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Darren H

Your current spiritual practice?

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Some of us have been chatting on this and other forums for nearly 20 years, and I know that our spiritual lives (for lack of a better catch-all) have taken varied and unexpected paths. I'm curious to know how you describe yourself now and how the "faith" in Arts&Faith shapes your daily lives these days?

I grew up in a conservative evangelical world and was an active participant in it until 2004, when my wife and I left the church. I'd been feeling increasingly alienated from the religious practice of my youth for several years before then, but our decision was precipitated in some ways by a traumatic event we suffered. It's a long, complicated story that I'm happy to dig through if this thread evolves into that kind of conversation.

With no offense to others still in that world, I feel grateful now to have escaped that particular evangelical culture. But I've experienced the loss as a kind of mourning. Faith, theology, the big questions of what it means to be human -- and to be a good human -- have remained a constant preoccupation of mine. I mentioned in the discussion of our next Top 25 list that I'd been reading Richard Rohr lately. I suppose I started this thread because, to use his terms, I spent the first 30 years of my life in a classic "order" stage, have rumaged (happily, fruitfully) for the past 15 years in disorder, and am now wanting to reorder some sense of my daily practice, with no real idea of what it might look like.

I'm deeply, seriously, hopefully ambivalent about my religious upbringing. I'm grateful for the language and the metaphors it gave me and that continue to shape my thoughts. I'm grateful for the friends and mentors I met during those years (including many of you). I'm also angry and regretful about the ways it warped my understanding of the world. Now that I'm a father, I'm trying to figure out how to create for my daughters an experience that is more of the good and less of the bad. This is a bigger issue for me than just finding a different church/denomination that feels right, which is why I'm curious to hear other perspectives.

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Darren, thanks for starting this thread, and for sharing where you've come from and where you're presently at. I, too, was raised in a conservative evangelical context; I graduated from a conservative Bible college and was a youth pastor for over a decade in evangelical churches from various denominations. So my sense of faith was informed by those traditions and understanding. But I entered a chapter in my life from about 2012-2016 where much of that was upended, first by becoming burned out by one of the churches where I pastored, followed by a season of depression and where I went to seminary, an environment I found surprisingly therapeutic and healing, and where my present vocation of academia was reinvigorated and affirmed.

So, I'm currently in the middle of doing a PhD in theology, imagination and the arts at St Andrews, and I'm also (for the first time in my marriage) not one of the paid pastoral staff at the church where we attend (a Scottish Episcopal Church). We still attend church as a family, and I truly love being semi-anonymous in a huge cathedral-like Scottish church where we practice the liturgy. I'm also reading a lot of philosophy, which is giving me a language and understanding of God, time, personhood, truth, goodness, and beauty that I had never previously imagined. Through both my experiences in a variety of Christian church traditions, as well as my current academic studies, I would consider my present faith a theological kaleidoscope of sorts, a mosaic of beliefs and practices formed from a variety of sources. Yet even though I'm not paid by a church, I'd still consider my original vocation--that of a pastor and of ministry to the emerging generation--still a key part of my identity and faith. The thing is, I'm not sure what this pastor-theologian vocation will look like beyond the PhD, or how it will pay the bills. And I'm not sure where I fit within a theological or faith tradition any more--I feel like a wanderer or pilgrim, a theological hybrid living in between the local church and academia, between what might be called traditional "religion" and a Jesus-y sort of "spirituality."  In Latino/a culture, there's a word for this that I've recently embraced as my own identity: nepantla, which literally means "in-betweenness" or "at-home in the middle".

Edited by Joel Mayward

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I, too, grew up evangelical, and in many ways that culture still feels like "home" to me -- a home that I may have moved out of, but still a home that I can return to for reunions and such. But I've been a member of the Eastern Orthodox church for 13 years now, and I owe this *partly* to my involvement with A&F, inasmuch as many of the things about Orthodoxy that gave me pause as an evangelical were things that Orthodoxy has in common with Catholicism, and our very own SDG had helped clarify a lot of those issues for me when we butted heads over theology back in the early days of this forum. (Believe it or not, Darren, I also have *you* to thank for my openness to Orthodoxy, partly, inasmuch as Orthodoxy entails more self-discipline than the typical evangelical church, and I think I can remember you citing Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline -- and his point that self-discipline is *mandatory* within Christianity -- in one of our threads back in the early days.)

