October 19, 2017

Open Forum (Newbies, please join us!)

Last night's lunar eclipse, as seen from my front porch

Last night’s lunar eclipse, as seen from my front porch

Open Forum, with a special invitation to new commenters.

It has been awhile since we’ve done an Open Forum. I had a busy weekend working on the book, so I’m running a bit late, and that gives us a good opportunity to have one.

As we’ve done with a few past Open Forums, I would like to especially invite people who are new to Internet Monk or who have not commented before to check in and say hi. We certainly appreciate all of our regulars, but we also know there is a large group of folks out there who simply read and never participate in the discussion. So we’d like to invite you to put in your two cents worth today, even if it’s just to let us know you read IM.

As always, we expect courtesy, good listening, and thoughtful interaction.

The day is yours. Enjoy.

Comments

  1. Nice photo… We were overcast…

  2. After that fourth so-called “Blood Moon,” are we still supposed to be here today? I admit that I didn’t study “the charts of John” carefully enough to know. Forgive me, please. 🙂

    • Well, don’t worry, the Rapture actually did occur, we just didn’t see it.

      Fun parallels in history – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Disappointment

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        It happened but “Satan hath sent you Strong Delusion, that you should believe a lie.”

        (I think somebody actually tried that backpedal once…)

    • Anyone who’s come out of fundie culture knows about Those Charts, by which I mean this kind of silliness:

      http://digitalsojourner.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/revelation_chart.gif

      Anyone detect something rather Dungeons and Dragons about this? A bit like this:

      http://plagmada.org/gallery/main.php

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        As a D&D veteran of The Satanic Panic, I have always suspected the reasons Christians denounce D&D is they’re trying to kill the competition for their own “Left Behind: The Live Role-Playing Game”.

        P.S. There are as many variants of Those Charts as there are Annotated Study Bibles and/or End Time Prophecy bestsellers, but (except for the Seventh Day Adventists) all the charts are pretty much identical, differing only in art style.

    • I heard through the grapevine that at the exact moment of totality Pastor Hagee’s head exploded. And you know I think I did hear a balloon popping sound and feel a mighty rush of wind at just about that time.

      • Brianthedad says:

        @ChrchCurmudgeon stated on Twitter that he was going to blow a trumpet halfway thru the evening service at his church last night, and see what the reaction was.

  3. Clay Crouch says:

    Man, my internet connection up here is lightning fast. How about y’alls? Who would have thought that we would even have access to a computer post rapture.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      If all the Evangelists have been raptured that might free up a lot of bandwidth. Imagine all those people not [re]sharing all those links on Facebook, or commenting on everything about it being the devils work or a Socialist Conspiracy, not liking every prayer request. After p0rn [something like 60% of Internet traffic] this must be the second largest use.

      Of course without them telling us all to be good p0rn use will now soar…. right?

      • Only in Utah.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        ATW, sorry to hear that you didn’t make it up. For what it’s worth, Trump’s all they talk about up here, so you your’e not really missing much.. I’ll try to keep you posted. The biggest complaint I’ve heard so far is that you can’t log into Facebook. Bummer.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      And I don’t even believe in the rapture. Go figure.

  4. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    We criticize “the church” here a lot, and bemoan all the stupid things done in the name of outreach, relevance, or Bing seeker-sensitive. But what works? I’d like to read about places where Church is doing smart, innovative, or EFFECTIVE things. Where are churches actually participating in their communities? Wherr are clergy being noble and standing-up not in a culture-war way? I know this happens. But it never seems to get as much press as the dumb stuff [most of which has been hashed and rehashed to death].

    • Nadia Bolz-Weber gave an excellent interview to Fresh Air last week; her church in Colorado sounds (by what she said of it and the short googling I did) like a exactly the kind of church I would love to see more of – and its Lutheran to boot!

    • I don’t feel like the criticisms are really against the church herself. As we are all a part of the family, it’s more like we are rolling our eyes at the crazy uncle that makes every family gathering awkward. Sorry for that analogy.

      On the other side, “what works” is a very pragmatic approach that I think is part of the problem that created the rest of the crazy. I believe that quite often faithfulness will not work and be unable to compete in the religious free market. We must be willing to accept that cost, IMO, before we can ever be successful in a way that matters.

