Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Blue Like Brilliant: Faith through Atheism

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

A few years back, tons of my Christian friends and a few of my non-Christian friends were raving about Blue Like Jazz, a book I knew nothing at all about at all until recently. I knew they were supposed to be making a movie out of it, but until I saw a copy of the book for 50 cents and grabbed it, I really had forgotten about it.

I’ve yet to read the book, but when I got home from the thrift store, I saw Blue Like Jazz, the movie, on Netflix and immediately added it to my queue. Since that day a few weeks ago, I have watched the film 3 times.

First and foremost, it is great that a “Christian” film can be not sucky. I’m used to the Cloud Ten Pictures lot, where they forgo plot and aesthetics and spend their entire budget on booking Corbin Bernson or Mr. T to star in the awful, awful film.

This, however, is not the point. Instead, what I wanted to touch on is how touching the film truly is and what I got out of it.

All you really need to know for purposes of this discussion is that Don, the main character, is a Southern Baptist from Texas, who helps with his youth group and is devoted to his church. His deadbeat, Atheist father hooks him up with a friend to get him into Reed College, a prestigious, atypical, ultra-liberal college in Portland that boasts an unofficial motto of “Communism, Atheism, Free Love”. While there, he first hides his faith, then loses his faith, then eventually discovers a new faith.

Don is a great poster child for kids like me. I grew up a PK. My disenfranchisement with the church was much different than Don’s, but I completely felt it the whole time I watched the film. He went from Bible-banger to full on God-hater… which was far more drastic than my personal journey, mind you… but through a series of events, Don not only rediscovers his faith, but perhaps discovers a whole new type of faith.

Like I said, I am a PK (“pastor’s kid” for those not fluent in Christianese). By the time I left for college, I found myself really weary of the church. However, I still ended up at a Christian college… and only hated it there half the time. Truthfully, I was never ashamed of Jesus, as Don admits to being in the film, but I was ashamed of being a “Christian” and sometimes still am in some ways. Like Don, I have discovered a different type of faith as I have grown.

I don’t like church, really. I don’t like Christianese (though I sometimes speak it unintentionally). I hate bigotry disguising as Christian doctrine. I loathe the ridiculous divisions in the Church. I could go on…

But, like Don realizes at the end of the film. Jesus isn’t about that stuff. He’s about love. That’s my “religion”. I believe in Jesus, therefore I believe in love. Love is a verb… remember that, it’s pretty important.

So, really, all I’m saying is that I’d like to thank Don Miller, Steve Taylor, and everyone else involved in this film. It is truly something that can spark renewal in others. I hope that things I write and things I do can sometimes spark that same type of renewal.

Day of Rest… OR ELSE!

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

I’ve been working on blogs about Islam’s (lack of) connection to terrorism and recent spotlights on homosexuality and Christianity, but keep hitting walls. After being inspired by the nearsighted interpretation of scripture used to condemn homosexuality, as well as reading Sins of Scripture by Bishop Spong, I decided to put those blogs on pause and focus my creative energies on creating memes with misappropriated Bible verses. Below is my first… or what I expect to be MANY…


I’d like to dub this meme series, “Murican Bible”, or #muricanbible for my Twatter friends.

Hope you enjoy my satire… but if you don’t, Jesus still loves you.

Phelps vs. Robertson

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

We know the players in this discussion, but let’s start with a brief breakdown of the two culprits in question…

Fred Phelps, the man behind the beliefs and actions of the Westboro Baptist Church, is one of the most hated men in America. Perhaps it’s because hate begets hate and Phelps is full of hate, God’s hate to be exact. His website is called God Hates Fags and over the past few years his agenda has grown to boycotting and picketing basically anything, as long as he can claim it as part of God’s wrath.

Pat Robertson, the face of the 700 Club, is less of a blatant asshole. He doesn’t picket funerals and he doesn’t use terms like “fag”. However, he does have aforementioned TV show, where he and his friends have spent a good deal of their time blaming the world’s downfall on homosexuals, Muslims, and other morally depraved folks. Most people I know have at least one family member who watches Robertson’s show.

So… the question is which is more dangerous for America… for the world. Is blatant hate more dangerous or is suit-and-tie cloaked talking head hate more dangerous? Is it easier to write Phelps off as a nut than to dismiss an evangelical that your grandparents watched religiously since the 70s?

There are several reasons that I find Pat Robertson much more dangerous, despite being less deplorable as a human being. There are quite a few folks in this country that still listen to and admire Pat Robertson. This is dangerous, as his words of hate slip into people’s minds and fester there until they let it come out as some ridiculously illogical argument about how gay marriage will ruin the sanctity of their marriage… somehow… but they don’t know how…

Outside of complete psychos and assholes, Phelps is easy to write off. And, Robertson is easy to write off for me and many like me… but not everyone can write him off.

Thoughts? Does Westboro hurt people more or does the cleaned up version of hate that Robertson, et al. peddle hurt people more?

I’m No Abraham!

