A Fall Into and Rise Out of Fundamentalism

Hi, my name is Joshua. Most people I know call me Josh. I’m from rural east-central Alabama…right on the Alabama-Georgia state line. Just a ways off from the banks of the Chattahoochee River. I used to be fundamentalist, of the independent Baptist variety, but not always. Another detail about me that’s pertinent to my story is that I have cystic fibrosis(hereafter referred to as CF.) You can find me on Twitter to learn more, or just Google it, whichever you’re more comfortable with. Go ahead and open up another tab on your browser and read up a little, I’ll wait.

Good! You’re back! Now, we can continue. Continue reading A Fall Into and Rise Out of Fundamentalism

Of Trains, Sacrifice, and Agency

If you’ve grown up in a Christian environment, at some point you have likely heard this story or a variation of it: a man finds himself in a position where he must choose to save his son or an oncoming train headed for certain destruction. The takeaway from this tale is of course the great love of God the Father, in that He didn’t spare even His own Son in our rescue. A story like this, like a metaphor, can be said to only be useful as far as its intention (I don’t know if anyone would say Jesus has wool because He’s called the Lamb, for instance) and that’s fine as far as it goes. Even so, something about it has always bothered me, as long as I can remember. I’d like to explore this here, as I believe it is missing something important, and it is perhaps indicative of a larger gap in understanding. A story like this can be told in any way we want it to, and the fact that it is usually missing this element tells me something.

The story is all about the father’s heartrending choice between his son’s life and the lives of those on the train. As I’ve always heard it told though, it is missing any voice of the son in his own fate. The son’s only agency is to be the tear-jerking emotional appeal for the audience – his place could be swapped out for a sack of money sliding off a cliff as the train approaches the wrecked tracks, and the story still works, albeit with less potential for waterworks. His will, his desires, his thoughts are a non-issue. This is problematic, not only because it’s not even an accurate reflection of the larger narrative it is pointing towards, but because it subtly reinforces, I believe, a dangerously incomplete picture of sacrifice which marginalizes agency and consent. I can’t say any folks telling this story must not have an understanding of consent or agency, but again, the fact that it’s usually missing this element is perhaps telling of a profound gap in knowledge many Christian communities.

Continue reading Of Trains, Sacrifice, and Agency

“Remember Me”

Missus and I recently watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. We loved it. The show and my feelings towards it are worthy of a longer post than I want to get into here, but there’s one episode that I thought was really striking. 
It’s called “Remember Me”. The doctor, Beverly Crusher, gets stuck in a rapidly shrinking “pocket universe”, and as it shrinks it slowly deletes everyone she cares about on the ship. The ones left have no memory of the ones deleted, and think she’s crazy for talking about people who were never there, or even existed at all. 
The episode’s scenario is not an exact comparison, but I am reminded of how depression slowly squeezes the life out of folks, including me and my wife over the past year or two. I won’t speak to her experience, but mine has been a slow spiral: I barely have the energy to keep up with and put time into friends and family, small negative interactions turn into crushing events that lead me to pull away without dealing with conflict, I have little or no desire to plan for the future, I tread water at work, let self care lapse, lose the ability to enjoy little things, I do things just to cope and kill time rather than for enjoyment and progress and tangible value to be gained from them…. Over everything, the questions and worries spin. “What’s the point? You’ll just lose interest in this project in a month. Why try? You can’t keep up with a new friend. You’re going to pull away after a year, when the shine wears off and the work of relationship is needed. Why do you exist anyway? Does my world really need me? What do I bring to the table anyway? You’re a project, a drain on people who are already drained.”
This isn’t a perfect illustration, but I had the idea of circles representing certain facets of my life, as depression slowly tries to fade the lines and erase the circles completely, while the dark line on the outside presses in relentlessly.

Depression lies. But there’s enough truth for the lies to all seem real, in the middle of it. It’s not the “real” world, but the pocket universe is real enough to hurt, and kill.

“Show Your Steps”

I was a pretty lousy math student. There were a number of reasons why, including untreated ADHD, and not wanting to ask for help until the direst need. But I’m sure one of the bigger reasons was because I tried to do most of the figures and equations in my head: write the problem out, go through the formula and calculations in my head, and then magically an answer appears next to the problem on my paper! Like I’m some kinda genius or something! Get this man a scholarship. So that wasn’t real smart of me. On my best days it was adequate for passing grades, and on my usual days, the results were not impressive. Some folks might be able to get by just fine with these methods, but I was not one of those people. Going through the steps on paper allows you and the teacher to see where you went wrong. It also should help you stay on track better, and catch any mistakes before you’re done with the problem.

 

Now, years later, that attitude towards math interests me again as I see it everywhere (including, yes, in my own head). Continue reading “Show Your Steps”

A Reflection on Privilege and Plenty

I’ll keep this brief, and I’m mainly looking at myself here. 
Most of my readers have surely heard the bold statements in the bible about “true religion” and love your neighbor, and such, so I don’t need to go into a darned study on it, but here’s two of the passages anyway:

“True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows [the poor, the down-trodden, the weak, the powerless, the oppressed, the minority, the outside, etc] in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.”