      But we can certainly do more to highlight exemplary congregations and leaders who are being about what we believe the church ought to be doing. Find me the saints of today, and let us learn from them! I don’t ever feel bad for criticizing the crazy, some thing just need to be said, but the flip side of that coin can be equally helpful.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > I don’t feel like the criticisms are really against the church herself

        I understand what you are saying… but I believe this defense is also often a bit of a bait-n-switch. The Church is the body of, and aggregate communities of, believers.

        >it’s more like we are rolling our eyes at the crazy uncle

        True. But many days it seems like we have a disproportionate number of crazy uncles.

        > Sorry for that analogy.

        No problem, it seems very apt.

        > On the other side, “what works” is a very pragmatic approach

        YES! Absolutely, and I make no apologies for that. Something that is not demonstrable in any way is not real. I stand by that statement, and belief, and all of its consequences. After decades of accepting, and then tolerating, magickal thinking I will have none of it.

        > will not work and be unable to compete in the religious free market.

        The issue here is with the definition of “works”. I do not much care if The Church “wins” But if the Church is not demonstrably at least present….

        > But we can certainly do more to highlight exemplary…

        YES!

    • The absence of criticism is evidence of a bigger problem. Unfair criticism is another issue.

    • I think maybe some of those who are doing things right fly under the radar.
      They are too bust attending to the details of life to crow on about it.

      In our city it is a place like metro Church, working away in the inner city.

      I think there is a lot of work like this going on. It is just rarely noticed by the middle and upper class.

  5. Scott Sprinkle says:

    Although I have been reading the daily posts on IM for a year, I am one of those folks that never comment. So, let me say thanks for all the thoughtful, challenging articles during the week, Ramblings on Saturday, and Sundays with Michael Spencer. I love the broad array of topics and the lively discussions that follow after. Keep it up!

  6. Chris Harmon says:

    Think I may have posted here once in a great while, but HI from Richmond, VA where we just had a insanely-packed World Bike Race this past week.

    • I spotted some a uniformed team of cyclists just this morning just west of 288, so I’m not sure we’re truly done. 😉

    • Michael Bell says:

      My daughter just missed out on competing there, but 5 of the riders there have ridden for her team, and she will be teaming up with another rider, the top Canadian Junior, at our National Championships, Thanksgiving weekend.

  7. Long, long-time iMonker who seldom comments. Something that’s been on my mind for a while is the relative vacuum of mainline perspective here at the monastery. We do pretty well here on fleshing out the RCC, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism in its various forms, and of course, the vast evangelical landscape, with commenters who are actually from those traditions. Not so well with Anglicans (except the newer breakaway versions), PCUSA, Disciples of Christ, Methodists (raising my hand with David C here), UCC, and so on.

    It might be interesting to hear from folks in these traditions… I have found as a Methodist that people outside my tradition presume to tell me what’s wrong with us; usually they are completely off the mark.

    Not sure how we would go about adding mainline perspectives into the mix, though.

    • Eckhart Trolle says:

      Invite John Spong as a guest blogger!

      • David Cornwell says:

        Sorry Trolle, but this is a misconception. Spong may belong to a mainline church, but he does not represent most mainline congregants or clergy. But there are one or two persons here who claim to know exactly what is wrong with Methodism. Maybe one of them will say something.

        • He doesn’t represent most mainline seminaries, either. Nor the Biblical studies departments of most secular universities. He’s a pseudo-scholar.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            If you mean theology, then we would have to survey “most mainline seminaries” to find out how many are liberal vs. conservative. If you mean hard-core, secular biblical scholarship, this wasn’t part of the original question, but that field certainly has its share of people who do not fit your preferred religious categories.

        • Eckhart Trolle says:

          No single person can “represent most mainline congregants or clergy,” except perhaps in some lowest-common-denominator sense of averageness. However, you have to admit that Spong’s is an influential voice, and the fact that he was once a bishop suggests a certain amount of support. An AMA (or something) with him would be a useful corrective to i-monk’s revised fundamentalism.

          • Spong was once my bishop. His voice did not represent me, or any of the rectors of the churches I was member of, either conservative or liberal. His was merely one voice among many that the Episcopal Church tolerates, and he became bishop before he started expressing perspectives radically divorced from those of historic Christianity. The ECUSA does tilt heavily in the direction of liberalism, but Spong would not be a good representative of this particular brand of liberal theology, which is postmodern/narrative; Spong is more of an old school liberal, and seems unable to incorporate the concepts of postmodern/narrative theology. He’s actually a fundamentalist reactionary himself.

