TIME Religion

Selfies and the Puritanical Self

184084474
Young woman taking photo of her with smartphone Buena Vista Images—Getty Images

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

This summer a relative put aside resistance and got his first smartphone, soon after sending us a picture of himself taken with his phone, captioned: “My First Facie.” Initial mirth over this mistaken terminology—“facie” instead of “selfie”—gave way to conviction that his was, in fact, the much better word.

That strange new-ish cultural form the selfie is usually a picture of the face, sometimes captured in an odd expression, sometimes decorated with the presence of others or an interesting backdrop. It is a pose, a mask. It is certainly not a picture of the self.

The self is much too elusive to be captured by a phone snap. And the self as a thing, an identity, seems almost necessarily a religious category. Many writers have pondered the self, but late southern novelist Walker Percy’s words rise to mind most readily, in his whimsical treatment of the lost self in the cosmos.

Why is it, Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos asks, that you can “learn more in ten minutes about the Crab Nebula in Taurus” than you “presently know about yourself, even though you’ve been stuck with yourself all your life?” The self, even our own, or especially our own, is hard to see. We try to see ourselves by looking–in the mirror, in a picture–but hardly can. Percy lays bare the difficulty with reference to a few common experiences: “You have seen yourself a thousand times in the mirror, face to face. No sight is more familiar. Yet why is it that the first time you see yourself in a clothier’s triple mirror—from the side, so to speak—it comes as a shock?”

Or this: “Why is it that, when you are shown a group photograph in which you are present, you always (and probably covertly) seek yourself out? To see what you look like? Don’t you know what you look like?”

No.

What could we possibly want with a lot of ephemeral pictures our own face? Selfies are by us and for us. Elements of selfie-taking include showing off, trying to show others the kind of person we want them to envision us, in a glamorous place, or wearing something nice, or with a celebrity. But the compulsion to take selfies seems very secondarily about to showing off someone else. More, they are efforts to see who we are. Many such attempts get instantly deleted out of refusal to believe that is how we really look. But we persist in taking them, because we still haven’t seen what we’re after. It is hard to figure out what the self looks like.

Percy’s odd but wonderful book starts with a quiz for the reader to identify himself with a bunch of options (the “scientific and artistic self,” the “role-taking self,” the “standard American-Jeffersonian-high-school-commencement Republican-and-Democratic-platform self,” etc) but presses on this point. The self can only really know who it is in relation to someone else, and not just a fellow creature. In what Percy describes as the “Christian (and, to a degree, the Judaic and Islamic self),” the self “sees itself as a creature, created by God, estranged from God by an aboriginal catastrophe, and now reconciled with him.” In contrast, the “lost self”—the one the book assumes many readers resemble—is left amidst the “fading of Christianity as guarantor of the identity of the self” and has become dislocated, so that self, “Jefferson or no Jefferson, is both cut loose and imprisoned by its own freedom.”

In this light the pictures we call selfies bear an urgency: who am I? can you tell me?

Christians, generally speaking, are or should be interested in these questions, but among groups in American religious history, few match the self-scrutiny of the colonial New England settlers we call Puritans. Because for a time Congregational churches in New England required prospective members to give an account of how they came to think themselves saved, surviving church records preservesome of these testimonies. A fine collection of these is gathered in Michael McGiffert’s God’s Plot, which presents the private spiritual reflections of Cambridge minister Thomas Shepard along with testimonies from many in his flock. These documents are remarkable for a number of reasons: for words from the lives of mothers, farmers, sailors, servants, students; for illustration of the ways laypeople interpreted the Word as preached; for signs of the shaping of a new identity. Not least, though, they show individuals’ keen interest in an understanding of themselves, the “inner man,” or “man of the heart.” The conversion narratives show men and women trying to answer the mystery most often by looking inside, and most often what they find inside is not pretty or share-worthy. One man “saw no hope of help” in his condition. Another confessed that “I saw an emptiness in myself.” One woman admitted migrating to New England because “I thought I should know more of my own heart.” Another said, “I found myself ignorant…I found my heart dead and sluggy.” “I found my heart altogether dead and unprofitable…I saw myself indeed in a miserable condition,” admitted another.

Many features of these narratives deserve reflection, but two seem most relevant here. First, while these confessions have a dour tone (and I admit I picked some for that reason), they were articulated in the context of great good news, the speakers’ conviction that that self-knowledge was part of a process wherein they discovered grace. And that discovery of grace helped place them not only in a heavenly sense, but in some very practical, earthly ways helped to establish their identity. Second, these were not private self-assessments but speeches informed by others’ words, examples, interactions; “shared” out to their “friends,” the testimonies revealed what was internal, personal, significant. While there is some anachronism in using the term, these are type of presentation of the self. These are real selfies.