The Orthodox-with-ties-to-evangelicalism thing came up in an interesting way a couple months ago, when I accompanied my mother on a tour of Jordan and Israel. We went with an evangelical group that a friend of my mother's had recommended, and it turned out that this group happened to include a few people from my own past, like a woman I attended College & Career with a quarter-century ago, and the parents of a girl who was in Grades 3 to 7 with me roughly 40 years ago. I enjoyed being with this group for the most part -- I certainly preferred it to a tour group of total strangers -- and yet there were moments when I definitely felt disconnected from them, usually when praise-and-worship songs were involved. And of course, I couldn't take communion with them, and I tried to abstain from that without causing any offense. And I may have gotten a few weird looks when I venerated a few of the holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. (Evangelicals tend not to kiss things; might look idolatrous.)

I'm afraid I've slacked off a bit in one area of self-discipline, when it comes to the Orthodox practice of fasting. Fourteen months ago, I embarked on a weight-loss program that has produced great results -- 130 pounds down in 13 months, and I've been more or less stable for the past month -- and in the course of losing all this weight, I have basically ignored the requirement that I abstain from meat and dairy on certain days. You're generally allowed to ignore the fasting rules if there are health issues, and since I was attending a government-funded weight-management clinic that my surgeon referred me to, my priest and I agreed that this was definitely a health issue! But the routines and habits I've built up over the past year have kind of displaced that one bit of spiritual practice, and I wonder how I'll get back to it. (Lent is a few weeks away... but even before Lent starts, we're supposed to fast every Wednesday and Friday, and I'm not quite there yet...)

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What a great topic; I look forward to reading everyone's responses.  I think it speaks to the evolution of this site, that we can discuss this in confidence that it won't devolve into chest-thumping and territoriality.

Apropos of our recent talk elsewhere of stages of faith, I can break my own pilgrimage fairly accurately in the following way:

- Childhood - raised in conservative Lutheran family

- Adolescence - born-again experience, largely influenced by devout, caring teachers at my Christian school

- 20's - hyper-conservative evangelical (Focus on the Family, Rush Limbaugh, all CCM all the time, etc.)

- 30's - increasingly liberal, politically and religiously, ultimately self-identifying as a sort of Christian-Buddhist amalgamation

- 40's - agnostic, morphing to anti-theist atheist, morphing to secular humanist with far less emphasis on the non-theist component, which is where I am now at age 50

The promptings for these changes were manifold:  church and religious group experiences, intimate relationships, learning of others' life experiences in the workplace (my colleagues and patients), lots and lots of reading/study/contemplation, and yes, the arts.  Discovering classical music, paintings by the 'masters,' reading Shakespeare and Dickens, opening myself up to quality cinema: all exposed the anemic insipidity of evangelical culture.  My obsessive study of Kurosawa and his world - where his life story and his film's themes rang so true to my own trauma history as well as that of the patients I treated - was significant to my late 30s.  My broader experience of world cinema and its honoring of so many lives and worldviews has deeply informed my 40s.  And the discussions here and on other boards have been great places to trot out, try on, and consider different perspectives.

As far as current spiritual practices (using the expression advisedly, since I view "spirit" as merely the best term we have at present for emotions and neuro-physio-somatic responses to the world around us), the only one I engage in consistently is contemplative walking, which I attempt to do at least every other day.  Oh yeah, and I guess I have my own secular "Sabbath," spending my Sundays in writing at a favorite serene coffee shop before digging into the Sunday NY Times.  Beyond that, with only sporadic success, I strive to live mindfully, embracing gratefully my wife, my kids, and the good that the world has to offer.  And I still read voraciously, digging into philosophy with some regularity.   

 

 

 

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On 1/18/2019 at 4:41 PM, Joel Mayward said:

And I'm not sure where I fit within a theological or faith tradition any more--I feel like a wanderer or pilgrim, a theological hybrid living in between the local church and academia, between what might be called traditional "religion" and a Jesus-y sort of "spirituality."  In Latino/a culture, there's a word for this that I've recently embraced as my own identity: nepantla, which literally means "in-betweenness" or "at-home in the middle".