          • Eckhart Trolle says:

            Fair enough. Who would you suggest as representatives of contemporary postmodern liberal Episcopal theology?

          • Bishop Jefferts-Schori?

          • I wouldn’t suggest an Episcopalian, but an Anglican theologian who speaks from inside the existing worldwide Anglican Communion: John Milbank, say, or Catherine Pickstock. You won’t like my choices, though, because both of these theologians, and other Radical Orthodox like them, employ post-modern philosophy to resource theology in traditional Christian categories. They are far more philosophically radical than Spong could ever dream of being, but they are also committed to the received narratives of Christianity, which means that they don’t speak the same language as him.

  8. StuartB~ I just finished reading Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome by Reba Riley. Perhaps you have read it yourself. I thought about you all the way thru the book and waited until I was finished before bringing it to your attention to make sure there were no unpleasant surprises. It is the true story of a 29 year old woman broken by her Evangelical upbringing who determines to visit thirty different religions before she turns thirty. The book is the story of that journey.

    I got the book on the strength of all the positive blurbs including some from people I greatly respect. I thought the first chapter was halfway lame but I pushed on and it got better and better as the story unfolded. If you have not read the book, I highly recommend it to you, and to anyone else it might interest. The subtitle of the book is: a Memoir of Humor and Healing.

    • I’ll add that to the list, thanks Charles. I remember years ago reading a book about church abuse victims, and my then pastor (this was the charismatic church) seeing me reading it and mocking me if I’ve figured out yet if I’d been abused in church.

      I found the book in the church library. And the answer was yes. I left within a year.

    • If we’re sharing books, I’d suggest you read I Fired God by Jocelyn Zichterman. She grew up in literally the same circles I did in Wisconsin, the book lists many people I know personally. That’s just half of my story, but it’s the IFB portion.

      After that book, things broke for me. I don’t know if I can read other survivor type books. It just enrages me, especially while I’m closer and closer to just being free of it all.

  9. At this point, I don’t want to go back to church, ever. I’m not missing anything. Been through the cycle too many times. Content to just sit outside and read and study and learn on my own. I have zero in common with anyone in most churches nowadays anyways. All my heroes walk outside the halls of faith too. My life has improved immensely since leaving, and the only thing that would drive me back is fear of what others would think. I’m discovering I’ve had intense co-dependence all my life, long periods of depression, and much worse, and I’d rather fix myself and be healthy outside then go back to my abusers and everything that hurt me.

    • The author of PTCS would likely agree with most everything you have said here except that she did push on thru and get free. She doesn’t focus on the abuse, but on the getting free. I’m thinking it could be helpful and healing for you as well. I would send you a copy if it would get you to read it. Bless your own journey.

  10. I’ve been a regular reader of Internet Monk since early 2007, soon after I became a Christian. I actually ended up here in a roundabout way, from one of the more popular Reformed blogs back then (one that gave Michael some grief over the years). I drifted away from the blogs, but never gave up on iMonk, even after Michael’s untimely passing. Theologically, I remain committed to things that are opprobrious to most of you folks–Calvinism and innerancy, for example–but I don’t jump into the fray when these topics come up. I understand the objections, and I don’t want to get into arguments. 🙂

    StuartB: I wrote a long comment to you back on September 1st’s “Follow Me” post, but it was long after the fact, so you may have missed it. At the risk of completely taking over this thread, here’s my reply to you. I hope you can find something good in it.

    Whatever you do, don’t give up entirely on God. I get your cynicism, although I can’t presume to know the full depths of what you went through.

    I grew up an atheist, to an agnostic Anglo father and an atheist Jewish mother. As a teenager, I was pretty dogmatic in my atheism. But God was calling me to Himself in those years and as an adult. It took me many years of struggling against Him and trying different paths (agnosticism; dabbling in Buddhism; Judaism; the Jesus Seminar; off-and-on mainline Christianity). The one thing I could never countenance embracing was conservative evangelicalism–all those Sunday-morning TV preachers!–and yet, against all odds, that is precisely the thing I ended up becoming! It’s been 7 years+ since I gave my life to Christ.

    All of that is to say that although I have never wavered since then–I’ve been reading Internet Monk for almost all that time, but I’m theologically still probably more of a “fundygelical” than most of the folks here–but I’ve never lost my cynicism about the excesses of the modern Church; and I’ve been fortunate to know churches and Christians who are decent, loving human beings who love Jesus and take the Bible at its word (I know that’s a loaded concept around here), but shattered all my stereotypes of what such Christians are like.