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Early this morning, I took a hot bath to soak my aching body (12 hours of housework and yardwork on Saturday is still wearing on me) and read a chapter of AW Tozer’s Pursuit of God. As I read Tozer’s words, I just couldn’t help but keep thinking, “I’m no Abraham!”

Abraham was told by God to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. In layman’s terms, that meant that Isaac was to take his son to the top of a mountain and murder him FOR GOD. As those who have heard or read the story already know, God waited until he was able to instill fear and reverence for the Lord in his heart, then commanded Abraham not to lay a finger on Isaac. As Tozer explains, this test of faith in God was about clearing out Abraham’s heart from coveting anything other than God.

Well… I’m no Abraham. I covet many things in my heart, some that I feel like I shouldn’t and some that feel right. But it seems that according to Tozer (and the Bible), God should be the only thing residing in my heart. This is a very troubling concept for me.

My sons, my wife, and many other friends and family reside in my heart. My pain in the butt dogs reside in my heart, too. Not to mention, the love of music, nature… etc. And, I think Tozer’s point is not that I shouldn’t love these things, but that the love and reverent fear of God is the only love that should reside in that inner Holiest of Holies in my heart. But, I’m not sure I’m wired like that.

This is certainly a struggle for many, but I can only speak for me. If God asked me to sacrifice my son to Him, I’d probably curse God up and down before becoming Jonah, trying to run from Him. Now, the solace in the story is that God would never make me (or Abraham) carry through on that sacrifice, but I could never have gotten to that place in my heart where God was so revered that I could let go of my own child in such a manner.

I guess I don’t have to be all that concerned with such a literal request, seeing as Jesus’s sacrifice eliminated the need for such a sacrifice to God in this day and age. However, there is a non-literal sacrifice requested daily… and I’m not always sure I’m up to the task…

Just some food for thought… I’m no Abraham.

Mike Tripped with Allah

Friday, April 12th, 2013

I just finished reading Michael Muhammad Knight’s latest book, Tripping With Allah: Islam, Drugs, and Writing. As is very typical with MMK’s work, I was usually captivated, somewhat enlightened, and, at times, extremely confused. We’ll start with what I learned.

Knight’s latest work taught me a great deal about the history of drug use in religious practice, the basic background of the Santo Daime faith, and some parts of the slave trade that I don’t remember covering in history class. I also learned about how Transformers and Dinobot Island can provide allegorical framework for just about any discussion about society and religion… and those discussions that don’t fall into the Transformers realm seem to always relate to the world of pro-wrestling… but I digress.

In fact, digressing is a major part of MMK’s book, as well. In this hybrid Fiction/Non-Fiction, MMK oft employs a stream-of-consciousness prose style, albeit with structure. The digressions can be distracting, at times, but typically just provide added insight and/or quippy anecdotal information.

Back to the review, I guess… so… in addition to learning about the Transformers, drugs, and the slave trade, I found that MMK continues to find better ways to say things that I’ve thought and said, as I’ve noticed in much of his work. One such example that had me on the hook was:

Plenty of Americans are unable to conceive that their country has its own underground, an if they do, they fail or refuse to admit that the underground, the counter-narrative, is just as “American” as the patriots’ mythology on top. So the T-shirts and bumper stickers tell me, “Love it or leave it,” missing the obvious fact that I do love America, maybe more than they do-but my America is also the anti-America, the lineage of Shakers and Nat Turner and William Lloyd Garrison and Emma Goldman and the Weathermen. Loving America doesn’t meant that you buy into that aboveground story of freedom and democracy or that you want to see Ronald Reagan’s head on Mount Rushmore.

Like I said, as he always does, Knight found ways to connect with some the very thoughts going through my head.

So, what is this book, really? Great question. It’s not a Hunter S. Thompson book, first and foremost. The back of the book jacket is way off-base when it calls the book “a road book in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey” and whoever called MMK “the Hunter S. Thompson of Islamic literature” was just looking to get their quote in other people’s reviews (oops, mission accomplished, I guess). MMK is no drug guru… and THANK ALLAH! Knight is level headed and not a wastoid, so calling him Hunter S. Thompson is an insult.

While it’s not some Islamic Fear and Loathing, it does deliver one of the most whacked out drug hallucination descriptions in print. That said, there were points where I thought there would be a let down, but then… BAM! There it was… and in true MMK fashion, it involved graphic depictions of sexual acts. But the vision was something more, it was something that reframed and redefined his faith.

So, through this rambling “review”, here’s what you need to know… this is a good book. But, I’m not so sure that you should start here if you’ve never read MMK. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with diving in head first.

PS. I kinda want to drink Ayahuasca now. Anyone want to front me a couple grand?


Friday, March 29th, 2013

In this Easter season, this message is a pretty important one to remember folks…

Simple Tom

Living With Grace




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Lenten Fast: Soda and Energy Drinks

Friday, March 29th, 2013

For the first time I can remember, I gave something up for Lent. I did so for selfish reasons, not at all about spiritual discipline… but I did learn some discipline AND a thing or two about Lent. Here’s a short blog about the experience.

