God

'Where's God When...?' 3 Authors Launch Tour to Talk Loss, Doubt, and Healing

Image via Dan Holm/shutterstock.com

Image via Dan Holm/shutterstock.com

What’s it like to share your stories of loss to a room of hundreds? Wm. Paul Young (author of The Shack), Reba Riley (Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome), and Christian Piatt (PostChristian) are about to find out — and help others do the same. The three bestselling authors are launching a two-stop tour — "Where's God When..." — in Seattle and Portland on May 16 & 17, to help others hear, and share, their own stories of grief, heartbreak, and healing.

Sojourners sat down with the authors last week to talk loss, return to faith, and what it’s like to coordinate a tour focused on hard questions about God. Interview edited for length and clarity.  

Confessions of a Church Snob

Blend Images / Shutterstock.com

Blend Images / Shutterstock.com

Being “right” is exhausting.

You know what I mean. A controversy blows up over social media and the faith must be defended. A conversation about church practices becomes a nitpicky theological debate. A news story catches our eye and we are filled with outrage and take to our laptops to be the first to comment.

I feel as though I live in a world in which I’m constantly tempted — and encouraged — to major in details and minutiae and miss the very real and beautiful and incomprehensible presence of God.

Which is why being “right” is exhausting.

I thought of this the other day while visiting a different church from the one in which I am a member. My first — and wrong — reaction was to tense up. It seemed that everything about church that I had tried to escape was on display. I’ve learned to pay attention to those reactions. I have found that whenever something bothers me and makes me speak in absolutes, it’s because there’s a part of my heart I want to hoard for myself instead of allowing God’s light to shine on it. I hate to admit it, but so much of my identity as a Christian is defined by what I’m not.

What in the Name of God Is Going On?

Muskoka Stock Photos / Shutterstock.com

Muskoka Stock Photos / Shutterstock.com

A friend mentioned that he likes my blogs dealing with love and compassion and other themes without getting into religion specifically. He said that the mention of God can make things uncomfortable.

My reaction: I know exactly where he’s coming from.

The word “God” has become such a loaded term. We’ve made it that way; God hasn’t done it. And the truth is, I’ve found myself shying away from using the word at times because I’m aware it’s an immediate turnoff to some people. They have the same sort of visceral reaction that we get when we see one of those political attack ads come onto our TV set.

We want to reach for the remote and change the channel.

One of the reasons I started writing blogs was to try to strip away some of the nonsense we’ve attached to the name. And there is so much nonsense. You know what I mean:

That God loves me more than you. God approves of me and those who are like me, but not you and those who are like you. God likes my religion and my way of life, but not yours. God is on my side in any disagreement. God approves of hatred and judgment and killing. God promotes crusades and inquisitions and holy wars.

So much …

 

Is Ebola a Curse from God? Some African Christian Leaders Think So

Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, where Ebola virus samples are tested, in June 2014. Courtesy of Leasmhar via Wikimedia Commons

As Western nations evacuate their citizens from West Africa’s growing Ebola outbreak, some Christian leaders have begun to speak of the virus as a curse from God.

On Friday, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola crisis ravaging the region an international health emergency. On the same day, Nigeria became the latest country in West Africa to declare the virus crisis a national emergency, the day after Spain evacuated a priest and a nun from Liberia to Madrid.

On Saturday, a Congolese nun died from Ebola in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, the AP reported.

The outbreak started in December in Guinea, but was not discovered until March. It has since killed more than 1,000 people in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

“People are having different misconceptions that this is [a curse] from God,” said Bishop Sumoward Harris, now retired from the Lutheran Church in Liberia. “This is depending on how they are interpreting the Bible. But I don’t think God is angry and is issuing a punishment.”

In Liberia, more than 100 Christian leaders meeting in early August declared that God was angry and Ebola a plague. 

Religion, in the Right Hands

MJTH / Shutterstock.com

MJTH / Shutterstock.com

I was privileged to attend the ordination of a friend recently. For the first time, Michelle got to say the blessing over the bread, to break the bread and to give it to all of us with her hands.

Many tears, much joy.

