Category Archives: Christianity

Growing Old: Hope, Samuel Beckett, and Krapp’s Last Tape

On a trip to New York City this past December, a trip that had as its genesis a desire to see Rob Mathes’ annual Christmas concert in person (after being introduced to Rob’s music via a DVD of the Christmas show on Mike Card’s bus eight or so years ago), I spent some time with my friends Alissa and Tom. When I first let them know I would be in town, Alissa told me they had tickets one night I would be there to see John Hurt perform Samuel Beckett’s one-man play, Krapp’s Last Tape, at a small theater in Brooklyn. When I found there were still tickets available I quickly purchased one, and set about doing some research on the play, including reading the script after I found it online, having decided to do the same kind of prep work I normally do before going to the symphony every other week.

According to one synopsis: “In Krapp’s Last Tape, which was written in English in 1958, an old man reviews his life and assesses his predicament. We learn about him not from the 69-year-old man on stage, but from his 39-year-old self on the tape he chooses to listen to. On the ‘awful occasion’ of his birthday, Krapp was then and is now in the habit of reviewing the past year and ‘separating the grain from the husks’. He isolates memories of value, fertility and nourishment to set against creeping death ‘when all my dust has settled’.” Continue reading Growing Old: Hope, Samuel Beckett, and Krapp’s Last Tape

Some thoughts on Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers

I admit it: I’m tired. Tired of the perennial discussions about the things women aren’t allowed to do, or what a “real man” or “real woman” looks like, discussions that often invoke the descriptor “Biblical” as a way of trying to sanctify the speaker’s opinion. Listening to claims from John Piper’s Desiring God Pastor’s Conference that God gave Christianity “a masculine feel,” or that the music in a church should be led almost exclusively by a male – echoing concerns I heard raised several years ago by members of the PCA denomination after Keith and Kristyn Getty led the music for their annual meeting, and were criticized by some for the fact that a woman was allowed to hold a microphone and lead men in singing – I quickly realize that I no longer have any energy to debate those who hold to that position. Let them argue until the end of time. I have no doubt they will, convinced as they are that they represent God.

These conversations, of course, are not new. Most of the rhetoric I hear today is indistinguishable from the way my great grandfather, the Fundamentalist evangelist and author John R. Rice, talked about these issues. His book Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives and Women Preachers, written in 1941 and perhaps his best-known title, carried this subtitle: Significant questions for honest Christian women settled by the Word of God – making it clear that anyone who disagreed with him wasn’t honest and certainly didn’t care about the Bible, allegations that are very much a part of the rhetoric today.

“The pulpit is a place for the strongest men that we have,” he wrote, building his argument. “The preacher in the pulpit should speak with an authority that is absolutely forbidden a woman to exercise.” In a sermon Rice preached on the 7th of December, 1964, he claimed that “man is in God’s image in a sense that women are not,” and so, “a man is nearer like God than a woman.” Continue reading Some thoughts on Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers

Why I Didn’t Attend Falwell’s Liberty University (it was too liberal)

This post first appeared over at Jesus Needs New PR a couple weeks ago.

In January of 2007, Kevin Roose walked on to the campus of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, ready to join 25,000 other students for the start of the spring semester. But there was one thing that set Kevin apart from his classmates, something his new friends wouldn’t know about until after he left Liberty at the end of the semester. Kevin was a transfer student from Brown University, a school every bit as secular as Liberty was religious, and had decided to spend his “semester abroad” in Lynchburg, VA, instead of England or Italy. After spending a couple days on the campus of Liberty several months earlier, on a research trip with an author he was working for, he had realized he didn’t know anything, really, about evangelical Christians, and found that trying to carry on a conversations with “them,” even with his peers, was like trying to communicate with someone from a completely different culture, someone who didn’t even speak the same language. He wanted to get past the stereotypes, beyond what the culture wars tell us about who our enemies are, and so decided to spend a semester at an Evangelical university, with plans to write a book about his experience. The decision to attend Liberty, then, was an easy one: he couldn’t imagine a more conservative institution, and he wanted to get the full immersion experience.

When I read The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University, Kevin’s story of his time at Liberty, just after it was published a couple years ago, the first thing that struck me was how different our stories were. While Kevin chose Liberty because of how conservative and extreme he thought it was, I chose not to attend Liberty for the exact opposite reason. Continue reading Why I Didn’t Attend Falwell’s Liberty University (it was too liberal)

The Sword of the Lord

This was also posted at Jesus Needs New PR

It is difficult, if not impossible, to know who you are without knowing where you came from, without knowing the history of your people, your place. For me, that story revolves around my great grandfather.

My mother’s grandfather, John R. Rice, was an Independent Baptist preacher and evangelist. Although he died fifteen months before I was born, his shadow loomed large over my childhood. My identity came from him, and he was, first and foremost, a Fundamentalist. From a sermon preached in 1928, early in his ministry, “Why I Am a Big F Fundamentalist,” to one of his last books, published in 1975, just five years before his death, “I Am a Fundamentalist,” that remained his most important identifier. With two hundred books and pamphlets to his credit (more than sixty million copies in print) and a biweekly newspaper he edited, the Sword of the Lord, that had a circulation topping out at over three hundred thousand, he was sometimes called “America’s Mightiest Pen.” His role as a principle player in two of the defining moments of 20th century American Fundamentalism – the 1957 split with Billy Graham over his ecumenical New York crusade, the end of a long friendship between the two, and the very public disagreement with Bob Jones, Jr., over the issue of secondary separation in the mid 70’s – cemented his role as an elder statesman of Fundamentalism. At his funeral service, one mentoree of his, Jerry Falwell, called his death the “passing of an era…He was God’s man for the hour. I looked on him as the guardian of fundamentalist truth for this generation. More than any other person, he was the most trusted man in fundamentalism…” Continue reading The Sword of the Lord