James 1:27 CEB

“My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges? My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor… You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself.  But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker.”

James 2:1‭-‬9 CEB
I’m a middle-class, able-bodied, able-minded white guy with not a whole lot going against me when it comes down to it. And I’m certainly not alone as a professing Christian in this state. 
We (I) have the ability to enter into and even alleviate the suffering of every kind of those folks in that first passage. I can and do choose, in a way, what I care about – my battles, my passions, who I advocate for, and to what extent. I can also choose to stay away, or even ignore many things, and I’ll go on living my life without effect. That’s privilege.

So why, if our hearts are supposedly changed-I’m a “new creature”, “born again”, regenerated, what have you-do we so consistently choose to insulate ourselves from the cornucopia of human pain around us, content to nibble at the edges, or go to church, and do just enough to sleep at night feeling like we did something? Where is my privilege and plenty sacrificed? What gospel do I believe (my sins are forgiven! Yay! Yours can be too! Is that it?)? Whose example do I follow anyway? Maybe if I’m not living so that others can’t help but label me as such, I shouldn’t take the name “Christian”.
I don’t know what to do with this right now. I’ve shared at length and for several years now my journey out of legalism and dead and deadly religion, and I know it’s had some positive effect on others who were also there. I cling to that some days. I wish to see healing in this world, and this area, spiritual abuse, is one place I feel in some way “called” (I kinda hate that term – it’s just me) and qualified by experience to speak to. I’m just beginning. What more can I give? How can I use what I have? Where to next? 

Clinging to the Cross

The statement in my Twitter profile “clinging to the cross” isn’t much about comfort to me – eternal protection of my soul by God, or even hope in better things to come in this life or the next, and hopefully not just a platitude to ease my conscience and feel better about my screw-ups.
It is a desperate reach for meaning, to find my identity in trying to follow the lead of the supreme act of love and reconciliation recorded for us. To love as he loves, and love who he loves. If there is hope, it is that the hell we’ve created for ourselves and passed down on earth can be redeemed, and this reality isn’t final or unchanging. If there is confidence, it is that Truth has revealed itself in a life and demonstration of love which draws everything to itself. If there is comfort, it is that my path is both clear and not final, and the abuses in my past can only win if I don’t learn and pass on the love that subverts the corruption that enabled it, and break its vicious cycle.
This is what my faith means to me today.

Tradition, Means, and The End

Saw something interesting the other day. Folks, meet Mr Nicholas Barbon. Or, as the Mr and Mrs Barebone called him, Nicholas If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone.

nickbarbon

Appropriately, he was one of the pioneers for the fire insurance business. Nothing like selling fire insurance along with hell-fire insurance, eh?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_Barbon

Now giving names of this sort wasn’t too out of the ordinary back in puritan days, so, although it’s mildly hilarious, it’s not news – just something I’d forgotten was a thing. My first (completely serious) reaction though, upon seeing the message his parents were trying to send to their child and others, was “Hmph. If you really wanted to be a witness you’d have made that his first name. What are ya, ashamed of Jesus? Don’t go hiding your light under a bushel, now! Lord wants all of us, not just a little piece tucked away!”

Now that whole reaction is absurd, yes. But this highlights something for me: don’t we do this already? Haven’t many churches, church folks, and communities done this, bluntly or subtly?

Continue reading Tradition, Means, and The End

A Thought on “True Grit”

The Coen brothers,  who also happened to have filmed a lively documentary of the Soggy Bottom Boys which they graciously allowed me to appear in,  came out awhile back with a remake of the classic John Wayne picture “True Grit” which I’ve found quite moving, with Jeff Bridges and Hailey Steinfield delivering excellent performances. “Grit” being an appropriate word,  as the story is hardly rainbows and dramatic rides into the sunset. Just like I like ’em.

I’ve seen the movie I think 3 times now, most recently on a camping trip with family.  This last trip,  one of the climactic end scenes struck me (If you haven’t watched the movie and are worried about spoilers, go get the darned thing and watch it).

Continue reading A Thought on “True Grit”

Battle of the Sexes?

A few years back, we bought some newly married friends a game called “Battle of the Sexes.” I think we played it twice with them, and I regretted ever buying it and playing it. Maybe some of y’all have heard of it and love it, but it’s about on the same level as Monopoly to me. I hate it. But it is instructive and sad in how it reveals how disconnected the genders often are. I don’t know if stereotypes are a cause or a result, or both, of this disconnect.
I’ve heard that generalizations, and their crazy uncle Stereotype, are useful as a kind of shorthand to quickly give a picture of an entity or group. It’s usually understood that there’s variation within the object of discussion. For instance, you might say that “The Republican Party is for _____”, with full knowledge that not everyone who is a registered Republican lines up just so, but that the Party is characterized by _____. We usually all understand that.

Here’s a question that’s been bugging me though. Just how useful are these generalizations relationally? Continue reading Battle of the Sexes?