 

6 hours ago, Andrew said:

As far as current spiritual practices (using the expression advisedly, since I view "spirit" as merely the best term we have at present for emotions and neuro-physio-somatic responses to the world around us)

For most of the past decade I would've described myself as "spiritual but not religious" but I've been wondering lately if I have that backwards. I'm no longer a believer in any standard sense. I can't in good conscience recite a creed or articulate a theology -- the thought of having to do so makes me tired, to be honest. I was raised in churches where, from middle school on, we were trained in apologetics, which in some ways I'm grateful for because I got a lot more practice in rhetoric and scansion in Bible studies than in school. But I'd be happy to never discuss the finer points of theology again.

Still, I find great wisdom, pleasure, and consolation in the stuff of religion -- its metaphors, ancient practices, art, tradition, and so on. Andrew, you brought up the word "mindfulness," which in recent years I've read/heard five or six times a day from various sources. There's something in the air. I've downloaded the meditation apps just like everyone else and am curious about having some kind of regular contemplative practice in life. It's only been in the past few weeks, though, that I've realized I'm attracted to it because it's a kind of spirituality-free religion. (The 25-year-old me would weep to know the 46-year-old me just wrote that sentence!)

9 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Believe it or not, Darren, I also have *you* to thank for my openness to Orthodoxy, partly, inasmuch as Orthodoxy entails more self-discipline than the typical evangelical church, and I think I can remember you citing Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline -- and his point that self-discipline is *mandatory* within Christianity -- in one of our threads back in the early days.

That's so interesting, Peter! When I mentioned earlier that I was growing increasingly alienated from evangelical culture in the years leading up to our decision to leave, that book was one of the reasons. I was in a young couples Bible study at the time, and the leader, who was a decade older, suggested we read it together. I was in my late 20s and it was the first time I'd been exposed to Christian practices from any perspective other than American evangelicalism. I was also reading Thomas Merton, St. Augustine, Pascal, and Tarkovsky. Those guys did a number on me! 

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2 hours ago, Darren H said:

Still, I find great wisdom, pleasure, and consolation in the stuff of religion -- its metaphors, ancient practices, art, tradition, and so on. Andrew, you brought up the word "mindfulness," which in recent years I've read/heard five or six times a day from various sources. There's something in the air. I've downloaded the meditation apps just like everyone else and am curious about having some kind of regular contemplative practice in life. It's only been in the past few weeks, though, that I've realized I'm attracted to it because it's a kind of spirituality-free religion. (The 25-year-old me would weep to know the 46-year-old me just wrote that sentence!)

I can definitely relate to your first sentence.  Whereas praise choruses or CCM sets my teeth on edge, I still adore music such as the requiems of Faure and Brahms.  When my family and I voyage abroad, I delight in spending quiet times in cathedrals.  Even better when we can combine the two: an organ concert in Geneva's cathedral that dates back two millennia, or hearing Brahm's German Requiem in St Malo's cathedral.

"Mindfulness" is definitely a trendy word, but like "spirit" for me, it'll do until a better word comes along.  You might appreciate Hayes' book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life; I normally loathe books from the self-help section, but I found it extremely helpful when I worked through it in 2011.  Among other things, it has a number of options for mindfulness practices that I've found far more practicable than any apps.

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Darren H wrote:
: For most of the past decade I would've described myself as "spiritual but not religious" but I've been wondering lately if I have that backwards.

"Spiritual but not religious" is a very common phrase, but to me it has always sounded akin to saying that one is "sexual but not married" -- which obviously would not be a problematic self-definition for some, but would for me. Anyway, I now find myself pondering the phrase "married but not sexual" -- which actually works for me, certainly better than the other phrase. I could try teasing out the reasons why, but for now I'll just let that sit there and mull it over.

: I was in my late 20s and it was the first time I'd been exposed to Christian practices from any perspective other than American evangelicalism. I was also reading Thomas Merton, St. Augustine, Pascal, and Tarkovsky. Those guys did a number on me

Yeah, if memory serves, you mentioned Foster in the context of watching films by people like Tarkovsky, who demand that the viewer pay attention, etc. There was a connection you drew, I believe, between disciplined moviegoing and disciplined spiritual practices.

