Cindy Brandt writes about faith and culture at cindywords.com. She is the author of Outside In: Ten Christian Voices We Can’t Ignore. She studied Bible/Theology at Wheaton College and holds a Masters of Arts in Theology from Fuller Seminary. She serves on the board of One Day’s Wages, an organization fighting extreme global poverty. She writes from Taiwan, where she lives with her husband and two children on the 33rd floor of a high rise.
Posts By This Author
Raising Children Without Fear
Aside from Universalists, most Christian traditions contain the doctrine of judgment, although the particulars of how that judgment is carried out varies along a spectrum. Whether it is actual physical torture for all eternity or some sort of separation from God, whether there’s purgatory or a second chance post mortem, there exists a form of judgment within the systems of Christian faith.
Good parenting sensibilities tell us we shouldn’t shy away from difficult truths, and although we try to be age-appropriate, we are obligated to share even the most unpalatable aspect of the Christian faith with our kids. The problem is: children don’t yet have the emotional maturity and logical capability to process a belief in eternal punishment. Their budding minds can’t reason through the theological necessity of judgment in a loving God. So they panic and retreat into fear. In order to coax them out of their distress we comfort them, it’s okay, Jesus will save you, just believe in Jesus.
And so it begins — even as kids develop and eventually learn the nuances of Christian life, they are bearing the invisible baggage of fear that had them gripping for Jesus.
Raising Children Un-Fundamentalist
Here’s the thing: I live in a country that is predominantly Buddhist. Here, little kids are taught to hold incense and kneel and bow at ancestor tablets and a variety of gods. Do you know how cute it is to see a little kid praying with pure devotion to a Buddhist god? It is JUST AS CUTE as the blonde headed little girl singing Jesus Loves Me.
A child’s faith is not a testimony of the power of God to evangelize them. It demonstrates how malleable and impressionable children are to the faith values exposed to them at a young age. Children must trust wholeheartedly in order to survive. Their dependence on adults undergirds their entire worldview. Like it or not, as parents we are entrusted with this enormous responsibility to build the structures of faith in which our children will inevitably live fully into, especially when they are little.
Because of this drastic inequality of power between adults and our dependent children, we must take tender care to wield our tremendous spiritual influence on them in a way that is respectful of their autonomy, that listens to their concerns, that empowers them to grow into wholeness, and to ultimately make their own faith choices. We must always be aware of the power differential even as we act as the portal through which they come to know God.
The Beauty of Deconstruction
There is a plethora of Christian bloggers who are “honest with our doubt.” We are hurt, angry, and cynical, and we are not afraid to talk about it. Predictably, there are some who are made uncomfortable by this negativity. And they respond with something like, >“You don't have to waste your time deconstructing things when you're committed to just building something better.”
I have so many problems with this it’s hard to know where to begin. Deconstructing is not a “waste of time.” Nobody enjoys questioning the ideology that has held their worldview intact. You don’t talk someone off of the ledge of suicide by telling them they’re wasting their time bemoaning what’s wrong with their life. You don’t say people are wasting their time figuring out what is causing them to feel such deep pain. But more importantly, it betrays a certain naivete toward the work of building something better. It assumes that constructing something rises from a vacuum rather than on the fruit of past labors. To believe you are constructing and not deconstructing is to be ignorant of what it is you are choosing.
Culture Wars and Destructive Dialogue
Not too long after being introduced to John 3:16, I was taught Psalm 139:13: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Now that I was a Christian, it was important I understood that Christians are anti-abortion, that life begins at conception, and that terminating life is nothing short of murder. Throughout college, I carried the cause of the pro-life movement in a symbol tacked on my school bag: a miniature pair of feet, a replica of a 10-week old baby in utero, intricately shaped in sterling silver.
I didn’t think about it. I never HAD to think about it, having never carried an unwanted pregnancy. For me, the pro-life movement was simple, uncomplicated, pretty, and as sanitized as a small silver ornament. That is, until I moved to China, a country well known for its high rate of abortions — including forced abortions, particularly of baby girls.
Hearing God Sing
What I am learning is that the new normal is not that I no longer experience God, but that God is meeting me in new ways. The new normal is that I don’t need to hear people play guitar telling me to feel God’s love from a stage. I find God’s love in much less conspicuous places, from the stranger behind me who felt too awkward to shake my hand, to the silly doodles my kids were making on the church bulletin. The new normal is that I no longer find authority in celebrity pastors preaching at me, but I do find it listening to unheard voices of small bloggers and older people who aren’t social media savvy.