But those casual snaps of ourselves, and those tedious off-center, peace-sign-gesturing portraits that middle-schoolers take of themselves and send, those are not selfies. Those are facies.

teaches history at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, specializing in early America.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME Religion

Christianity Can’t Replace My Zoloft

128635180
Chris Gallagher—Photo Researchers RM/Getty Images

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I have been taking Zoloft (anti-depressant) for four years. I began taking it during my freshman year in college because I had been suffering from severe panic attacks for about five years and they were beginning to severely interfere with my ability to function in school. Before I became a Christian at the age of twelve, I suffered from severe anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. When I came to Jesus, I was told that I would be healed and finally find joy and lasting peace.

For the first few months it worked. I didn’t have any panic attacks, my suicidal thoughts went away, and my depression vanished. It was a miracle! But slowly, as the new-Christian buzz wore off, my struggles began to reemerge. I would suffer regular panic attacks almost every day and would experience severe bouts of depression. When this began to happen, I was sure that I was doing something wrong. Jesus was, after all, the Prince of Peace. I was told that if I would just cast my anxieties at the “foot of the cross” then I would be released from the burdens that weighed so heavily on me. I so desperately wanted the formula that I had been taught to work- read my Bible, pray everyday, and go to church and all will be well. But the problem was nothing I was doing was working. In fact, it was causing me more anxiety and depression. I hung crosses around my room, only listened to Christian music, and would never lay down in bed to sleep unless I had spent time reading my Bible. When nothing worked, I began to suppress and hide my struggle. I was, after all, one of the leaders in my Youth Group. I wanted to be a Pastor. I had to have it all together.

This struggle has plagued me for years. The fact that my depression and anxiety didn’t go away when Jesus “came into my heart” and the reality that I had to be medicated to live a normal life made me feel like a second-class Christian. I have been told multiple times that God doesn’t want me on depression medications. I have been told that the root issue of this all is my sinfulness and the Jesus would heal me when I dealt with my depravity. But as I have grown in my faith and studied more about psychology and theology, I have finally come to a realization that has been liberating for me:

Jesus isn’t going to take away my Zoloft and none of us will ever find lasting satisfaction in life.

Now I know that this may sound pretty cynical and well…depressing. But in the words of philosopher Peter Rollins, “I am not making you depressed, I am just telling you that you already are depressed and just don’t know it.” Just think. What if Jesus didn’t come to make us happy? What if his message and mission has less to do with improving our “quality of life” and more to do with equipping us with ways to cope and live within our various neuroses?

What if “becoming a Christian” doesn’t actually psychologically change us in any real way and that “Sanctification” is really about living and loving in the midst of our brokenness? What if the cross isn’t there to offer us satisfaction but rather to show us love amplified in suffering?

For far too long, Evangelicals have preached a Gospel that says if you come to Jesus that you will find shalom, satisfaction, health, wholeness, rightness, certainty, a foundation, clarity, abundance, and direction. This message doesn’t belong to the “Prosperity” churches, but also to the neo-reformed, the mainstream, and the progressive Evangelical communities. We have promoted a Gospel that says peace and wholeness can be yours today, when in fact, they cant. We have said that “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him” when the reality is “God is most glorified in our reliance on him in the midst of our brokenness, dysfunction, and lack of satisfaction.” There isn’t a single human being on earth who has “perfect peace” or “total wholeness”. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Everyone is searching for meaning and satisfaction and no one has ever found it. Not even in Jesus. Because that’s not the point. Throughout the Bible the narrative of Exile is found in almost every story. The reality that we have not arrived at home and that we are, in fact, wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. We all are hoping for the Promised Land. We even get to taste glimpses of it- in our manna from heaven, water from the rock, and seeing it from a distance like Moses. In our wandering, we see glimpses of God to remind us that we are not alone and that there is more than this. The pillar of fire by night and the cloud of smoke by day. God is guiding us. But the reality still exists- we are not satisfied. We aren’t in the Promised Land. We are still dry, thirsty, and lost. I’m still depressed. You still have you’re struggles. None of us are “Whole”. None of us are “satisfied”. But very few of us are humble enough (or free enough) to admit it.

The truth is, I will probably always need my Zoloft.

No, I am not “limiting God’s ability to heal me”, but rather am admitting that maybe “healing” would be the worst thing God could do. As Christians, we have over-realized our eschatology. We believe that the full benefits of salvation are meant to be experienced today. But that’s not true.

The Christian life and indeed, the human life, is one of sojourning and traveling through brokenness and pain. It’s one of struggling and failed expectations that are occasionally interrupted by a glimpse of “the Kingdom”. We all live for those moments of joy, peace, and fulfillment. Whether that is the embrace of our lover, the satisfaction of a job well done, our the moment of peace we experience in worship. But the embrace ends. Another job comes along. And the worship experience will pass. And the fallenness of this world will become our reality once again. It’s in this fallenness that God is most present. It’s in this suffering that our longing and motivation to work for the Kingdom of God is fueled. It’s in this brokenness that faith becomes essential- we must hope for a better day. And it’s that hope that quenches our soul in the desert of life. The hope that we will one day be united with God and neighbor. The hope for no more fears, tears, or suffering. The hope of lasting satisfaction. But until then, I’m going to take my Zoloft. You’re not going to be satisfied. Life is going to be hard. We all will continue wandering. But take heart- Jesus wanders with us. And maybe its time that we start to admit that. Live into that. And embrace that. Because that’s Good News.