As she handed me a small piece of the bigger loaf, I was reminded of how we, like the communion bread, are in the hands of others for so much of our lives. And how religion can be a thing of so much good or so much pain, depending upon whose hands it is in.

In the right hands, it’s a pathway to the divine. In the wrong hands …

It’s important that we always differentiate between religion and God. The two are distinct. God is always much bigger than any and all of our religions.

Waiting for the Music

Cienpies Design/Shutterstock.com

Cienpies Design/Shutterstock.com

I am waiting for the music to return — the sonorous graces of laughter and kitchen clinking, of bird call on the hillside. 

I am waiting for the music to return — the precarious arrangement of hope and memory that uplifts and guides. 

I am waiting for the music to return — the band, the orchestra, the seisiún, the jam, the people who make and craft sound.

Instead, I am stranded in an eschatological posture like pause on my mp3 player. The Wifi Spirit does not respond and even if I could connect, the playlist I have randomized is sore lacking. I miss the people who make these sounds. I miss their voices. 

8 Things the Church Needs to Say

iluistrator and Visual Idiot/Shutterstock.com

iluistrator and Visual Idiot/Shutterstock.com

If Christians stopped bickering about church, presenting sex as a first-order concern, telling other people how to lead their lives, and lending our name to minor-league politicians, what would we have to say?

We need to figure that out, because we are wearing out our welcome as tax-avoiding, sex-obsessed moral scolds and amateur politicians.

In fact, I think we are getting tired of ourselves. Who wants to devote life and loyalty to a religion that debates trifles and bullies the outsider?

So what would we say and do? No one thing, of course, because we are an extraordinarily diverse assembly of believers. But I think there are a few common words we would say.

The Resurrection Effect: Guns, God's Sovereignty, and the Last Word

Jesus Cervantes/Shutterstock.com

God responds to our violence with forgiveness in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus Cervantes/Shutterstock.com

It seems like violence will never end. Portland. Seattle. Las Vegas. Isla Vista. Almost every day in Chicago. Not to mention IraqBoko Haram, the conflict in Ukraine, and the continued war in Afghanistan.

The Huffington Post just reported that “If it’s a school week in America, odds are there will be a shooting.” Since the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, the United States has averaged 1.37 school shootings per week.

And our culture is divided on how best to respond. One side declares we need to increase gun regulations. The other side insists we need more guns. The two sides are locked in a bitter political rivalry, using terms like “rights” and “responsibilities” and neither side will budge. One side will win the political battle concerning gun rights, but I fear that no matter who wins the battle it will only perpetuate the war.

I’m feeling despair, and from my Facebook feed, I know many others are feeling the same way. After all, this is so much bigger than guns; it’s about a culture of violence. But please, don’t fall into despair. We have too much work to do.

We Can't Afford Dirty Energy: Thoughts on Turkey, Appalachia, and Humility

Przemek Tokar/Shutterstock.com

Przemek Tokar/Shutterstock.com

Two weeks ago in Soma, Turkey, a coal mine explosion left 301 people dead. It was the country’s worst mining disaster, but it wasn’t the first — and it wasn’t the last, as multiple fatal accidents have happened in the two weeks since. The last time a mining disaster caught the world’s attention, we watched and waited and prayed during the rescue operation for the miners in Chile.

In Turkey, people protested in the streets of Soma — protested against Soma Mining for letting this happen, against their government for loopholes in safety rules. In response, the police issued a ban on protests and locked the city down. The ruling political party proudly announces that it has inspected that mine 11 times in the past 5 years; Soma Mining denies negligence. And the families of 301 persons mourn their losses.

This isn’t a faraway problem. In the United States, we don’t do as much traditional mining as we used to — instead, we do mountaintop removal. This has a human cost, too, in more insidious ways. The people living in Appalachia have higher rates of respiratory illness, cancer, kidney diseases, skin ailments, and more. And the landscape, which has the fingerprints of God in it, is being blown apart.

Psalm 95:4-5 says:

“In [God’s] hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are [God’s] also. The sea is [God’s], for [God] made it, and the dry land, which [God’s] hands have formed.”

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