The new normal is that I hear the "Roman Road" gospel preached and find it dull and superficial, and yet feel overwhelming conviction in the cross lived out by people who forgive their enemies.
The new normal is that although God has not changed, I have changed. And like a parent who stops cooing in baby talk, God is starting to speak in new, fresh ways to me.
Speaking Through the Divide
As a cross-cultural person, I am keenly aware of the vastly different ways we do life. I am a huge champion of creating space for diversity. However, leaning into our differences also serves to make universal aspects of humanity unmistakable. And one thing that binds us is our common experience of suffering. Our compassion and empathy for the suffering of others is powerful enough to break down the thickest walls of ideology.
I think about the areas of our most vehement disputes: the beginning of life (abortion), the end of life (capital punishment, end-of-life care), marriage and children (gay marriage, parenting wars), dignity of work and supporting the family (the economy) — and I see these issues radiate out of the struggle to be human. The pains that love brings to the human experiment threaten with small wedges of disagreement between us until we are fragmented mini-tribes with narrow dogmas.
More Than Numbers: Beyond American Christianity's 'Crisis'
It’s important to listen to the stories told through the numbers as well as the untold stories. As a non-American, it is surprising to hear my brothers and sisters throw out phrases like, “the church is in decline,” when what you are referring to is the church in America. The global church is alive and well and thriving in many areas of the world, and what joy it would be to allow their voices to speak into the congregations of the global North. Many of the polarizing, divisive issues in the American church, such as gay marriage, abortion, and the death penalty, are being discussed by the global church outside the context of the binary lenses of the American left and right. These outside voices can serve to soften the rhetoric hurled by each side, and also give perspective to the priority placed on them in light of the problems faced by the global South.
Question Everything About Your Faith
The definitive characteristic of Christian faith is that it is rooted in a historic event. We are the Resurrection People because the core of our belief, faith, ethics, and future hope lies in the 33 precious years of our God incarnated, culminating in him, the Suffering Servant, being nailed to that old rugged cross, and his subsequent rising from the dead.
The Christian faith has always been about God coming to save us in human form.
Everything we know about what it means to be a Christian is clothed with humanity. Jesus followers learn of what it means to be Christian by way of human relationships. We recite and affirm historical creeds passed down to us through the cloud of witnesses, the generations of believers before us. We are instructed in the moral values that align with Christian teaching by our mothers and fathers, whether biological or spiritual. Our local church community is our ethics classroom, a place where we practice, learn, and grow, working out our salvation and mobilizing the revolution of God in our particular corner of the world.
Easter, the Game Changer
Something has gone awry in our culture when we begin to tell the Resurrection story from a narrative of “The Good Guy Wins.” We love seeing the good guys kick ass. We celebrate rugged heroes like Jack Bauer from the hit TV show 24, even when they kill. So steeped are we in what Walter Wink calls, “the myth of redemptive violence,” we have subsumed the Easter story into this framework.
In cultures where Christianity has become the dominant power, the resurrection of Jesus has been turned into the triumph of the victors. The way “Jesus is Risen” is proclaimed, it sounds like bragging — essentially one-upping those who disagree with us by saying smugly: we win. Easter is used as a trump card to threaten people into joining our side, because we are the side of the victors. Again and again, the church tries to grow by dominating: passing laws discriminating others, fighting legal battles in the courts, using money and clout to sway people into a certain ideology. Easter celebrations at megachurches get bigger and jazzier every year. We are like the disciples who just don’t get it. We argue and argue over which among us is the greatest.
We need to figure out how to tell a different story.
What If Jesus Wasn’t the Answer?
I gave up street evangelizing a long time ago. It was a short-lived career — a few weekends into town with a friend, praying for God to help us meet someone we could share Jesus with. It quickly (thankfully) became clear to me that this business of following God is much better done in the context of long-term relationships with a broader understanding of salvation and mission.
Any time we try to confine the big and beautiful Good News of God into a simplistic message small enough to fit onto a tract or a 10-minute awkward conversation, we cut out too many important details. The truncated gospel of the Four Spiritual Laws requires that we get to the point — Jesus is the answer — as quickly as possible, lest our conversion, I mean, conversation partner gets away from us.
For Jesus to be the answer, there’s got to be a problem, and so we belabor the problem in order to solve it.
The mathematical equation of the gospel made sense to me when I was a child and perhaps into young adulthood. Prove the problem and solve the equation. Everything was simple, organized, and neatly categorized.
Somewhere along the way, it stopped making sense.
- 1 of 4