Brandan Robertson is the host of the Project:Awaken Podcast and the director of an action-oriented social justice initiative called Revangelicals for a Better Tomorrow.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME Religion

Pastor Mark Driscoll Booted From Evangelical Network

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

In a stunning move, the Acts 29 Network leadership has removed network co-founder and Mars Hill Church lead pastor Mark Driscoll from the organization’s membership. I obtained a letter from several Acts 29 pastors which was sent to Driscoll and Mars Hill Church removing Driscoll and the church as members of the network, as well as calling on Driscoll to step down due to a pattern of complaints from Acts 29 pastors. Mark Driscoll was instrumental in founding the Acts 29 Network and has been president of the group. According to the letter, the information will soon be posted on the Acts 29 website.

The letter is below:

Mark,

As the Board of Acts 29, we are grateful to God for the leadership, courage, and generosity of both you and Mars Hill in not only founding the network but also sustaining it through the transition to this board three years ago. The very act of giving away your authority over the network was one of humility and grace, and for that we are grateful.

Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you and what we consider ungodly and disqualifying behavior. We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior.

In response, we leaned on the Mars Hill Board of Advisors & Accountability to take the lead in dealing with this matter. But we no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action.

Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help. Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29. Because you are the founder of Acts 29 and a member, we are naturally associated with you and feel that this association discredits the network and is a major distraction.

We tell you this out of love for you, Mars Hill, Acts 29, and most significantly, the cause of Christ, and we would be irresponsible and deeply unloving not to do so in a clear and unequivocal manner. Again, we want you to know that we are eternally thankful for what you as a man and Mars Hill as a church have meant to our network. However, that cannot dissuade us from action. Instead, it gives added significance and importance to our decision. We hope and pray that you see this decision as the action of men who love you deeply and want you to walk in the light—for your good, the good of your family, and the honor of your Savior.

Shortly after sending this, we will be informing the members of Acts 29, your Board of Advisors and Accountability, and your elders, as well as putting out a public statement on the Acts 29 website. It brings us no joy to move forward in this direction, and we trust that the Lord will be at work in all of this.

In sorrow and with hope,

The Board of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network

Matt Chandler

Darrin Patrick

Steve Timmis

Eric Mason

John Bryson

Bruce Wesley

Leonce Crump

All Mars Hill Church locations have been removed from the Acts 29 website.

The news has been added to the organization’s website:

A Message from the Board of Acts 29 concerning Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church

It is with deep sorrow that the Acts 29 Network announces its decision to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the network. Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.

Matt Chandler

Darrin Patrick

Steve Timmis

Eric Mason

John Bryson

Bruce Wesley

Leonce Crump

According to the organization’s website, the network includes over 500 churches and focuses on church planting:

Over the last ten years Acts 29 has emerged from a small band of brothers to over 500 churches around the world. We want to allow a unifying, uncommon movement of God to happen through Acts 29. Centered on the Gospel, we desire to advance the mission of Jesus through obediently planting church-planting churches. It is our hope to see this leading to millions of lives changed by the power of the Spirit for the glory of God.

Acts 29 is not a model or a style. We have churches with live preaching and others with video-delivered sermons. We have independent church plants, replants, and existing churches that want to focus on planting new churches out of their existing congregations. Simply, we seek to be a movement of church-planting churches.

In 2005, when Driscoll headed the group, charges were filed against him by Ron Wheeler. Wheeler planted the first Acts 29 Network church in Mt. Vernon, WA and was an early protege of Driscoll’s. However, Wheeler later became disillusioned with his former mentor and asked Acts 29 to discipline Driscoll. Yesterday, Wheeler posted a lengthy open letter to Driscoll asking him to resign based on his experience with the Mars Hill pastor.

The Acts 29 action comes on the heels of the resignations of Paul Tripp and James McDonald as members of the church governing board and a recent protest primarily by ex-members.

Update:

One of the Mars Hill ex-pastors who has been initiating mediation with the church, Kyle Firstenberg, had this reaction to Acts 29′s announcement.

I have been greatly discouraged with the response from the BOAA in the charges that both I and others have brought. Years have gone by with what appears as only damage control and not any clear act of love for Mark in holding him accountable as brothers in the faith should.

This action from Matt Chandler and the other members of the board of A29 is one of the most loving acts I have seen in leadership in the Church world in recent years.

I do believe that these men love Mark and Mars Hill just as I and countless others do. I agree with their findings and pray that Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskus would repent and step down. I believe this would be the most God honoring thing to do as it would show their love for Jesus and the Gospel is greater then their position, authority and influence.

Warren Throckmorton is a Professor of Psychology at Grove City College and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at the Center for Vision and Values which is a part of Grove City College.