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1 hour ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

There was a connection you drew, I believe, between disciplined moviegoing and disciplined spiritual practices.

I wrote an article about it. (I just reread this for the first time in a decade. It's pretty good!)

In my experience, "spiritual but not religious" is short hand for "I recognize that there is mystery in the world -- I've experienced it -- but church traditions and church practices, with their closed cultures and dualistic (right/wrong saved/condemned) teaching, alienate me from that mystery." When I say I might actually be religious but not spiritual, I think I'm trying to reject the wishy-washiness of that attitude. If we take Andrew's more rational/scientific phrase -- "emotions and neuro-physio-somatic responses to the world around us" -- then I suppose I'm looking for something like a religious practice that makes me more attuned to those responses.

This all overlaps with my comments in the Top 25 thread. I'm sincerely interested in spending the rest of my life growing into the role of "elder." (The comedian/podcaster Pete Holmes tells a great story about seeing his 75-year-old father wearing a brand new Hard Rock Cafe jacket and thinking, "Really? An expensive logo-covered jacket? This is the model of maturity and wisdom you're living out for me?" Draw your own comparisons to our idiot president.) And when I read Richard Rohr or Thomas Merton, I hear two men who lived their entire lives in study of the Bible and other scriptures, and in service, and found their way to a sense of Christ as something closer to Joel's term "nepantla." Rohr calls it "third way thinking" or "transrational." I haven't put in the hours like he and Merton have, so I haven't earned their wisdom, but I trust that they earned theirs through the discipline rather than through belief. Does any of this make sense?

When we stopped attending services, I stayed at the church for another dozen years, volunteering every Thursday night as an English as a Second Language teacher. I remember telling friends in our Bible study, soon after I started, that it felt more to me like church than actual church ever had. Maybe I'm feeling this itch right now because I stopped teaching a few years ago to focus on film programming and writing a screenplay (other forms of meditation, I'd argue). Maybe the long-story-short version of this is I need to get off my ass, out of my head, and back into service of some kind.

Edited by Darren H

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Darren H wrote:
: I haven't put in the hours like he and Merton have, so I haven't earned their wisdom, but I trust that they earned theirs through the discipline rather than through belief. Does any of this make sense?

Absolutely! I mean, I do think belief *matters* on some level, but I also subscribe to an incarnational view of the human being which says that what we do with our bodies matters (C.S. Lewis hints at this in The Screwtape Letters when the titular demon remarks that humans mustn't be allowed to think that their *posture* matters during prayer), so I do believe that discipline of the sort we're discussing can make us more attuned to those "neuro-physio-somatic responses" that Andrew wrote about, regardless of what we happen to *believe* about those responses.

And it's always good to be able to look at an old piece of writing and think it holds up. Lord knows I've looked at many of my own old articles and wished I could rewrite some bits. So I do like it when I look at an old article and think, "Hey, that's pretty good!" -- even when my next thought is, "I'm not sure I could write that well today." :)

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Wow. I am really grateful for this thread at the moment. I have been staring at it for a while and re-reading your posts and just thinking through what I could possibly contribute here. My story is very similar to you all in terms of having grown up in an evangelical background. I invested my college and graduate school years heavily in biblical and theological study, leading to postgraduate work in early Christian origins. Books, libraries, theory, etc... It was a whirlwind of much learning without any clear direction other than the unexpected encounters with God outside of this evangelical intellectual complex in family, friends, travel. And then the miracle of our children. The economic crash in 2006. Then the hunt for my first career entry job during this time on an academic market which left me haunted with a sense that teaching full-time was not something I actually wanted to do. This dismay was in part due to not really connecting with the theological world of any schools at which I might fit by virtue of heritage and training. Maybe I could have pressed on and just made something work. Maybe this. Maybe that.