    You might also want to explore some of the Christian modes of expression that others here have alluded to in the past. For example, long before I was born again and long before the Internet came along, I was reading the Desert Fathers (whom people here sometimes quote from, like turnsalso higher up on this thread). Yes, they were ascetics, which is definitely extreme living…but there is something often quite humble and earthy about their wisdom in trying to live out their call to follow Jesus.

    Dana mentioned finding short prayers to pray throughout the day…I find that really helps to ground me. Not prayers to zone out…no, prayers to focus ourselves mentally on God, but prayers that get to the essence of our relationship to Him. Many people use the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”), which comes from Eastern Orthodoxy, and which you find a lot about on the Internet. I would be extremely wary of using it as a “breath prayer,” but as a model for a short, simple prayer that you can use in any situation–walking, driving, working, doing chores, going to sleep–there is much to be said for it. Short Bible verses like the Tax Collector’s prayer in Luke 18:13 or Psalm 79:9; or David’s prayer in Psalm 86:11 have been a great help to me in focusing my relationship with God the Father and God the Son, through the Holy Spirit.

    You also may want to look at hermeneutics–i.e., how to read the Bible!–from a fresh perspective. To step back and look at the sweep of redemptive history, and how all the books of the Bible relate together in that way; and without the eschatological baggage of certain systems. For me, Edith Schaeffer’s “Christianity is Jewish” was an excellent introduction to the scope of biblical history, seen from a point of view that saw the Jewish roots of Christianity as an organic, integrated part of the whole.

    God bless you in your path and don’t give up hope in our holy and loving Redeemer!

    P.S.: Like you, Job and Ecclesiastes are two of my favourite books in the Bible! (But I believe Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, so I guess that’s a strike against me… 🙁 )

    • Another Ecclesiastes fan! YES!!!

    • Thanks Stefan, good advice.

      I think I need to definitely pull back from iMonk. I hate seeing it devolve into “stu talks about his problems in the comments”. And maybe cutting back or cutting ties with iMonk would finally free me from all the rubberbanding back and forth on Christianity.

      This is newbies day, let them have it.

      • Fair enough. I’ll count myself as sort of a “newbie” according to the good Chaplain’s definition, in the sense that I rarely comment. Yeah, being a regular, you have no such excuse. 🙂 No, just kidding.

        But yes, I can tell you based on experience, that taking a breather from blogs–even from just commenting–can be incredibly liberating. I’ve gone through it a couple of times, and I came out of the experience saner and happier.

        But don’t go away entirely–we’d miss you! I think your cynicism helps to keep things grounded.

        • I prefer the term “experience”, lol…

          Maybe I’ll take most of October off. Got a lot of work to focus on, next steps in life in some areas, and Halloween, although I may have to stop in for the Great Pumpkin article comments (you know it’s coming again, lol).

          • Autumn is a good time for soul-searching. It must be the falling of the leaves and the onset of winter.

      • You can’t leave, Stuart. I need your periodic U2/Bono references!

        • October
          And the trees are stripped bare
          Of all they wear
          What do I care

          • Okay, Stuart…I posted this question to my U2 friends on FB last week:

            What was your first favorite U2 song?

            (Mine: New Year’s Day, off of War, which was the first album of theirs that I got into.)

          • GREAT song, and it’s one of the few old classic songs that I haven’t heard live yet…didn’t get to see them this time around the US, was too busy with work, couldn’t get away, so I hope they come back around in a year’s time.

            Favorite U2 song? Easy. Until the End of the World. Has everything I love about U2 in it. Jesus. Judas. Rock and roll. Theatrics. And an epic guitar solo. (But has to be the live versions, album is a bit too subdued).

            Plus, first time I saw them live, 2005 in Chicago, they debuted it on the tour, and I lost my mind.

            First U2 albums were War and Achtung Baby at the same time, followed by Pop and Rattle and Hum. All That You Can’t Leave Behind was the first to come out after I became a fan.

            Favorite performance of UTEOTW –

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejJdfkFjKCA

            And a rather memorable performance from the last time I saw U2 perform in 2011 –

            https://youtu.be/PZrq5AcF0zE?t=19m28s

          • GREAT song, and it’s one of the few old classic songs that I haven’t heard live yet…didn’t get to see them this time around the US, was too busy with work, couldn’t get away, so I hope they come back around in a year’s time.