More from Patheos:

TIME Religion

The Bachelorette’s Nick Viall: Why I Brought Up Sex

Adrien Brody, Nick Viall And Tony Hale On "Extra"
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JULY 30: Nick Viall visits "Extra" at Universal Studios Hollywood on July 30, 2014 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images) Noel Vasquez—Getty Images

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

On The Bachelorette, the lights dim and the cameramen leave when it comes time for the Fantasy Suites. There’s an unwritten rule that no one really talks about what happens on those nights. However, what happens there actually affects the relationships in profound ways. It’s a time when a couple can be together and share special time without the cameras. It doesn’t have to mean sex, but, of course, we all know that happens. Sean Lowe believes sex should happen in marriage, but I like that he’s open about the discussion surrounding the topic.

When people are hesitant to discuss sex, especially in the context of The Bachelorette fantasy suites, it feels a little inauthentic.

By now, everyone knows what happened in the fantasy suite between Andi and me. In the “After the Final Rose” episode, I had no intention of confronting Andi with my now infamous question about why she had sex with me. I figured she had been conflicted about what must’ve been a tough decision. The world of The Bachelorette is a complicated one, after all.

However, she started explaining away our relationship in the tidiest terms. In her explanation, she confessed that she had never loved me.

I let that sink in.

She never loved me.

As I sat there on national television, I tried to process this information. In my mind, I went back to that night in the fantasy suite. Though she couldn’t tell me that she loved me, I’d told her in no uncertain terms how I felt. I loved her. This was no fling for me. As far as I was concerned, we’d be engaged in a few days.

To me, sex between us was a big deal, and she knew it.

That’s why I feel Andi’s decision to have sex with me was not appropriate. Either she was unsure about our relationship or – worse – she was certain she was choosing Josh. In both of those circumstances, I felt as if she didn’t respect my feelings and that she should not have had sex with me.

Why? Well, once we had sex, my feelings of love would be solidified in that scenario.

That’s not unusual – that’s normal.

In the After the Final Rose, her demeanor and perceived disregard for the relationship that we had took me back. That’s why I decided to ask her that very simple question.

“Why did you make love to me?” I asked.

I used the phrase “make love” because that’s how I felt. It was more than just physical. It was an act – I thought – of love.

Whatever your beliefs about sex, we live in a very sexual world. To me what’s most important is that the two people involved have a clear understanding of what sex means to the other person. If the emotional attachment to sex isn’t equal, sex can be hurtful. Consequently, it should be treated with the greatest amount of respect.

Yes, both men and women need to respect it.

Sometimes people laugh off any emotional damage that sex can do to guys. The boys-will-be-boys mentality suggests the majority of men are really just looking to add another “notch on their belt.” Because of this unfair – inaccurate – stereotype, it’s often considered unmanly for a man to speak about the emotional repercussions of sex. But I’m here to attest that men fall in love just as hard as women do and that sex can be just as powerful to a man as it is to a woman.

Sex, when enjoyed in the right context, is a wonderful way to solidify a relationship. But when expectations aren’t the same for both partners, it can be devastating.

Let me say this: don’t shame Andi to support me. We all make mistakes, I’ve made mistakes. In a culture where sex has no bounds, it’s hard to figure out how to fit it into your life without hurting each other. That’s why it’s important to be sensitive to the emotional attachment that sex has to your potential partner and to treat it with the greatest amount of respect.

Also, I want to emphasize that I wish Andi and Josh all the best. I hope they have incredible happiness in their life together for years and decades to come.

I’m speaking out about this incident because I hope Bachelor Nation will have a more honest conversation about the Fantasy Suites and the emotional repercussions of sex.

Nick Viall was the runner-up on The Bachelorette.

More from Patheos:

TIME Religion

What if Palestinians Became Israeli Citizens?

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Dear Rabbi, Do you think there is any hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

“Any hope” is setting the bar quite low; we can all entertain some sliver of hope, so the answer to your question “is there ANY hope for peace” is “yes.” But I doubt peace will come the way our pundits and politicians imagine it.

They still talk about a two-state solution as if this is possible, but I have little hope that it is. Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a lose-lose scenario, and only some bold new initiative can change the status quo. Given the nature of Israeli politics, I’m not sure what that would be on the Israeli side. On the Palestinian side, however, the initiative would be Israeli citizenship.

If I were advising the Palestinians I would suggest they drop all efforts to secure a state alongside Israel, and demand full Israeli citizenship instead. I would suggest a media campaign with slogans like “Let My People In” and “Let us in or let us go.” If citizenship were granted, demographics would see Israel become a majority Palestinian state within a few generations. If it were not granted, the world would turn on Israel at it did on South Africa during the apartheid regime. The result in either case would be a democratic but no longer Jewish state. Democracy would, I imagine, lead to Islamic rule that would in time lead to Jews fearing for their lives in what was the Jewish state.

US Jews would then pressure the United States to rescue Jews from Palestine (I imagine the state would be renamed Palestine) and allow mass migration of former Israeli Jews into the United States. This may or may not work, but if it does American Jewry needs to prepare itself now to assimilate Israelis on a massive scale.