But I ended up weathering the recession in a career that I never knew existed and fits me like a glove. This has carried me intellectually and vocationally in a way I never expected and in this work I feel like I am doing something valuable for society, science, and the faculty/students I interact with. Working as what amounts to being an ethicist and consultant in the scientific research environment has stretched my theological background beyond what I had expected. I still also teach biblical studies, and have for over a decade now. It still thrills me to draw others along into the wonders and complexities of the biblical narrative - and its implications for the self.

We have also endured a lot of tragedy as a family over the last 10 years. It has been tough. We have learned how to carry things together. How to forgive each other. I suppose what I am winding my way toward here is that I rediscovered. No, that isn't true. I never really had it. I discovered what I think is the essence of biblical spirituality in these experiences. I know a lot of stuff. But my sense of what it means to know God is only something I found in a set of pressures bounded by time, sorrow, anger, tragedy, failure, and the fragile thrill of recovery. 

Part of my absence from this board is that my desire for cinema waned when faced with the challenge of living through these hardest of years. What I gathered in crumbs and baskets from cinema in a theoretical way was now right here. So I am still a bit lost in what cinema actually means. I just have to leave that there as I am not sure what else to say about it.

--

My wife and I did return to the church I grew up in about two years ago. We tried big church evangelicalism for 9 years and it hurt us where it counts. Leaving that place was bewildering. We were not sure what to do, short of doing nothing at all. But this reconnected me with some things I have not done for a long time. I have been able to teach/preach a few times in a max security prison not far from us. The freedom I feel to talk to these guys is liberating for all involved. It is the only place I feel my past, the deep presence of God in scripture, and my pleasure in talking come together. What does it mean to use the word "freedom" as any sort of premise or promise for a man who will never see the outside of a triple-layer fence again? This, I submit, is the most complex theological problem I have encountered. I have also been preaching. Like, actual in the pulpit with a sermon preaching over the past year at our church. I am grateful God kept me out of the pulpit for so long.

--

Still not sure where I am going here. The question though. Faith now. This question of faith in God dominates my thoughts in a way it never had before. I feel as if the weight of time and trial has finally pressed the question into the right places. And it leaks out. I think at this stage I am waiting to see what that looks like, trying to stick with the logic of recovery. Keeping the path narrow.

Edited by M. Leary

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10 hours ago, Darren H said:

I haven't put in the hours like he and Merton have, so I haven't earned their wisdom, but I trust that they earned theirs through the discipline rather than through belief. Does any of this make sense?

Of course it does. For sure. Though belief itself has become a discipline for me, which is something I thought I had learned in part from Merton. In the sense that the questions I face in my vocational and family and church routines have a centrifugal force, which must be maintained by a constant gardening of my experiences. It is easy for things to creep in and cut that tension.

I fish a lot. I particularly love fly fishing because there is no feeling like that tug. Two lives briefly connected by the mere whisper of a line. And sometimes God and I seem to switch places in this analogy when transposed to my communion with God. But that electric tension pulls me in these moments of what I guess is spirituality into the assurance that I am onto something good and honest. 

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23 hours ago, Andrew said:

I delight in spending quiet times in cathedrals.  Even better when we can combine the two: an organ concert in Geneva's cathedral that dates back two millennia, or hearing Brahm's German Requiem in St Malo's cathedral.

This is always a compelling witness. Especially for someone like you, being so self-aware about what the experience entails personally and theoretically.

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1 hour ago, M. Leary said:

Though belief itself has become a discipline for me

I'll write more later, Michael, but I wanted to thank you for chiming in and to say that this really hits home.

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Nobody's spiritual autobiography is entirely his (or her) own, so I've always had some reluctance to share publicly parts of my journey. It's also true that I've had to do so in an evaluative context (as part of job interviews), and so I have been aware of the pull between caring and not caring about people judging it. 

I am the child of two nominal Roman Catholics who did not raise me in any religious tradition. I had a conversion experience in my mid-teen years, and that resulted in a long period (perhaps one I am still in) of feeling that I am not really at home in any world. Many whom I've shared my life with don't understand, believe in, or share my spiritual beliefs, and many who share them (or profess to do so) have looked at me with suspicion because I wasn't part of the tradition by birth or social upbringing. It was a shock to me when I realized how few people who claimed to venerate the Bible knew it very little. The plus side, though, is that more recent social and political failings of American Evangelicalism were experienced by me less as a betrayal or shock and more as simply more of the same. (To be fair, though, we're all fallen, and I've experienced and witnessed my fair share of problematic behavior from non-Evangelicals.)