First, the why…

Why did I give up soda and energy drinks for Lent? The answer is Diet Coke. I have a Diet Coke addiction, which I supplemented pretty regularly with Monster Rehab and Sugar Free Vegas Fuel. I had no intention on cutting out all caffeine, but I knew I needed to focus my caffeine intake on healthier means, namely coffee and tea.

Second, how has it gone?

It’s gone well. I drank Diet Coke once, but it was on an allowable day (Sundays during the Lenten season are considered feast days, something I learned during this process). This is truly a success, because it was not on the temptations that I caved, but rather, I just felt like having one on a day where I was allowed, so I did. My willpower has remained strong, even on days where I REALLY CRAVED Diet Coke.

So, now, let’s look at where I go from here…

I fully intend to partake in a Diet Coke on Sunday, part of my celebration of Easter I guess. But, I don’t want to go back to the old habit, so I have decided that Diet Coke is reserved for the weekends and the energy drinks are as good as gone, outside of possibly for a long road trip or something similar.

And on the spiritual side of things…

I didn’t use this as an exercise in spiritual discipline, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t learn anything about my faith or my ability to be spiritually disciplined. If I can give up something that I was consuming in mass quantity daily, than just MAYBE I can apply that to my spiritual journey. Why can’t I use this discipline to focus on my devotional time, my time reading the Bible, and my time reading other works about faith and life? Guess the answer is in the question… right?

The Bible Isn’t Perfect

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

This is not exactly a review, but more of a discussion. It originally appeared one of my old blogs, but with all of the discussion on marriage equality, some of what this book had to say may be especially applicable right now.

Timothy Beal’s The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book… Some people may not like what it has to say, but I found it enlightening, well-researched, and perhaps, life changing. Reading, understanding, and challenging ourselves by what Beal has to say in this book can lead to a maturing spirituality, one where faith is defined by possibilities rather than the walls of the Pharisees.

Strict black and white interpretations of scripture can be lacking, even dangerous. In the book, one such example of the dangers of taking a single scripture literally and forming one’s whole theology around it is the story of Aaron’s son Phineas. Phineas executes an Israeliste man and a Midianite woman. He is praised by God through Moses for eradicating the Midianite influence. Taken literally and out of context, a group called the Phineas Priesthood in America has used this story to justify taking violent means to discourage interracial relationships.

This is but one example of how people taking scripture too literally can be very dangerous, but there are many. An example in the spotlight right now is the defense of “traditional Biblical marriage” and how it is taking away the legal rights of many Americans… arguments that the “Bible is clear” about homosexuality fail to acknowledge contradictions, contexts, and other nuances. In fact, direct translations refer only to “laying with a man” and don’t address lesbianism at all. Of course, the verses used to point out how the “Bible is clear” are taken as the word of God, but the verses surrounding them which include other laws of cleanliness are not. The Bible simply is NOT clear on this, despite what the televangelists want to tell you. (Side note: Those who read my blog will note that my piece on the Chick-Fil-A debacle never appeared. I decided to forgo this piece right now, as my emotions on this are still high and the impending elections are causing more tensions than I care to deal with at the moment.)

These dangers are only a small part of the picture. What’s most important for Believers, like myself, is to understand the history of the Bible and understand that the treasured notion of Biblical inerrancy is a modern concept that has numerous flaws. Before I can explain what Beal is getting at with this, I should first define what Biblical inerrancy means. In short, it’s the belief that all scripture is right, correct, and totally free of error. In other words, it means that the Bible is perfect.

But the history of the Bible pokes many holes in this theory. How did the Bible come to be? I think many of us seem to think that there is an old book that scholars translate to our modern language, but that’s not even close to the truth. There is no such thing as an original copy and the old scrolls we have were already copied from copies of copies of copies. In fact, there are so many different sources, no one could ever pin them down.

The Bible does contradict itself. The Bible does have questionable content. The Bible was written by man. Does this devalue the Bible? No, not at all. But it should be taken into consideration when we read. Christianity thrived long before there was a Bible. Jesus’s love conquered sin and death without their being some book to tell us so. The Biblical writings are there to enhance, guide, and aid our faith, but they are not the literal word of God. In fact, Beal does a great job in explaining that this concept is only about 100 years old. Before it was never really considered that the Bible was the literal word of God.

Some will probably read my blog, discount Beal as a heretic or a liberal, and scoff. I urge you not to. I urge you to give this book a chance. If nothing else, it can help you understand why you believe what you do, as neither Beal nor I would urge you to take what he says are the Gospel truth without thinking about it and challenging it.

The late philosopher Jacques Derrida has a wonderful phrase; “impoverishment by univocality.” Meaning that when we try to make a text univocal, “one voiced,” of one voice with itself, we deprive it of its richness.

Please comment, challenge, and think. I welcome it all and so does Beal.

Allahu Akbar

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013