Of course I am probably wrong about all of this. Perhaps Israel will agree to withdraw to the Green Line, share Jerusalem as a capital, and repatriate Palestinian refugees; Palestine will eschew all militarization and violence, welcome the Jewish settlers in their midst with open arms as fully enfranchised citizens of Palestine, and become a secular, democratic and economic dynamo; and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad will become nonviolent social organizations helping the poorest of the poor to get into the middle class.

Or perhaps not.

A congregational rabbi for 20 years, Rabbi Rami currently co-directs One River Wisdom School and Holy Rascals Foundation.

More from Patheos:

TIME Television

Arie Luyendyk: Why I Want to Be the Next Bachelor

8th Annual BTE All-Star Celebrity Kickoff Party
Auto racing driver Arie Luyendyk attends the 8th Annual BTE All-Star Celebrity Kickoff Party at the Playboy Mansion on July 15, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. David Livingston—Getty Images

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

“Party of one.”

I walked into the Cracker Barrel, was seated, and fiddled with the wooden triangular brain teaser. Normally, I can solve those things, but on that day – after driving thirteen hours straight – I was struggling.

“I can only get it down to four little pegs,” the waitress said as she approached my table and saw my frustration.

“What does it mean that I have five left?” I asked. When I looked at the waitress, I saw a wave of familiarity flash across her face. I’d gotten used to be recognized and never minded connecting with people who’d watched Season 8 of The Bachelorette… when Emily Maynard broke my heart in front of the world, instead choosing my buddy Jef Holm. The waitress never mentioned anything, but she smiled very kindly.

“Maybe you just need some coffee,” she said.

It had been a pretty big season for me, because it was the first year I’ve owned my own team. Normally I am just hired to drive, so I faced a great deal more responsibilities. “The Off-Road Championship” (TORC) consists of fourteen races over the course of several months. The first race of the year – in Primm, Nevada – shook me up a bit, when I crashed and broke my collar bone. After the first race, we moved onto Charlotte where rounds three and four were held. I was short on help for the weekend so a fellow race team referred a guy named Fred to me for help. Fred, who works on Hendricks NASCAR team, agreed to come help out my team for the weekend.

On the day of the race, Fred and his two sons showed up and proved themselves to be tireless workers, and it paid off. It was first podium finish of my off-road racing career!

I was thrilled!

After the Saturday night win, we celebrated my first podium of my Off-Road career. As the night wore on, we still had so much work to do: breaking down the pit space and loading the truck and equipment.

“It’s getting late,” Fred said. “It’ll take you until three o’clock in the morning, at this rate.”

I looked at the pit space and sighed.

“Listen, I’ll come back in the morning with my sons and help you out,” he said. “On one condition.”

“What condition?” I asked.

“If you’ll join me at church tomorrow morning.” Apparently, Fred was a preacher at a Baptist church in North Carolina and was determined to get me into a pew. But the offer was enticing to me and my tired mechanic, so we went back to the hotel for some well-deserved sleep. The next morning, we took a cab to the church and sat in the row next to the others. Church was not my natural habitat, but I liked Fred, his sons, and all they’d done for me.

As I sat there in that building, I was skeptical. Pastor Fred wasn’t speaking – there was a guest preacher that day, who happened to be hilarious. The message which was about accepting God into our lives, but I didn’t feel any pressure to make a spiritual commitment. The service was inspiring, and – as the preacher wrapped it up — I felt I’d fulfilled my part of the deal.

To my surprise, at the end of his sermon, the Pastor asked if anyone would find it in their heart to come to the track directly after the service and help me break down and load up. Half of the little church, which was located near the track, came and broke things down. Pastor Fred and I spent some time getting lunch for everyone and chatting about where I was at with life, my faith, and what I thought about the experience at church.

It was very touching that these strangers were willing to come out to the racetrack and help me.

When all the work had been done, I shook Fred’s hand.

“Thanks so much,” I said, before reaching into my wallet. He’d done so much work that weekend, it was time to pay him and his sons for their help before I went to my next location. That’s when he turned down payment and instead handed me a book.

It was an old Bible that looked like it had been in his family for years. I could tell someone had read that thing, because the pages were worn and certain passages were underlined, and he held it like a prized possession. He wrote in the front, saying he was giving the book to my mechanic and me.

“Take it so you don’t forget what you learned this weekend.”

“Are you sure you want me to have it?” I asked, touched by his selfless act.

He did.

That book came along with me as I traveled from that point on. In fact, the Bible sat next to me in the front seat of Betsy (yes we named our race hauler). It began to change me as I read it at night before going to sleep, though sometimes I felt I needed help understanding. Regardless, I knew there was powerful stuff in there. The Bible comforted me as I traveled from place to place… sometimes it was hard to keep track of where I was or where I was going.

When I made it to Cracker Barrel for lunch that day, I had another three or four races under my belt and had made it to Springfield, Missouri. I’d been driving thirteen hours – straight through the night — and was completely exhausted.

To be honest, I was a little lonely.

The yellow embroidered name on the brown uniform of my server read, “Tara” and she came back to the table quite often to make sure I had everything I needed. She never mentioned the show, but we talked for a bit and she was very kind. Before I left, she asked me for a photo.