            Favorite U2 song? Easy. Until the End of the World. Has everything I love about U2 in it. Jesus. Judas. Rock and roll. Theatrics. And an epic guitar solo. (But has to be the live versions, album is a bit too subdued).

            Plus, first time I saw them live, 2005 in Chicago, they debuted it on the tour, and I lost my mind.

            First U2 albums were War and Achtung Baby at the same time, followed by Pop and Rattle and Hum. All That You Can’t Leave Behind was the first to come out after I became a fan.

            Favorite performance of UTEOTW –

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ejJdfkFjKCA

            And a rather memorable performance from the last time I saw U2 perform in 2011 –

            https://youtu.be/PZrq5AcF0zE?t=19m28s

        • Speaking of music, Bad Religion’s The Process of Belief was one of my go to albums in high school, but I’ve never delved back into their catalog, just their later stuff.

          This song…just found it today. It’s good.

          http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/badreligion/voiceofgodisgovernment.html

          • Fave U2 song is One. will check into Bad Religion. I have been reading Monk for several years but am a rare poster, if that is a real word the way I am using it.

    • I’m a fan of Ecclesiastes myself. Hebrew translator and textual scholar (whose own translation of the book I would heartedly recommend) called it the KJV translators’ finest hour. As a self-described “conservative” and “fundygelical”, however, I’m curious as why you are such a fan. I would think you find the “eat drink and be merry” philosophy and the rather bleak “no afterlife” view point rather off putting. Most evangelicals in my experience manage to pretend it doesn’t exist. (Like they do the overtly erotic Song of Songs.)

      • I come from a worldly background. I was atheist/agnostic most of my life, and I can still appreciate how the world looks from a secular point of view. Explored existentialism when I was younger as well. And I enjoy the occasional beverage or two (ahem).

        Theologically, I’m conservative, but I believe in progressive sanctification. Fortunately, most of the Christians I’ve met and the two churches I’ve been involved with also have a realistic attitude towards these things. I was surprise to discover early on that far from being dour moralists, Calvinists often seem to be more progressive in this area, if they truly believe that salvation truly is the sovereign work of God.

        I also believe in progressive revelation, and the worldview of Ecclesiastes regarding the afterlife certainly seems to dovetail with much of the rest of the Old Testament’s views regarding that subject.

        • …But who is the translator you’re recommending? His (or her) name got left off….

        • *SOME* Calvinists. For others, it can degenerate into “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” a type of works-based legalism by another name.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > the rather bleak “no afterlife” view point rather off putting

        That is all in the manner of reading. I did not and do not find Ecclesiastes to be “bleak”. I find it to be real and a great release from the urgency of the rest of Scripture [which I have subsequently learned is not actually there]. The earnest questing for the best possible After Life… you won’t find much of that in Scripture. Whoever wrote Ecclesiastes is simply the most blunt about it.

        • Yes! Ecclesiastes is surely the most “philosophical” book of the Bible. It is a necessary (and Spirit-inspired, I would maintain) corrective: not against other parts of Scripture, but against selective interpretations of Scripture that would overlook the tone of books like Job or Ecclesiastes (or many of the Psalms and Prophets!).

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          The earnest questing for the best possible After Life…

          Which can easily turn into the Christian version of “Spend all your life Finding Yourself and you won’t have the time to HAVE a Self to find.”

  11. Saw the eclipse whilst sitting in Wrigley field last night.

    Speaking of which. Jake Arrieta is unbelievable right now. 21-6. Just sayin. If the world ends before the playoffs I won’t be happy.

    • Going to the game tomorrow night in Cincy. Was hoping to see a game that meant something for the standings, but that’s ok. Cubs in the playoffs! Life is good.

      • Yeah, I was hoping for the same. Those two losses on Fri-Sat pretty much sealed it.

        The Pirates can’t be very excited about seeing Arrieta in a 1 game play in.

  12. I’ve been a bit away from the site the past few weeks, preparing to be on a panel discussing the problem of evil at an apologetics conference, and the site wasn’t discussing that. One thought from it merges with the discussion above about the level of criticism of the church here. I believe that the philosophical and apologetic problem of evil (not the pastoral) is solved by following the instructions of Philippians 4:8 to study the good, not by studying evil. The same appears to apply to criticism.