Some thoughts on expanding our moral imagination

I’ve written before about my admiration for the work of Reinhold Niebuhr, in, for example, the following posts:

  • The tension between pedagogical caution and honesty
  • Naïve idealism / bitter realism
  • Never Safe against Temptation
  • I was, then, as you might imagine, happy to hear President Obama allude to another Niebuhr quote in his recent speech in Tuscon, and so wrote up some thoughts about it for Jesus Needs New PR, along the way tossing in quotes from Wendell Berry, David Dark, and Frederick Buechner.

    In his address in Tucson on January 12th, for the memorial service remembering the victims of the gunman who opened fire at U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords open meeting, President Obama exhorted those gathered, along with a listening nation, to “use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.” His choice of words – “expand our moral imaginations” – was deliberate. He has used that phrase at least once before in a speech, in his Nobel Lecture delivered in December of 2009, where he encouraged “the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there is something irreducible that we all share.” In both cases, President Obama was undoubtedly referencing the work of the greatest American theologian of the 20th century, Reinhold Niebuhr – whose work has been an influence upon Obama – and his book Moral Man and Immoral Society, where he wrote the following: “The most perfect justice cannot be established if the moral imagination of the individual does not try to understand the needs, interests and feelings of his fellow human beings.”

    Read the full post here

    Is Your Faith Narcissistic?

    (This is a part of my Why I Stopped Going To Church series. You can read part one here, part two here, part two point five here, and part three here.)

    Before I move on to the next part, I wanted to expand upon a point I made in part three: stepping away from the Sunday morning expression of church-for now-does not mean that I have stepped away from community, nor do I think one can easily do so while still claiming they are following the Christian tradition in any discernible way. The decisions one makes when they are left alone with their own neuroses and what they think their Bible is saying to them on that day, in what is often a strange historical vacuum, do not tend to be in accordance with the Christian witness.

    As an example of what I’m arguing against, I’ll reference here the case of Sheila Larson, who is well known among sociologists of religion for this statement: “I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith is Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.” Continue reading Is Your Faith Narcissistic?

    Why I Stopped Going to Church, part 3

    Read part one here, part two here and part two point five here.

    This essay cross-posted from Jesus Needs New PR

    “The greatest lie believed today,” my friend, and my pastor at the time, Tom, told those gathered that morning, quoting Larry Crabb, “is that one can know God without being known by someone else.” This statement, even if one chalks it up to hyperbole, is one way of getting at a truth we all instinctively know: we can’t do life alone. Whether one is speaking of life in general or of what we sometimes call the religious parts of life, as if there were a clear dividing line, we were not meant to be solitary creatures. In an attempt to explore reasons for spending time with fellow believers in a deliberate, structured context, Dr. Harold Best, in Unceasing Worship, writes: Continue reading Why I Stopped Going to Church, part 3

    The church and the problem of “simplistic call and response on complex issues”

    Some of the thinking I’m doing around the blog series I am currently writing, Why I Stopped Going to Church, has to do with the larger question of what the church is, particularly in its local expression, and out of that comes questions about the role it plays in public life. So it was with interest that I read a review of Jordan Ballor’s new book, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness, written by Robert Joustra for Comment Magazine. (Robert and I have several mutual friends, and it was through them that I heard about his review.) Continue reading The church and the problem of “simplistic call and response on complex issues”

    Why I Stopped Going to Church, part 2.5

    Read part one here and part two here.

    This essay cross-posted from Jesus Needs New PR

    I am still working on part three of this series, so in the meantime, I thought I’d post a passage from Frederick Buechner’s sermon Two Stories that a friend just reminded me of, from the same collection – Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons – as the Buechner sermon I mentioned in part two. I realize this means I’ve quoted Buechner four or five times in these posts so far, but one reason I do so is because I count myself among those who say they still call themselves Christians, at least in part, because of the writings of Frederick Buechner, and I’ll do everything within my power to convince others to read his work, especially his sermons and his memoirs – The Sacred Journey, Telling Secrets, and Now and Then are great introductions. Continue reading Why I Stopped Going to Church, part 2.5

    Scott Cairns on Salvation and Jesus as Personal Savior

    I’ve loved the work of poet Scott Cairns ever since I first heard him at Calvin College’s 2008 Festival of Faith and Writing. Scott is now blogging for – of all places – Huffington Post, and in his piece earlier this week on Rethinking Salvation: A One-Time Personal Event or a Continuous, Collective Effort?, he recounts what was my favorite story from the 2008 Festival, one I’ve mentioned in several blog posts over the last couple years (here and in Making Ourselves Known to Each Other and Jesus Lives in My Heart).

    [W]hile salvation necessarily happens to persons, it is not to be understood as a merely personal matter.
    I continue to enjoy, and enjoy repeating, the surprising response that a monk at Simonopetra gave to a man who, thinking he had come to evangelize the Holy Mountain, interrupted us to ask the kind father if Jesus Christ was his “personal savior.”

    “No,” the smiling monk said without hesitation, “I like to share him.”

    Thanks to the long-standing tradition that monk manifests, I have a developing sense that salvation finally must have to do with all of us, collectively, and that it must have to do with all else, as well — all of creation, in fact.

    Read the full article here.