Later I received a message on Facebook from her, and what she wrote has stuck with me ever since. She told me that she enjoyed getting to know me, and that she found me to be humble and kind. (She also included a Bible passage – which was very endearing — plus, it made me think more deeply about where I am in my life.)

Her note gave me the realization that I may have let things get to my head in the past – the television, the resulting embarrassment of Emily’s rejection, and the race track — and I finally realized I was back to the same old me, the same person I was before being on TV. I hadn’t become someone completely different, but all of that does change you in a way. After the show, I was more guarded and a bit less open to finding someone.

Meeting Tara at Cracker Barrel somehow showed me that I was finally myself again. She said that she sensed that I was compassionate and humble… she also said this Bible verse reminded her of me:

“Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.”

It struck me.

Actually, it gave me hope. Emotions are easy to hide when your distracted, being in the race car has always been my therapy. But I don’t want to be distracted from life’s promises any more.

Since America last saw me, I’ve been running around the country racing my cars and trying to figure out a lot about life. As you may have heard, I’m being considered to be the next Bachelor. However, I don’t want to be on the show for the attention, or to go to exotic locations. In fact, I travel too much as it is. I want to go on the show for the opportunity to dedicate the time to find love instead of traveling for racing. I’m tired of letting my relationships take a back seat to my career. The show would give me the opportunity to slow down and meet someone willing to be a part of my life – as crazy as that life is. I want what my parents have always had… a lifelong partnership of love and adventure. I know I’m ready for change. I’m ready for marriage. I’m ready to open my heart up again for love.

More than anything, I guess, I want someone who can join me as I continue my spiritual journey that Pastor Fred jumpstarted and that Tara has inspired.

The Bachelor is all about journeys, right?

I’m ready for my next one.

More from Patheos:

TIME Religion

Pope Poo-pooed by GOP for Being too Jesus-like

Pope Francis Visits Molise
Pope Francis attends an outdoor papal mass on July 5, 2014 in Campobasso, Italy. Franco Origlia—Getty Images

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I can’t think of a Pope who has made a bigger impact, brought more hope and sounded more like Jesus than Pope Francis.

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan. I even Facebook-lifted a hashtag I saw on Diana Butler Bass’ page that I use all the time now: #popecrush.

And now he’s coming to the United States!

The first Pope from the Americas is coming to the U.S.

This is very exciting.

So exciting, in fact, that a bi-partisan resolution has been presented to Congress that would congratulate the pontiff on being the first Pope from the Americas and for his “inspirational statements and actions.”

#Popecrush on!

Unfortunately, it’s beginning to look like this particular resolution may never make it out of committee. It was sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and seems to have died there.

Why?

Because the Pope is too much like Jesus.

Yep. Seriously.

Let me explain.

There actually are a few (19 out of 221) GOP backers of this resolution and one of them is leaking a little information about why it may never pass or even be voted on. According to this Republican insider, many of his cohorts expressed concern that the Pope has been making statements on issues like “trickle-down economics,” which are “politically charged.”

A religious leader addressing the morally repugnant behavior of economic and political systems that value the powerful over the poor?

Where have I seen that before?

Oh yeah – Jesus.

Also, let’s not miss the irony that the Republicans who are resisting the passage of this resolution have the audacity to accuse the Pope actions of being “politically charged.” Their resistance to honoring a man who, as the resolution itself says, has demonstrated humility, broke from tradition to wash the feet of criminals, embraced lepers, and places an emphasis on humanitarian efforts is the only “politically charged” thing I see here.

The upside to all of this is that I suspect Pope Francis really doesn’t care if the U.S. Congress honors him this way.

Kind of like Jesus probably wasn’t hoping to be honored by Pilate.

Mark Sandlin is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) from the South. He is a co-founder of The Christian Left.

More from Patheos:

TIME Religion

Why I’m Not Afraid to Be Too Gay on Facebook

175277055
Social media 'Like' symbol on keyboard Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos.

We had just lit a candle, said a blessing and were passing around the broken bread for all at the table to share when we began talking about our respective days. The kids had been about the business of getting the most out of the last days of their summer vacation (we go back to school sinfully early in Georgia) and I had been engaged in the regular ins and outs of working for the college I love, writing for the blog I adore, posting on Facebook frequently (the kids say obsessively) everything from political/theological news to rather base potty humor and the occasional dog video (what?) to responding to the regular sprinkling of hateful comments on my blog and in private messages.

I don’t usually talk about that aspect of what I do in front of my kids but I said just enough in an otherwise glib moment that my oldest furrowed her brow and went off a bit “Mom, you post everything, I mean way too much – like every moment of your life! Ugh, what you eat, who you are hanging out with, pictures of me and you even check in on Foursquare and stuff. Some day one of those crazies is gonna find you and…”

I cut her off there, first hoping to reassure her that it really wasn’t that bad and no one is looking to hurt me but what I needed her to hear was…

Let me back up a bit.

