Faith

Accompanied by Nones

Brian E. Konkol. Photo courtesy of the author.
Brian E. Konkol. Photo courtesy of the author.

It was December of 2000, but I remember the occasion as if it were yesterday.

It was a few days after Christmas during my senior year of college. I was quite nervous, and I wondered how my friends and family would react. 

How would my basketball teammates respond? Would my roommates treat me differently? And of course, what about my girlfriend? She had no idea our relationship would take such a dramatic turn.

I could hide no longer. I had to be honest with who I was. And so, after a great deal of delay and long nights of nervous planning, I finally decided to share what I had been keeping secret. 

Beginning with my girlfriend, then my parents, brother, sister, and eventually friends, roommates, and teammates, I shared the news: After a significant amount of prayer and discernment, I was no longer planning to attend law school following college graduation, but instead, I wanted to attend seminary in order to become an ordained Lutheran pastor.

As to be expected, I received mixed reactions.

My parents were confused and surprised, as they – like most people – had not perceived me as “religious”," especially not to the point of pursuing ordination. Nevertheless, they accepted the news with delight and affirmation. 

In addition, my girlfriend (who is now my wife) was wonderfully supportive. So was my brother, sister, and closest friends. 

On the other hand, some others were not sure how to react. My friends – mostly uninterested in religion – wondered about future plans. Basketball teammates were a bit uneasy. And even the campus priest and a few professors had an assortment of reactions. While a number of people were anxious and apprehensive, those within my closest circle of friends accepted the announcement with open arms. 

I continue to thank God for such a wonderful web of support.

Millennials' Reflections on the New American Values Survey

Sojourners' 2012-2013 interns.
Sojourners' 2012-2013 interns.

On Tuesday, the religion, policy, and politics project at Brookings and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) hosted a forum to release PRRI's fourth American Values Survey (AVS), a large national, multi-issue survey on religion, values, and public policy.

We sent some of our interns to listen in on the findings. Here's what they thought about some of the issues raised by the report.

Daddy’s Top Ten Childbirth Freak-Outs (Pt. 2)

The Piatt kiddos
The Piatt kiddos

#5. Delivery complications: Amy was a real trooper when Mattias was born, but nothing about it was easy. Actually he and I had eerily similar experiences making our way into the world. We both were exactly the same length and weight, we both were faced the wrong way, and both of us were finally delivered by caesarian section, after putting our moms through hours of hardcore labor.

The story I’ve heard is that my delivery was a big part of why my folks decided not to have any more children. Before that, they planned on having more but it was too much to deal with. And let me tell you that I can sympathize. I was in the room both when Amy tried to deliver naturally, and when they cut her wide open and yanked the little peanut out. His face was blue from a lack of oxygen, and his umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck. Though I’ve never experienced such awe and joy in my life, I also have no desire to relive that sort of terrifying vulnerability.

#4. Postpartum: We didn’t recognize it as such for almost a year, but Amy suffered from pretty severe postpartum depression after Mattias was born. In a phrase, it sucked. I also happened to be running for local political office at the time, which added stress to the situation, but I didn’t know what the hell was going on. It was our first time, after all, and no one really warned us about what to do if your wife has quasi-psychotic images of herself pushing your baby down the stairs. She was so worried she was going crazy that she didn’t tell anyone for fear that they might take Mattias away from her. So instead, she tried to manage it, quite unsuccessfully, on her own for nearly 12 months.

The breaking point finally came one night when we were lying in bed and I laid it all out. I knew something was really wrong, but I had no idea what it was. I could feel her withdrawing farther away from me every day, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything about it.

Walk On The Ocean: Rob Bell, Day 2

The author, watching the surf in Laguna Beach, Calif., on Wednesday. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

I was standing there on the shore, jeans rolled up, my ankles in the surf.

It was day two of the Rob Bell event and people were surfing.

Yes, surfing.

Rob brings in a couple of surfing instructors and, if you want to, you can rent a board and take a lesson. It's a good time. I watched a lot of people surf for the first time as I stood on the shore ...

                   watching ...

                                       waiting.

Daddy’s Top Ten Childbirth Freak-Outs (Pt. 1 of 2)

Zoe Piatt, at age 2.

Don’t ever kill me, OK? Killing me is not safe.
—Mattias, 3 years, 0 months

“What’s your greatest fear about having another baby?”

I don’t think Amy was just goading me when she asked me this back in the early stages of impending double fatherhood, but she knows we’re both pretty good worriers (though I’d argue she’s better at it than I am, and since I’m the one writing this book, we’ll assume she’d agree with me).

Talk about an open invitation to worry! I don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about day-to-day matters; I’m more of a saver. But when something comes along that’s really worth worrying about, you can bet I’ll draw down that worry account a bit.

After Amy asked me the fateful question, I started compiling a mental list. I figure I’ll lay out at least my top ten here for your edification, or at least for simple amusement:

#10. We could have twins...

