareness of a different articulation of headship and the metaphor of marriage to describe Christ and the church. When I finished, she simply commented: “I wish you would talk about this on your blog.”

I’ve hesitated to do this. I’m not a theologian. I’m not a Bible scholar. So much of this goes so far over my head it’s difficult for me to wrap my head around it at times. But these new understandings, this new approach to discussing and thinking about Christ and Scripture, have been a large part of my journey. I can talk about the abusive patterns and practices in fundamentalism ad nauseum, because that is what I know and understand more than anything else. I understand more about the fundamentalist perspective than I do about the Bible.

But you, the readers I have, deserve more than just a constant deconstruction of evil. I named my blog Defeating the Dragons because this is what I want to do more than anything else. I want to expose injustice and wrong as much as I can– I want to slay dragons. It’s also a reference to a favorite quotation by G. K. Chesteron: “Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist; but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

However, I can’t forget that the story shouldn’t really end when St. George thrusts his great sword deep into the heart of a dragon. It continues when the people rally together to rebuild what was destroyed. They tear down the burnt-out husks of their homes and piece their lives back together. They replant. They look forward to a new harvest.

There are still plenty of dragons roaming my country side, and I will fight them one at a time. But I’ll also plant. And harvest. And build a better, more loving, more honest, more human understanding of my world and the faith I need to live in it.

I hope you’ll build it with me.


the day I watched my god die

Picasso_Pablo-Crucifixion[Picasso’s Crucifixion]

A few years ago, I stood in a dark place. The ground trembled and shook under me, and I stared up at heaven and watched my god die. Everything that I thought I had known– known with an absolute, unreachable certainty, was gone. Shattered. In a moment, in the space of a few words, it felt like everything in my universe was a lie. I had been deceived, tricked.

Horror-struck, I watched the truth pierce the side of the person I’d thought was god made flesh, and the pain was so intense I could feel a hollowness inside– an emptiness torn apart by swords and spears. Truth and reason and experience and emotion were the pallbearers that carried my faith away. And suddenly, the world was cold and dark and empty, because all the light had gone out. The veil was torn, and I couldn’t see anything worth hoping in behind the curtain. It was just a room. It was just a piece of lumber, a few pieces of iron. It was just an empty space carved into rock.

Tears washed my face in the night; my heart echoed al0ng with the cries of “why can’t you save yourself? Why can’t you save me?” Why did I carry a back-breaking cross in your name? 

They carried him away and buried him under a mountain of shame and terror. I sealed the door shut with guilt and fear and betrayal and anger and rage.

Eventually, the sun shone, piercing clouds and making the world seem strangely normal again. I went back to work. I continued learning. I talked with friends who never knew what I had just witnessed. I hid in upper rooms I created inside of my head, places where my god had never been– and never would be. All the promises I’d ever known were broken, and the lie of them was bitter. I couldn’t speak them to another person, and every time I offered an assurance to another, it felt like feeding them false hope and platitudes. I wanted to rage inside of my own temple and hear the crash of silver on marble tile.

He was dead. The god of my childhood was nothing more than a corpse.