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
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.
Perceiving Reality Differently: #Dressgate and the Church
If you thought I was going to be one of those bloggers who was above using the recent viral #dressgate as blog fodder, you would be wrong. In fact, as soon as the dress started trending, I knew I would be writing about it because it so perfectly encapsulates my message.
By now you have seen the dress, and gone through the stages of denial, bewilderment, and acceptance of how your perception of color differs from the next person. You may have even read The Science of Why No One Agrees on the Color of This Dress. But you may not yet have had a faith writer exegete the profound spiritual significance of the dress. Do not fear, I am here to deliver. Below is a simple Christian Guide to #Dressgate:
A. If you see blue/black: you are a solid Christian. Like a rock, you are steadfast and unchanging. Because rocks are often black.
B. If you see white/gold: we all know only true Christians can see white/gold, as gold signifies the color which paves the streets of heaven, and white, the color of angel’s robes.
C. If you see BOTH colors: you are one of those progressive, liberal, hippie types who is so politically correct you can’t even exclude a color set of a dress.
D. If you can only see one set of colors, but you’re so convinced you can trick your brain into seeing the other that you will spend an entire span of family dinner twitching your face, blinking and winking furiously, twisting your head at ridiculous angles at the photo, then you are just my husband.
I’m C, of course. The freaky dress does crazy mental magic on my brain, switching colors on me spontaneously, forcing me to existentially question every life decision I have ever made with my faulty, cognitive synapses.
And I’m kidding. Please, don’t be sending me hate mail about the true Christian thing, I’m kidding.
More Christian Than Celebrity
The biggest event of Hollywood industry has just wound down. The rich and glamorous have walked down the red carpet in their designer gowns, the famous people took home trophies, and the Oscars are over for another year.
It is a lot of fun to “ooh” and “aah” over celebrities. I love to dole out opinions on red carpet fashion choices and chuckle at Twitter making fun of Matthew McConaughey’s facial hair. But overall, I think celebrity culture is quite unhealthy. Too much power and fame seems to corrupt even the best of us, and being in the spotlight for too long takes its toll on the human psyche. We should be fostering meaningful relationships with one another instead of developing a system that makes it possible for the celebrity to crave constant attention and for the crowd to follow blindly in an unthoughtful, mob-like fashion.
But because the system is already in place, this mechanism within culture to put people on pedestals for us to blindly adore — when Christians begin to share art and ideas publicly, we have seamlessly co-opted the same model to create a niche Christian celebrity culture.
The Boy Who Did Not Come Back from Heaven
In 2010, the book, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven, was released. At the time, I believe I gave this news about 0.3 percent of my attention, and 0.1 percent was spent lamenting terrible theology prevalent in the popular Christian book market.
I don’t believe we die and are snatched up to heaven, but that is subject for another post — or better yet, go read N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope. Another 0.1 percent of my energies went toward flinching and cringing at the way this boy was IMO being exploited for book sales. In hindsight, I should have spent more time praying for him and his mother, whose cries for truth has been silenced by the powerful machine of the publishing industry. The last 0.1 percent was energy exerted to shaking my head at the allure of sensationalism — enough to shift millions of books and a movie deal.
It came as no surprise when last week The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven retracted his story.