    I also think we’d get more of a “conversation in the great hall” if we seeded the conversation with multiple voices from multiple directions. That was done once recently when Damaris wrote in the middle of a series. More of that please.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > following the instructions of Philippians 4:8 to study the good, not by studying evil.

      Agree; I’ve pushed that meme before. You get an astonishing amount of push back.

      I recall a conversation I had with a fantasy writer – about how much easier it is to write villains, how many more words and phrases there are for darkness, compared to how difficult it is to write heros, or worse, angelics. I suspect there is an element of truth in there about us and reality. Heroes so easily become boring, trite, and domestic; when heroism is nothing like that, but greatness is hard to encapsulate.

      Similar is a conversation I had with a fellow advocate, a seasoned old soul, whose mantra as “Do you want to be right[eous] or do you want to create a result?”. Becoming obsessed with being in-the-right is The Sin Of The Advocate, when an advocate’s role is to move things forward. This means sometimes doing uncomfortable things like working within your Overton Window [this is the principle that turned me into a die-hard incrementalist].

  13. Well I think my “newbie” has kind of worn off at this point but I wanted to take advantage of the open forum to comment about the Recommended Reading for this week. I often find these very interesting and sometimes wish we could have discussions about some of the issues they raise, in this venue. I did make some comments on one of the linked sites a while back disagreeing with the commentator’s viewpoint on same-sex marriage and my comment didn’t ever post so I’m assuming there was ‘no disagreement allowed’ policy over there. No such policy exists here fortunately. Sooo…more or less in order –

    Is it really possible Thomas Merton has been so forgotten? I knew his work even before I went to Seminary and I was raised a Southern Baptist! Of course back in those days (early 80s) he was still quite famous. Truth be told I haven’t read him in years myself. Maybe he was of his time and place but what a time and what a place!

    —–

    What a world of privilege one must dwell in to consider a Fiat a sign of poverty and humility. Enough said. We judge the tree by its fruit.

    —–

    The Worship Wars? It’s clear one form of worship and one form of church is dying. Maybe that’s for the best. Celebrity Christians like Nadia Bolz-Weber, Rachel Held Evans and Donald Miller are problematical but perhaps if the church is to survive the vision they offer is a way to negotiate the troubled decades ahead.

    —–

    Everything that Bart Ehrman and Peter Enns write is scholarly commonplace. All non-fundamentalist Seminary professors know this and all ministers who make it through seminary know this. And yet when books are written about these subjects the church-goers in the pews are scandalized. Where is the disconnect? Are the ministers just too cowardly to open up a can of worms? Is it just simpler not to bring it up? But don’t they have an obligation to bring it up?

    —–

    The arguments between Luther and his critics seem long ago and far away until you read the comments to that FIRST THINGS article. Boy Howdy, people care. They really do. And you know friends, so do I.

    • Stephen, I don’t think Merton was ever really “famous”; he had some recognition among those with professional interest in religion/Christianity, but to most of the religious and non-religious masses his name was unknown. I think he would be content to know that he has passed into greater obscurity with the passage of time; it’s fitting for a monk to be anonymous.

      • At his time (admittedly before my time), Merton was certainly “famous”: from what little I know, possibly one of the most well-known public Christians, not just in religious circles, but in literary and cultural circles. My (still alive) agnostic father had one of his books. He even shows up as a character in the 1994 Robert Redford movie Quiz Show, about the scandal surrounding the prime time TV quiz show Twenty One in the 1950s. In that movie, Merton was a guest of the Ivy League academic Van Doren family. I did a double-take when re-watching the movie recently, realizing whom the wisdom-dispensing character “Thomas” was representing in a dinner-party scene.

        • Not to trivialize Merton at all, but to illustrate how “famous” he was for a season, in the 21st-century sense of the term. But I agree with you that, by and large, he would now only be remembered by those of a certain religious inclination…and a certain age.

        • it’s not that Merton was ‘famous’ so much as what he wrote resonated with a lot of people . . . he helped them realize that there was a part of themselves that deserved attention and appreciation and was best served in the realms of solitude and silence . . .

  14. I selfishly wish that my church were one of those cheesy materialistic health-and-wealth types, because then I would be justified in my desire to leave it and to find a church that could give me a greater sense of connection to the transcendence of God and the witness of church history.