I’ve been writing this here blog for just a scooch over two years. But long before Patheos invited me to stretch my gawd-awful clothes line and hang out my weathered washin’ on the front lawn of my digital acre, I was wrestling mightily with what it meant to live life fully as God created me and to as love openly as my mamma and daddy had when I was growing up.

After stuffing down my truth for for decades I found the love of my life. We fell hard and fast and it was glorious. I wanted nothing more than to love her fiercely and openly. But as it turns out we had very different notions about how to live as a committed lesbian couple. For her it meant carefully maintaining circles of who was allowed to know and who was not. In her career she carefully selected those friends and colleagues who were permitted access to the inner circle of our life. Most of her daily professional life was conducted as if I did not exist or was simply a roommate – a babysitter. I really do understand her need to live out her career not labeled and pigeon-holed into a certain trajectory based on her superiors’ ability to grasp or not grasp equality – but it was hard, real hard to be invisible as a cop’s wife.

Thankfully, in our church and local community life we lived more openly with no secrets from our children’s teachers or folks in the neighborhood. Slowly my love invited old friends into the circle and her family, though the words were never spoken, treated us with love and genuine kindness. I never felt anything less than a daughter-in-law when in the presence of her parents. But there was a limit to our openness. Touching in public, hand holding, a stolen peck of a kiss, a loving embrace – these were always and only permitted behind closed doors. She was ever mindful of what others would think and the potential consequences of encountering hateful homophobes, especially if we were with our children.

But for me, I simply could not wrap my head or heart around the impulse to hide love. Though I tried to respect her way of living out her queerness, it would become a source of bitter conflict that would poison the wellspring of our love.

See, once I came out to my family to utterly devastating rejection, walked away from their abuse – and didn’t shrivel up and die, well a setting resentment began to grow each time I was asked to dampen and hide my affection while watching friends openly share tender moments regardless of the company.

The fault that began to open between us would be the source of many a tiny, deadly tremor in our foundation and would ultimately contribute to the dark and gaping fissure into which our love fell and could not climb out.

I simply do not know any other way to exist in this mortal coil and on this beautiful and broken planet than transparent to a fault.

So now, still fumbling my way though this thing called life, I blog about the willful ignorance of homophobic “Christians”. I post all over the interwebs about my utterly banal homosexual lifestyle, I write about the extravagant welcome of God and the radical hospitality of Christ, and I live openly and unabashedly for any and all to see.

As a result I encounter vitriol all up and down the ignorance, fear and loathing spectrum. Every day. And every day I do my dead level best to confront the vitriol with grace and integrity (but more often than not I fail to live up to my ideal).

It seems like every week someone asks me why I do what I do. “How do can you stand to jump into these abusive conversations? You must have thick skin!” Sometimes all I can say is that I have no idea why I do it and you have no idea how often I cry myself to sleep. But more often than not I answer something like “Because I am compelled beyond reason to show up over and over again and share the good news that God loves us. I am drawn into the fray to say, just for the outside chance that whosoever needs to hear, will maybe hear for the first time in their life, that they are loved beyond their wildest imagination and free in Christ. I know not why, only that I must proclaim, directly from the book that is otherwise used as a weapon, that nothing, nothing, nothing on earth, in heaven or all of creation can separate us from the love of God.”

Most of all I know that I have no skills to be anything other than nakedly, unashamedly myself.

What I need my daughter to know is this. Yes, there are people out there who hate gays and lesbians savagely enough to kill us. They hate queer folk all the more when we have audacity to claim Jesus and cry out to God in thanksgiving for making us who we are. But I must wake up every day and be me and for some damn reason I am called to do so in a public way. I am called to speak loudly to those who would silence me, stand boldly in the light in front of those who would have me skulk away in the dark and reject the heretical theology that God would create me for a life of shame, fear and self-loathing. For do anything less is to give myself over to the power of darkness and admit that evil has already won.

Kimberly Knight is the Director of Digital Strategy at a southern liberal arts college and Minister of Digital community with Extravagance UCC.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME Religion

I Want My Christianity Back – Without the Ugly Baggage

172011075
Little chapel Carlos Malvar—Flickr RF/Getty Images

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos

I don’t like telling people I’m a Christian.

It’s not that I’m ashamed of being a Christian; I’m not – at all. It is just that the word “Christian” comes with so much ugly baggage.

Telling someone I’m a Christian means I must immediately follow it up with, “but not that kind of Christian.” It’s like saying, “Yeah, sure, these are some mind bogglingly ugly suitcases, but I’ve got the coolest stuff on the inside of them. No, really, I do.”

It’s just not worth the effort; and, frankly, I’m tired of lugging these ugly, heavy things around.

Truthfully, I don’t blame people who assume that if you’re Christian you’re anti-LGBT, anti-abortion, anti-real equality, anti-other religions and pretty much anti-anything else that one small but loud subset of Christians find offensive or threatening.

It completely makes sense. It’s why I don’t want to use the word to describe my own beliefs.

I get it.