I've attended Baptist, non-denominational, Wesleyan, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches, but my spiritual practices are more informed by discipleship training in Inter-Varsity and these days follows the categories and suggestions in Renovare's Spiritual Formation Workbook. Since my IV training focused on Spiritual Reading ("Quiet Times") to the almost exclusion of anything else, I find myself gravitating more towards practices outside the Contemplative Tradition. For a long time that bothered me, but I finally got to the point where I realized God knew my heart, and I couldn't imagine He would be pleased by my forcing myself to run my eyes over the same passage(s) I had read a dozen or more times out of some sense of duty and that the purpose of Bible reading was to provide a foundation for Biblical living. Oddly, I find myself praying more, though I usually keep my prayers to myself and they are usually short. For many years I played Disc Golf as kind of a spiritual discipline, and I cherish the memory of times alone in the woods (particularly after my father died), though I've lost some of the physical stamina to do this as much as I used to. 

My wife used to have a saying (I haven't heard it much recently) to not despise the little things, and some of the lower points in my life were alleviated by small kindnesses from strangers more than anything I ever came to expect from tribal loyalties. So my other big spiritual discipline is trying to be kind, particularly to people who are suffering. Without being able to get into specifics because of professional and personal privacy, a lot of the trauma I suffered at an early age (brother being murdered, father being a hostage), allowed me to go a little farther down the path of suffering that some of my peers hadn't experienced and to know how to avoid some of the most egregious errors of piety when being present for another person who was experiencing something for the first time.  

I'm probably more...conventional in my Christian beliefs than are many people on this board, but that's okay. George MacDonald has been one of the great spiritual guides in my life, and when I first found out that he didn't believe in the atonement, I had to decide whether it was possible for someone to be mistaken and still holy. Another spiritual practice is my commonplace book, and MacDonald has a healthy place in it, including this:

 

Quote

If then we go wrong, it will be in the direction of the right, and with such aberration as will be easier to correct than what must come of refusing to imagine, and leaving the dullest traditional prepossessions to rule our hearts and minds, with no claim but the poverty of their expectation from the paternal riches.

Elsewhere in the same sermon, MacDonald uses the phrase "wander in the direction of the truth." I can't really think of a better metaphor for my spiritual practice and aims than that. 

Edit: Also, my institution has a nice phrase in its mission statement, that it sees no conflict between the life of faith and the life of inquiry. So my biggest spiritual discipline at the moment, I imagine possibly for the rest of my life, is inquiry.

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13 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

"I'm not sure I could write that well today."

So true. I haven't been writing much lately -- just some film festival reports and an occasional interview. I'd like to get back at it. I like Andrew's idea of thinking of writing as a kind of Sabbath activity.

 

12 hours ago, M. Leary said:

Part of my absence from this board is that my desire for cinema waned when faced with the challenge of living through these hardest of years.

I'm sorry about your brother, Michael, and for all that you and your family have been through. I'm glad to know that you seem to have experienced some kind of grace in the process. 

 

12 hours ago, M. Leary said:

We tried big church evangelicalism for 9 years and it hurt us where it counts.

I'm sorry to hear this too. I haven't written much online about the tragedies Joanna and I suffered because I was too traumatized by them. (Joanna's mother and father were murdered brutally by her brother.) When most of us met, I was working on my Ph.D., which I never finished because writing a dissertation while experiencing PTSD doesn't work. I couldn't sit still for several years and still struggle to concentrate for long periods of time.

I mention that now because I still can't believe how totally inept the community of my big evangelical church was at responding to -- or even acknowledging -- our needs at that time. Friends have suggested that we left the church because the murders made us angry at God. I won't speak for Joanna, but for me it was more boring than that. The murders were just the tipping point. I've spent too much time over the past decade knocking down evangelical straw men and don't want to fall back into that now, but I can say, honestly, that the community I thought I'd built in that church totally failed me when I needed them most. Again, forgive me if I step on any toes when I say this, but I think the church culture I was part of is really good at creating and reinforcing a particular kind of social/cultural identity. (What Rohr calls building order.) I felt as if the murders stained us somehow. It was as if our encounter with real trauma, real tragedy, real violence, as opposed to the metaphoric, Sunday School kind, threw a wrench into that well-oiled machine.