    I love God’s cosmic, universal Truth too much to deny the real sincerity that I’ve identified behind my pastor’s evangelistic sermonizing. I must judge myself by the same standard that I judge my pastor and my church community by — all truth is true, wherever it is found — and God is the ultimate Truth. The fact that my conservative Baptist community generally has no concern or respect for universal or abstract expressions of truth does not negate the fact that its intense love for the Scriptures and its real dedication to tangible relationships with real people are manifestations of that same great Truth.

    My church teaches that we must have an explicit agenda for our lives — the agenda of bringing souls into the Kingdom. When my pastor stands at the pulpit and implores, “You believe in sincerity; then be sincere!” and then goes on to challenge us to sincerely reach people with the Gospel, there is nothing I can argue, because sincerity is my highest value.

    But I can’t maintain the conviction that everyone who does not hear and respond to the Gospel is definitely to hell, not without falling into despair. That anyone should go to hell is the worst thing possible; so converting people to Christ is the most important function for Christians. Hell is so terrible and the call to evangelism so urgent, that for me this belief had sucked up all of life and destroyed the possibility for any happiness. On an evangelistic trip with a group from the church to an inner city area when I was 18, I had to snap into “radical berserker” mode in order to witness to people spontaneously on the streets.

    Although I argue that this total emphasis on evangelism subverts God’s gift of life, I can’t deny that at least some people at my church seem to live harmonious lives while maintaining an explicit evangelistic agenda. I can’t manage any kind of peace that way.

    One time in Sunday school last year I spoke up about my Inclusivist leanings — that perhaps some people in other religions might be saved due to the fact that Jesus is God, and God is universal, and to deny one’s ego in order to seek the ultimate Truth of God could perhaps be a way to respond to Jesus without knowing His name. That was the first and only time that I’ve ever had the Bible thrown at me with any hostility. It was a dramatic scene; I fell out of my chair in distress. I’ve come to accept that I am partially responsible for that hostility; as a lay person without formal theological training, it wasn’t my place to argue against my church’s official stance on soteriology. Now my personal stance on soteriology is that it’s equally wrong to positively assert that anyone in a non-Christian religion might go to heaven as it is to assert that all non-Christians throughout history have definitely gone to hell.

    Regardless, I don’t believe that I have a responsibility to say for sure whether or not anyone in my life is going to hell. I believe that I have a responsibility to the Truth, to say what I really believe at the time when it is right to say it, to express truth and to live truth wherever I can.

    I haven’t taken communion in months now, and I’ve always skipped communion from time to time due to my inner conflict. At my church the administration of the Lord’s Table usually contains another call to evangelism, as well as the admonishment not to partake if your heart isn’t right with God. The thing is, I don’t feel that I’m ever right with God, certainly not with the eternal destiny of all the non-Christians I’ve ever met hanging over my head. Even without the call to evangelism, I would struggle to assert that I’m right enough to partake, because I get stuck in feedback loops of examining my own motivations and worrying about my spiritual condition.

    One Sunday this summer I went to the local Reformed church (RCA). I liked it somewhat better. I really appreciated the prayer of confession uttered by the congregation at the beginning of the service. The sermon wasn’t liberal — they talked about heaven and hell — and I saw the same kind of sincerity in some of the people who spoke and prayed. So, I’ve been considering quitting Baptist church for the Reformed one.

    But the people at the Baptist church have always expressed love and concern for me, even recently as I’ve lost my “nice Christian boy” reputation. I’ve known these people for about 20 years — since my early childhood — and this church gave me many of my best experiences. I need to emphasize that I’ve never been abused in any way. Lately I’ve been trying to open up to people about my problems, and it’s been going badly. They don’t understand me, and I probably don’t understand them. I’ve already caused some dissension, and I think leaving for good would cause more.

    Christianity is about death, and sometimes I think that I need to die to my convictions and embrace being a good Baptist. But the inconsistency sickens me; there’s no reason to be a Christian at all if you’re not really seeking Truth. The people at my church do seek Truth, as far as I can tell, but I’m still alone. I’ll always doubt my place in Christ, wondering if I’m the tare, the wolf—but the answer to my self-doubt can’t be to justify my own desires, because Christianity is about denying yourself in order to seek Truth.

    I could use some wisdom on this!

    • Wisdom? I’m afraid I don’t have much to give you there. I hear much of what you’re saying and wish I could wave a magic wand for ya.