Who can blame people for thinking Christians are all anti-everything kind of people when members of the U.S. congress like Michele Bachmann present themselves as speaking for all Christians –and via radio waves – accuses gay people of not only threatening the sanctity of “traditional marriage” but claim they are pedophiles who want to “freely prey on little children sexually.”

I get it. I really do.

I don’t want to be that kind of Christian. So, if that’s the only option, I’m opting out. And, I’m not alone. A whole slue of Christians is opting out as well.

As a 2012 Pew Research study indicates that while the number of people who identify as Protestant or Catholic is decreasing, the number of those who consider themselves religious, but identify with no formal religious group is on the rise. An earlier study by The Barna Group defines a big part of the problem: people who aren’t in the Church and many who are in the Church believe the Church is judgmental and hypocritical.

When looked at together, the findings of these two studies make a lot of sense. An organization whose primary religious figure taught about love has become known for being judgmental against any group they simply don’t like. Is it any surprise Christians are seen as hypocritical?

Christians are being viewed as hypocritical, because many are. Not all of us, of course, but you wouldn’t know that watching mass media. Tragically, Big Media and most of it’s consumers have no interest in coverage of food pantries and other programs across the country that feed hundereds of people each month – all without pushing their beliefs on those in need. On the other hand, the Ku Klux Klan claiming to be a Christian organization? We will Facebook “like” that article into the viral stratosphere.

I want my religion back.

Technically, it wasn’t really taken from me. It’s more like part of it’s been hijacked and held hostage inside all that ugly luggage.

Not surprisingly, the congressperson fear-mongering about gay people coming for your kids and the KKK claiming to be Christian will always make the news. Let’s face it, when the baggage carousel starts rolling around you are going to notice the neon green designer bag with the word “crazy” written across it in pink, but that 26-inch wheeled suitcase in a sensible shade of grey? No one is paying attention to it.

Christians who want to be known more for their love rather than for what they standing over and against need to more fully acknowledge this reality and begin actively speaking out and working against it.

What we see in media isn’t Christianity. Our faith tradition’s core teachings are found in the words of Jesus. The anti-everything Christianity we find on television, radio and in print would remind Jesus much more of the Pharisees than it would remind him of the people actually following his teachings.

It’s a power play. As Napoleon once observed, “Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.”

When you see someone who claims to follow Jesus who has or wants power; when they are saying things about Christianity that cause hurt to other people, when they create divisions, stating beliefs or supporting policies that marginalize already marginalized groups, when they say things that would allow one group of people to exert their will and beliefs on another group of people, you need to immediately question their sincerity and more so their motivation.

Jesus would have advocated none of those attitudes or behaviors. However, they most certainly are tools through which those who already have power maintain their power while keeping those without power divided and bickering amongst themselves rather than focusing their attention on the small fraction of the rich who are nurturing systems that make life unnecessarily difficult for the rest of us – which is also something for which Jesus would not have been an advocate.

Jesus wasn’t a fan of ugly baggage. He confronted the Pharisees every time they tried to unload it onto him or others.

If we want our religion back, we are going to have to do the same.

If we want a Christianity that doesn’t come so unnecessarily cluttered with all of this ugly baggage, we are going to have to start standing up more consistently and begin challenging these power plays wrapped in religion.

Collectively we need to more closely follow the lead of Jesus and lovingly confronting those who want to turn the Prince of Peace into a tool for dividing and marginalizing. Every time anyone tries to exclude a group of people they dislike in the name of the Great Shepherd, we must pronounce the radical inclusion of a loving God.

And when they accuse us of being un-Christian (and they will), we must stand strong and tell them, “You no longer get to own that word. You have used it and abused it and crucified it on crosses of hate, greed, power and control. We are taking our religion back – way back.

All the way back to the teachings of Jesus.”

Mark Sandlin is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) from the South and a co-founder of The Christian Left.

More from Patheos:

TIME LGBT

Panic! at the Disco Turns Westboro Protest into an HRC Fundraiser

Panic At The Disco Perform At O2 Academy In Glasgow
Brendon Urie of Panic! at the Disco performs on stage at O2 Academy on May 7, 2014 in Glasgow, United Kingdom. Ross Gilmore—Redferns/Getty Images

PatheosLogo_Blue

This article originally appeared on Patheos

When the band Panic! At The Disco (below) — you might remember them from their 2006 hit song “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” — visited Kansas City, Missouri for a show on Sunday night, they had special guests waiting for them: Westboro Baptist Church members, complete with their “God Hates Fags” signs. (The band’s lead singer Brendon Urie said last year that he had experimented with homosexuality, though he’s married to a woman.)

The WBC even recorded a homophobic cover of the band’s hit song, called “You Love Sin What A Tragedy” in anticipation of the concert.

Rather than ignore them, the band responded in a wonderful way. They turned the protest into a mini-fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign:

That’s how you make lemonade out of lemons.

WBC, always declaring victory regardless of the situation, said they would just protest 20 times for every dollar raised. So that’s 20,000 more protests than usual.

Good luck with that. I suspect it’ll be tough to pull off when so many people in the church are either dying or escaping…

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide.

More from Patheos:

 

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,079 other followers