Rob Bell Is @&^*!ing With Me (#FTW)

A view of "The Shire" from above the village. Photo by Tripp Hudgins.
A view of "The Shire" from up on the hill above the village. Photo by Tripp Hudgins.

Rob Bell,...what a jerk. 

I'm spending some time with Rob Bell this week. It's reading week at the GTU and it just happened to be the same week that Rob Bell was hosting one of his "events." It's Rob and 90 other people in a room taking about Spiral Dynamics, competition in ministry, Jesus, and other things that are fun to discuss. It's a good thing. So, since the timing could not be better, I made my way down I-5 to Lauguna Beach a.k.a., "The Shire."

I'm now contemplating relocating here to finish my Ph.D.

Already, Rob has me thinking. Rob Bell is @&^*!ing with me. He's not actually singled me out, but there it is no less. He's the tallest impish human being I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Whip smart and creative, he presents a familiar, open artist's palate of the movement of the Holy Spirit. The underlying question for Rob, as he states that God redeems everything, is simply this: Are we paying attention? He speaks with such joy. He's fired up. It's good news. He's dragging me in. "Everything belongs," Rob says, quoting Richard Rohr.

What a jerk.

Two Reasons I'm Not A 'None'

Anne Marie Roderick
Anne Marie Roderick

Editor's Note: Anne Marie Roderick tells her story of why she's NOT part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.

It’s not surprising that a third of my peers say they are religiously unaffiliated. Our religious lives are too complex these days to fit in neat boxes with one-word labels.  I may be a “Christian,” but does that mean that I am like other Christians? Not necessarily.

There is sometimes more truth in being a “none” — in stating what we are not — rather than trying to pin down exactly what we are. But, I choose to affiliate anyway. Here’s why I am not a “none:"

Values of a Public Faith (Part 3)

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images
Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This is part three of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HERE and part two HERE.. From part one:

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. ... 

14. Equality of Nations

Value: No nation represents an exception to the requirements of justice that should govern relations between nations. America should exert its unique international power by doing what is just and should pursue its own interests in concert with other nations of the world. 

Rationale: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Debate: The debate should not be whether America is somehow exceptional (and therefore permitted to do what other nations are not—for instance, carrying out raids on foreign soil in search of terrorists). The debate should, rather, be about what it means for the one remaining superpower to act responsibly in the community of nations.

Question to Ask: At the international level, would the candidate renounce a double moral standard: one for the U.S. and its allies and another for the rest of the world? Even when the candidate considers an American perspective morally superior, will he seek to persuade other nations of the moral rightness of these values rather than imposing them on other nations?

Meet the Nones: From Pastor to Unaffiliated

Pastor collar, Andrejs Zavadskis / Shutterstock.com
Pastor collar, Andrejs Zavadskis / Shutterstock.com

Editor's Note: Kevin Gonzaga tells his story of why he's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.

Three years ago when I arrived at seminary to pursue my calling to fulltime pastoral ministry, one would probably have struggled to find someone in my generation more committed to the ministry and vitality of the local church.

While imperfect, I believed the church was the best hope of the world, and it was better to stay and work toward change than abandon the church and look for greener pastures. A year and a half later, I wrote a blog post explaining that I was no longer a Christian. I fear that this would only deepen the stereotype that seminary is a place where people lose their faith, so I should explain. 

The truth is I am one of growing number of people who choose not to affiliate with any organized religion. I am a “none,” and my journey to “none” started a long before I left for seminary. My disillusionment with, and eventual abandonment of, Christianity did not center around one traumatic event that shattered my faith, but rather it was something that coalesced from numerous experiences over a long time. 

It really started when I began studying the scriptures for myself in college. I was shocked to find many things I had been taught by the Church were wrong, were not in the Bible, or were even contrary to what the scriptures actually taught.

Values of a Public Faith (Part 1)

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images
Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This is part one of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. 

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. There are three basic elements of choosing a candidate for public office responsibly:

  1. Values we hope the candidate will stand for and the order of priority among them (which requires of us knowledge of faith as a whole, rather than just a few favorite topics, and knowledge of how faith applies to contemporary life)
  2. Ways in which and means by which these values are best implemented in any given situation (which requires of us a great deal of knowledge about how the world actually functions and what policies lead to what outcomes — for instance, whether it would be an economically wise decision to try to reintroduce the gold standard)
  3. Capacity — ability and determination — to contribute to the implementation of these values (which requires of us knowledge of the track record of the candidate)

Most important are the values. As I identify each value, I will (1) name the basic content of the value, (2) give a basic rationale for holding it, (3) suggest some parameters of legitimate debate about it, and (4) identify a key question for the candidate. 

I write as a Christian theologian, from the perspective of my own understanding of the Christian faith. Whole books have been written on each of these values, explicating and adjudicating complex debates. In providing a rationale for a given value, I only take one or two verses from the Bible to back up my position, more to flag the direction in which a rationale would need to go than, in fact, to strictly offer such a rationale. 

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