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.
Being a Christian, by definition, means we endeavor to follow Jesus. But few if any of us does it, really. I mean all the way. As Shane Claiborne famously once said, Jesus ruined his life. Once he went all in on what he felt God was calling him to do, everything in his life — all he held dear and felt was important — got turned upside down.
It happened all the time in the gospels. The second someone decided to follow Jesus, BAM! Life as they knew it was over.
Who wants that? Who of us is really so invested in this idea of following Jesus that we’d set it all down and walk away if we had to? I don’t know about you, but the very idea of it is pretty terrifying.
So I’m going to try and do it. With some ground rules, like I’m not going to abandon my family. But over the next 16-18 months, I want to be lot more intentional about what it means to follow Jesus. For real.
I was asked to contribute a chapter to a new book called Disquiet Time: Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. The volume, an edited compilation put together by Cathleen Falsani and Jennifer Grant, takes on many of the weird texts in scripture that we either gloss over or completely ignore because they’re just too … well, weird.
Of course there are plenty of spiritual oddballs to choose from, but as soon as I got the invite, I knew I wanted to write about the book of Revelation (note that there is not “S” at the end; there is no such book as Revelationsssssssss in the Bible). Suffice it to say that my relationship with the last book in the bible is a little bit complicated. In fact, it ruined my potential career as a lifetime Baptist. A number of you may have heard bits or pieces of the story about how I got kicked out of church as a teenager, but may not know all the details.
Well kids, you can blame it all on one freaky Bible book, one intransigent teenager and a floppy-Bible-wielding youth minister. But although the experience pushed me out of church for a solid decade, it didn’t forever ruin my search for the divine. But this particular story isn’t about that. It’s about how I got one particular youth minister so red-faced and flustered that he cussed me out and almost hit me square in the noggin with the Good Book.
I’ve had the chance to speak with author and international peace activist John Paul Lederach about his book, Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians. The book, updated from an earlier edition with a new introduction from Bill and Lynne Hybels and additional stories, is a powerful guide on how to seek and realize peace among us on both local and global scales.
Having traveled the world brokering peace agreements between governments and rebel groups, and having risked his own lives and that of his family for the sake of reconciliation, Lederach speaks prophetically to difficult issues facing us today in a way that few can.
From Gaza to Iraq and even Ferguson, Mo., we want to know: what do we do now? Thankfully John Paul Lederach offers us both the hope and the tools to begin achieving reconciliation, wherever we are. In our discussion below we talk about his book, which is capturing the attention and imaginations of leaders everywhere.
Anyone who has been paying attention knows that Christianity is in decline in the western world by all accounts. From progressive mainline churches to evangelical mega-churches, most institutional religious bodies are experiencing precipitous drops in attendance and giving. Meanwhile, the Christian voice in the civil and political conversations is also giving way to other perspectives, be they Jewish, Muslim, or secular humanist. It’s no longer a dark mark on one’s social character to say they don’t go to church, or even that they’re not a Christian.
For many leaders within organized Christian circles, this is all a call to arms, a warning shot across the proverbial bow to wake us up from our slumber and engage the impinging culture war with renewed commitment.
But as I suggest in my new book, postChristian: What’s Left? Can we fix it? Do we care? It’s actually good news. Granted, it may not slow the decline and closure of churches anytime soon, and we Christians will likely continue to lose some degree of political clout, but I argue that this isn’t the point. It never was. And in fact, our numerical, political and even financial success in recent generations has taken us far off track.
This week has been a rough one for Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Following one scandal after another, the Acts 29 Network – which he helped found – removed his standing and his church’s standing within the network. They also encouraged him to step down as the leader of Mars Hill.
To add to that, Lifeway Bookstores, which is one of the biggest faith-based book chains around, decided to stop carrying all of Driscoll’s books. Basically this just means he can join me and all of us progressive Christian authors who have been edged out by Lifeway. You’ll get used to it, Mark.
All of this is good for Christianity as a whole. For starters, it demonstrates the autonomy of the Acts 29 Network from their founder. And despite their many misguided policies regarding women and their proclivity for hyper-calvinism overall, it shows that they, too, have their limits.
As for Lifeway, I can’t really tell if their decision to drop Driscoll is an ethical one, or a matter of mitigating further PR risk by having his titles in their stores. Either way, props for getting his face off the shelves, regardless.
I’d not be surprised, too, if Driscoll chooses to step down from Mars Hill in the near future. At some point, even he will recognize his leadership as untenable.
In the midst of all of this, I’m conflicted.
I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people within mainline Christian churches note that, though they don’t embrace all of the theological positions of their evangelical sisters and brothers, they are impressed by their aptitude for organizing and affecting change on a large scale. At the same time, I see thousands converge at festivals like the Wild Goose festival in North Carolina, feeling both fed by the invigorating sense of community, but also frustrated to be leaving with the still unanswered question:
What do we do now?