11 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

My wife used to have a saying (I haven't heard it much recently) to not despise the little things, and some of the lower points in my life were alleviated by small kindnesses from strangers more than anything I ever came to expect from tribal loyalties.

That's not a bad mantra. I'll add to my earlier story that one friend drove to Alabama for the funeral. He and I now live hundreds of miles apart but we make a priority of seeing each other a couple days every year and we text constantly. It's odd to realize that part of me still craves the simpler consolation of being part of a tribe.

 

11 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

Also, my institution has a nice phrase in its mission statement, that it sees no conflict between the life of faith and the life of inquiry. So my biggest spiritual discipline at the moment, I imagine possibly for the rest of my life, is inquiry.

Another good mantra. I've still never read much George MacDonald but whenever I happen upon his name, my first thought is, "That's Ken's guy."

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On 1/18/2019 at 12:04 PM, Darren H said:

I grew up in a conservative evangelical world and was an active participant in it until 2004, when my wife and I left the church. I'd been feeling increasingly alienated from the religious practice of my youth for several years before then, but our decision was precipitated in some ways by a traumatic event we suffered ... With no offense to others still in that world, I feel grateful now to have escaped that particular evangelical culture. But I've experienced the loss as a kind of mourning. Faith, theology, the big questions of what it means to be human -- and to be a good human -- have remained a constant preoccupation of mine.

Thank you, Darren, for starting this thread - one of the most riveting and thought-provoking threads we've had here for what feels like a long time.  It is striking how tragedies, griefs, and personal & family related issues have been mentioned by most participants in this thread as both cause for change in A&F participation and change in spiritual life and outlook.  I did not know this was something that so many of us shared.  It sounds like many of us have had quite a rough time of it.  Personally, the tragedies and struggles of life, family, and career have severely limited the time that I used to have available for participation in this group and my film reviewing pursuits.  But I have a deep and lasting affection for all of you, and it warms the heart to hear how well so many of you are bearing up after profound losses, crises of faith, and life-altering events.  It is also refreshing to be able to read and think through these things so generously shared here.  I still have the hope that A&F might find a revival of engagement again, and that I will be able to help contribute to it.

I do not believe that I've shared here yet that I am currently right in the middle of a profound spiritual change.  I too grew up conservative evangelical, so much so that I went to a very active, politics/culture-engaging private evangelical college.  I too left the evangelical church, and then I left a post-evangelical church.  I also went through my own alienation/disillusionment period of bewilderment, doubt, and re-evaluation.  I spent about three years of intense and aggressive questioning of everything I had previously accepted and believed, and I had to think and talk through my most common and fundamental assumptions.  While not quite having finished what is still an ongoing process, and then after adding getting married and doubling-down on the serious work of building a family-supporting career, I am now finally and unequivocally on the path of converting to Catholicism.  Part of this is a suddenness in finding that I actually believe in the Eucharist.  Part of this is a growing sense of finding the doctrine of the visible universal church (ranging across every continent) to be both compelling and Scriptural.  And part of this is turning out to be the inevitable result of what has been a long journey.

On 1/18/2019 at 1:41 PM, Joel Mayward said:

I'm also reading a lot of philosophy, which is giving me a language and understanding of God, time, personhood, truth, goodness, and beauty that I had never previously imagined. Through both my experiences in a variety of Christian church traditions, as well as my current academic studies, I would consider my present faith a theological kaleidoscope of sorts, a mosaic of beliefs and practices formed from a variety of sources.

It still puts me in a state of awe and gratitude how much a deep, old-fashioned reading and studying of philosophy has given me resources that I had never dreamed existed.  In my reading and studying over the last decade, I have drunk deeply of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield (particularly Saving the Appearances).  From there I moved to G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy), Hilaire Belloc, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Roger Scruton.  Edmund Burke, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Russell Kirk (The Conservative Mind), Wendell Berry, T.S. Eliot, David F. Wells (No Place for Truth, or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?), Mark A. Noll (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind) Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death), Richard M. Weaver (Ideas Have Consequences), Eric Voegelin, Yuval Levin, Matthew B. Crawford, Josef Pieper, James K.A. Smith (Desiring the Kingdom) all followed.

