Faith

Young Snake Handlers Grasp the Power of Faith

Snake handling image via Arie v.d. Wolde/ Shutterstock

Snake handling image via Arie v.d. Wolde/ Shutterstock

NASHVILLE, Tenn. --- Andrew Hamblin's Facebook page is filled with snippets of his life.

Making a late-night run to Taco Bell. Watching SpongeBob on the couch with his kids. Handling rattlesnakes in church.

Hamblin, 21, pastor of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., is part of a new generation of serpent-handling Christians who are revitalizing a century-old faith tradition in Tennessee.

While older serpent handlers were wary of outsiders, these younger believers welcome visitors and use Facebook to promote their often misunderstood — and illegal — version of Christianity. They want to show the beauty and power of their extreme form of spirituality. And they hope eventually to reverse a state ban on handling snakes in church.

Snake Handling, Stigmata and Testing God

Snake handler W. R. Tinker standing beside sign for his 1948 revival meeting. (Photo by Francis Miller/Time Life/Getty Images.

A recent piece on the Huffington Post's Religion page described the death of Pastor Mark Wolford, a Christian minister known for handling venomous snakes during his worship services to demonstrate the power of his faith. The stunt went south, however, after he was bitten on the thigh during worship and died at a hospital not long after.

The practice, though rare, is employed in a handful of Christian congregations in response to a literal interpretation of verses 17 and 18 in the 16th chapter of Mark:

And these signs will follow those who believe. In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.

There are several dangers this story raises, not the least of which, of course, is death by venomous snake bite. Such communities require public displays of faith that are meant to test the resolve of the faithful. And such practices are not restricted to backwoods protestant churches; some Catholics (and others) are enamored with the phenomenon on stigmata, where people exhibit physical signs of crucifixion, such as wounds on their hands or feet.

There’s the more obvious danger of putting someone in harm’s way by expecting them to perform a dangerous act to prove their faith. But there’s also the undercurrent of religious one-upsmanship, wherein folks are forever striving to be more daring, graphic or otherwise attention-grabbing. In addition to the potential physical danger, there’s the risk of pressing people to be deceptive in their faith practices, simply to enjoy the validation or admiration they seek, and which is held in such high esteem in these particular circles.

Deliver Us From Smugness

Condescending peacock. Image by E J Davies/Getty.

Condescending peacock. Image by E J Davies/Getty.

Ah, the life of the church. So many arguments, so little time.

The list of subjects about which the saints disagree is seemingly endless, encompassing both the profound and the woefully mundane.

The ordination of women. The proper role of religion in politics. Climate change. Homosexuality and same-sex unions. Pre-, Post-, or A-millennialism. Biblical translation.  Gender pronouns for God. How best to aid the poorest of the poor. How best to support the sanctity of marriage. Hell. Heaven. Baptism. Which brand of fair-trade coffee to serve in the fellowship hall. The use of “trespass/es” or “debts/debtors” in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Whether to use wafers, pita, home-baked organic wheat, gluten-free or bagels at the communion table. What color to paint the narthex.

It should come as no surprise to most Christians that the world outside the church looking in sees it rife with conflict, bickering, arguments and castigation — of the “unbeliever” and fellow believers alike.

Frankly, it also should come as no surprise to the rest of the world that the church — by virtue of being a community of humans — naturally would have such disagreements and discord.

Community of the Heart

Stained glass window representing the Trinity, Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock.com

Stained glass window representing the Trinity, Nancy Bauer / Shutterstock.com

A dear friend recently reminded me of David Ford’s gem of a book, The Shape of Living: Spiritual Directions for Everyday LifeOn the back cover, Nicholas Wolterstorff describes it beautifully: “[This book's] spirituality is profound and reflective, yet always concrete, and never dishonest or evasive; it uses not only Scripture but literature with creative facility. Simple, yet rich. A jewel of the spiritual life in its everyday manifestations. I want to savor it with repeated readings.”

Ford traces the “multiple overwhelmings” in our lives — the forces that shake us and shape us, those with the power to wound or crush and those that are life-giving and transformative. At stake in reckoning with such tumult is the whole of our lives and our living. “How,” he asks, ”in the midst of all our overwhelmings, are our lives shaped?”

Atheists, Believers Both Do Good But for Different Reasons, Studies Say

Giving money photo, Konstantinos Kokkinis / Shutterstock.com

Giving money photo, Konstantinos Kokkinis / Shutterstock.com

Atheists and others who don’t adhere to a religion often say they can be good without God. Now, three new studies appear to back them up.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley conducted three experiments that show less religious people perform acts of generosity more from feelings of compassion than do more religious people. The findings were published in the current issue of the online journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Their results challenge traditional thinking about what drives religious people to perform acts of kindness for others.

“The main take-away from the research is that there may be very different reasons why more and less religious people behave generously, when they do,” said Robb Willer, an assistant professor of sociology at Berkeley and a co-author of the studies.

The Problem with Certitude

Image by olly / shutterstock.

As I've read and listened to Christian reaction in the wake of Obama's interview stating his personal opinion on same-sex marriage, I've been discouraged with the nature and tenor of the conversation itself. Specifically, I'm troubled by the way many Christians choose to take definitive and certain stances about complex issues, and the rhetoric they use to state and defend these positions, rhetoric that tends to divide rather than unite and close discussion rather than open it.



I'm interested in exploring what it is about the Christian religion, and perhaps more specifically, evangelicalism that results in such an approach.



I fully understand the attractions of certainty. From my study of C. S. Lewis I know that his popularity among evangelical Christians in the 1940s and 1950s was largely due to his style of certitude. Lewis was writing in a time where scientific discoveries and religious liberalism were challenging the assertions of orthodox Christianity. In a period of doubt and questioning, Lewis seemed to have a way of cutting through complex arguments and reaching a simple solution that was convincing to his readers.


Tell The Story of Who You Are With Your Whole Heart

Being vulnerable isn’t easy. I think it would be easier to stand outside naked for a moment of mocking than to unveil the inner-self to others for a lifetime of judgment. However, I recently heard theTED Talk below by Brene Brown on her years of study on the subject of vulnerability.

What she discovered moved me to the core.

Brene states that in order for us to connect we have to allow ourselves to be SEEN. This is scary for the shy and the outspoken because we all think the same thing — “Is there something about me that if people knew they would withdraw?”.

Every soul cries: “Am I worthy of connection?” We then allow the mass public to tell us the answer to that.  Please note: that unstable analysis can never end well no matter how popular one may seem. This leads us to live in shame of who we are in which Brown describes shame as “the fear of connection.”

I believe I can state truthfully that we live in a world of people full of shame. We’re scared to death of each other!

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