      Sympathy and empathy? Now that I have much more for ya. I’m sorry to hear about some of the things you’ve gone through and continue. Prayers going up for you, Paul.

    • The process of growth is painful, Paul, and it sounds as if you’re being stretched pretty hard. It might be that you’ll leave where you are (although of course you might not). It’s hard for everyone involved not to assume that someone who leaves one thing and moves to another is criticizing or discarding the first thing, but I don’t think that’s always the case. God seems to call some to move and some to stay. It is difficult, though, when your church family doesn’t give you room for the growth you need.

      Strange but true story that I’ll use as a metaphor: my daughters’ math teacher is insanely fit — Ironman (Ironwoman?) kind of fit. And that’s a good thing. But when she got pregnant, her baby actually began experiencing the beginnings of distress because its mother’s great muscle tone didn’t allow for the kind of growth it needed. In the same way, your church’s goodness may be constricting you. She had to get slightly out of shape in order to carry the baby properly; is your church willing to ease up in order to allow you the room you need to grow?.

      And honestly, a focus on evangelism above all else leaves out most of the Christian life, which is to be with God and be like God. A church that focuses exclusively on evangelism ends up being like the one electoral campaign I decided (briefly) to participate in. I was called to volunteer, so I came into the office and was asked to call other people to volunteer. But what are we volunteering to DO? I asked — I never found out. Just bring them in and then get them to bring other people in, ad infinitum.

      Stick with it, Paul. I think we’d be friends if we ever met; or at least I’d be honored if we were.

    • I’d encourage you to leave. Especially if someone threw a Bible at you, literally. Leave. If you have no obligations, you are free to do so, there’s no law or rule against it.

      Do what you want.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        +1 I encourage you to leave. There are other communities.

        And “Christianity is about death”, I disagree. Christianity is about Life. If you believe your principle belief is about Death then any peace or happiness is going to be hard to find. It sounds as if this community is about Death; leave them to it and walk away.

      • Not literally. They didn’t physically throw a Bible across the room at me. They rebuked me with Bible verses as a way to end the discussion, and they concluded with the old standby, “If you don’t believe this, then there’s nothing I can do for you—it’ll have to be the Holy Spirit.”

    • Thank you, everyone. I’m honored to be acknowledged on such a venerable blog.

  15. Rick, Because I can’t pick just one…

    Staring at the Sun
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jlqSsIVxd0

    Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCnQOlP3dBI&feature=PlayList&p=A5173F28C0F31B99&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=17

    The Fly (possibly has my favorite quote of all time)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEyrhdBIyD8

    The Crystal Ballroom (yup, a b-side to the new album already in top fav of all time)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCGbQYRZxpE

    Zooropa
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEIMqyHIwlQ

    i could go on…i’m all over the map.

    • Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and Pop are perfection for me.

    • Breathe is also incredible important to me. It came out a few months before a very close friend of mine went missing and was found dead a week later. I played No Line on the Horizon on repeat for months…

      Breathe, with the line “every day I find the courage to walk out into the street”, took on a whole new meaning for me. At that time in life, I was ready to leave that charismatic church, then everything happened, and I was there for another year, and it just went downhill more and more.

      So yeah, song is important to me, even if not a top 10 or anything.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6gYB7jYW-o

      • Every day I die again, and again I’m reborn
        Every day I have to find the courage
        To walk out into the street
        With arms out
        Got a love you can’t defeat
        Neither down nor out
        There’s nothing you have that I need
        I can breathe
        Breathe now

        Walk out into the street
        Sing your heart out
        The people we meet
        Will not be drowned out
        There’s nothing you have that I need
        I can breathe
        Breathe now
        Yeah, yeah

        We are people borne of sound
        The songs are in our eyes
        Gonna wear them like a crown

        Walk out, into the sunburst street
        Sing your heart out, sing my heart out
        I’ve found grace inside a sound
        I found grace, it’s all that I found
        And I can breathe
        Breathe now

  16. Newbie here, popping in to say hi.
    I guess you could say I represent a mainline perspective – I grew up mostly Evangelical, but I now attend a Methodist church. I enjoy the change of viewpoint. It’s kind of refreshing to attend a Bible study and not know every point the teacher’s going to make ahead of time.
    I don’t usually feel like I have much to add to the discussion here, but I always enjoy reading the comments. You guys are some of the best commenters I’ve seen on a Christian website.