Struggling With a 'Purple State of Mind'

By Becky Garrison 3-12-2008

When I got an invite to attend a screening of the documentary, Purple State of Mind, I went in expecting to see a blue state v. red state dialogue/debate with some quest to find political common ground.


Instead, I was treated to an honest and humorous dialogue between Craig Detweiler and John Marks, two former college roommates. The year 1984 wasn't only the name of a famous Orwellian book, but this year also signified Craig's first year in the faith, John's last. After this fateful year, the two men went on their separate faith paths. The film picks upon their conversation some 25 years later.

At first I struggled with the depiction of Christianity portrayed by these dudes. As a budding writer, I was far too geeky to be an Uber-high-school-athlete-turned-Christian-missionary like Craig. Nor did I have that Barbie-beautiful-Christian lifestyle that John eventually left behind. Simply put, my dogs ate my Barbies. My childhood was more Felliniesque than fairytale. Even though I was a pre-natal Episcopalian (my late father was a priest so do the ecclesiology and the science and it sort of makes sense), my relationship with the institutional church remains akin to an outsider lurking around the crevices. Except for a brief period in my mid-twenties when I experimented with a variety of religious experiences - including an adult Campus Crusade for Christ bible study, Cursillo, and the Young Republicans - my spiritual life has been anything but certain.

But as the documentary progressed, I began to see how these men's stories paralleled many of my own struggles. I too often wondered where God was in the midst of global conflicts and my own personal pain. Also, I've encountered more than my fair share of faith fakers. So I understand why someone would just give up on the God game. But I have encountered enough spiritual buds in my life that convince me to keep walking forward on this admittedly crooked spiritual path.

While neither Craig nor John compromise their beliefs, these former college buddies are able to maintain a conversation of the heart. Despite their glaring differences on matters of faith, their friendship enables them to move beyond the white noise of the Dawkins vs. Dobson extremists debates and explore where they have common ground in their shared humanity.

Unfortunately, such genuine dialogues are few and far between. Martin Marty, a church historian at the University of Chicago Divinity School, offers some sage counsel as he explores why we're in such an ideological quagmire these days:

"Fundamentalism is an expected reaction to the anomie that comes with social disorganization. When the social institutions become shaky, and uncertainty about the future becomes widespread, people look to religion to provide absolutes and a sense of security in the midst of their changing world."

Looks like both New Atheists and their Christian counterparts are grabbing onto their belief systems like Linus Van Pelt hanging onto his security blanket for dear life. With all that's going on in the world, I get the need to hold onto something safe. But who ever said the Christian journey was safe and comfy? Ever since the late, great Mike Yaconelli edited my first article, "Beavis and Butthead Are Saved," and got me started on this whole weird world of serving God through my writing, "safe" is never a word I've used to describe my faith journey. Scary, sweet, strange, sacrilegious, spiritual - yes. But safe? No way, no how. Never.

Becky Garrison is Senior Contributing Writer for The Wittenburg Door. Portions of this posting are excerpted from The New Atheists Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail, reprinted with permission from Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Don't Miss a Story!

Get Sojourners delivered straight to your inbox.

Have Something to Say?

Add or Read Comments on
"Struggling With a 'Purple State of Mind'"
Launch Comments
By commenting here, I agree to abide by the Sojourners Comment Community Covenant guidelines and acknowledge that my comment may be published in the Letters to the Editor section of Sojourners magazine.

Must Reads