The CANA Initiative, which is a joint collaboration of Brian McLaren, Stephanie Spellers, and Doug Pagitt, seeks to help answer that nagging question. Cana seeks to be the connective tissue that helps hold together communities of faith that share common priorities in addressing the pressing socioeconomic issues of our time.
From their website, “The CANA Initiative brings together innovative leaders from all streams of the faith to collaborate in the development of new ways of being Christian ... new ways of doing theology and living biblically, new understandings and practices of mission, new kinds of faith communities, new approaches to worship and spiritual formation, new integrations and conversations and convergences and dreams.”
Following is an audio interview I conducted with these three key voices in the CANA conversation. We talked about why CANA is needed now, more than ever, and what sort of transformation they hope to affect within the greater Christian body.
Not to get all braggy here, but this episode is pretty great.
First, we have our first return guest, and it’s one of our best: Jim Wallis. Christian moderated a discussion with Jim at Powell’s Books last week to talk about his new book about nurturing the common good, called On God’s Side.
I swear, Jim Wallis is incapable of saying uninteresting things. What an honor to have him back (even if Jordan didn’t get to be there).
We spend the second half of the show talking about bombings and explosions and ricin. I promise, it’s not as depressing as it sounds. Namely, we wanted to talk about racial profiling when it comes to terror suspects, the shifting tectonics of how we get news in America, how to talk about tragedy with children, and how much faith is to blame in religious extremism.
Seriously, even with horribly serious subject matter, this was a really fun show to do and talk about, and we use our senses of humor to cope. We hope you enjoy.
Editor's Note: The following is a question from Christian Piatt's book Banned Questions About Jesus. It is on sale on Amazon Kindle for $2.99 through July 25.
Jarrod McKenna: No.
Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword. And we as disciples must wield the same sword Jesus brings, and no other.
The question is, what is this sword?
What is this sword that heals rather than harms enemies?
What is this sword that never collaborates or mirrors the Powers, thereby exposing their addiction to violence?
What is this sword that prophetically turns over tables of idolatry and injustice in a judgment that does not harm, hurt, coerce or kill anyone?
What is this fire that is ablaze with the very presence of I AM in response to the cries of the oppressed, this fire that does not destroy the bush in which it burns?
What is this power that is ablaze on the cross, sucking the oxygen of injustice and violence from creation then causes a cosmic backdraft in the resurrection, setting the world alight with the love that conquers death?
I spoke with Chris Yaw recently, host of an online program called ChurchNext. On it, he has dialogues with a number of church leaders about the current state of organized religion, the changing face of Christianity and what our churches may do to remain (or become) relevant, vital ministries in the world.
Here’s a video of our chat. You can also download the whole episode from his website, or catch it as an audio-only MP3.
No great theological revelations today. No tear-jerking finale. No big mortal lesson. Just another step in a journey of a lifetime. ...
We’ve been in San Francisco the last couple of days, which is one of my favorite cities in the world. Driving here definitely hikes my blood pressure, but the sights, culture and food makes up for it.
Mostly we’ve continued to walk as much as possible. We’ve covered several miles every day, but my feet are evidence of the change of routine. Several blisters have emerged where there should just be calluses, and my plantar fasciitis decided to rejoin me in my heels after a brief, but welcome, sabbatical.
Last Sunday, we looked around the sanctuary, every seat filled, smile mixed with tears, and each one bearing a story about how they got there and why they stayed. Stories of recovery from addiction, healing in its many unexpected, mysterious forms, lost hope resurrected by a community of faith who loved them through it. It was beautiful.
And then we said goodbye and left.
It seems like all we’ve been doing lately. To friends, family, and even those people who acted heartbroken that we’re moving on, even though we don’t exactly remember being friends with them. turns out some people feed on the drama of “goodbye” like it’s some strange narcotic. Reminds me of Helena Bonham Carter’s character in Fight Club who got off on other peoples’ misery in an endless chain of twelve-step groups she crashed.
Christian Piatt, who recently interviewed the creators behind the upcoming film Blue Like Jazz, was asked to write a discussion guide for the movie. The e-book will be distributed to anyone who wants a copy for free.
We’re excited and honored to be a part of this, and it’s my hope that the e-book will help individuals and small groups who see the movie to go a little deeper with it and come away with something meaningful.
There has been a surprisingly positive response to the article I published yesterday called “Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church.” And as I noted, it was hardly a comprehensive list. There were several others I thought were worth noting if I’d had the room, so I thought I’d continue with the same theme today.
And as I said in yesterday’s article:
- Although the answer(s) vary from person to person, there are some general trends that I think apply in most cases, and;
- In the list below, when I refer to “we,” “I” or “me,” I’m referring to younger adults in general, and not necessarily myself.