But all this only served to convince me how unread and uneducated I really was.  So that's when I began reading Plato and Aristotle, and I'm still reading and re-reading them now.  This led to Boethius, A.G. Sertilanges (The Intellectual Life), Alexander Schmemann, Dietrich von Hildebrand (Aesthetics), Martin Mosebach (The Heresy of Formlessness), Alasdair MacIntyre (After Virtue; Whose Justice? Whose Rationality?; Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry), Charles Taylor (A Secular Age), Thomas Pfau (Minding the Modern), Hans Boersma (Heavenly Participation; Nouvelle Théologie), Brad S. Gregory (The Unintended Reformation), Patrick J. Deneen (Why Liberalism Failed), D.C. Schindler (The Catholicity of Reason; Freedom from Reality; Love and the Postmodern Predicament: Rediscovering the Real in Beauty, Goodness, and Truth) and James Matthew Wilson (The Vision of the Soul: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in the Western Tradition).  These are now books and ideas that I will be rereading for the rest of my life.

But, and probably more impactful than any others, I carefully read all of Dante's Divine Comedy and I have now begun to systematically work my way through the works of Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Newman, and Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI.  From there, I can't turn back, and I still have Jacques Maritain, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Yves Congar, and the early church fathers on the immediate to-do list.  While I am of a profoundly rationalist inclination of mind, I have read Aquinas coherently and intricately argue against any mere rationalism.  The vast, rich, elaborate, beauty of the coherent architecture of Aquinas' thought is breath-taking.  MacIntyre has explained how in today's public square there is now a incommensurability between different schools of thought and fields of practice that have only reinforces the increased polarization and ideological partisanship that seems to make basic communication impossible.  But Aquinas has a way of placing himself inside another school of thought or field of practice in order to engage, question, and dialogue with them on the basis of their own assumptions - this involves increasingly sophisticated forms of dialectic, where you pursue and attempt to adopt the strongest arguments and most coherent foundations that can possibly be adopted of another point of view with a fearlessness based upon the confidence that God is the author of all truth, all goodness, and all beauty, no matter where it is to be found. And it is an adoption of, and placement within, another's point of view that Aquinas models after what the Lord did with the incarnation.  It requires both a patience and love for other than self, and I it is convincing me that I have to learn and practice far more patience and far more love than I ever dreamed was possible to have for others.

On 1/20/2019 at 7:58 AM, Darren H said:

In my experience, "spiritual but not religious" is short hand for "I recognize that there is mystery in the world -- I've experienced it -- but church traditions and church practices, with their closed cultures and dualistic (right/wrong saved/condemned) teaching, alienate me from that mystery."

In my Evangelical/Post-Evangelical/Baptist/Presbyterian church going, I have found the closed cultures and dualistic teaching that you speak of.  But I have also recently found that church tradition and church practice does not have to be closed, dualistic, and alienating in this way.  Unfortunately, a great part of what formed me as an evangelical was a lack - an absolute utter and blank void - regarding the teaching of either mystery or spiritual discipline or practice.  If I can encourage you to do anything in cultivation of your experience of mystery, I would encourage you to sit down and read the Church Fathers, ancient theologians, and mystics - read the books, treatises, poems, prayers, and devotionals written by Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Athanasius, Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose, Jerome, Psuedo-Dionysius, Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor, St. John of the Cross, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Ávila, Catherine of Siena, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Hilda of Whitby, Thérèse of Lisieux, and others.  Here is mystery and in depth spiritual insight.  I am finding that there is simply no substitute for reading them.  Reading about the works of St. John of the Cross or Catherine of Siena is nothing like reading the the actual works themselves.  I can't find the words to describe this, but, in our current political climate and culture, the words of, for example, John Chrysostom simply sear the page as if with a flame.

Read these people's writings from both the East and from the West.  The room for diversity of thought is immense and varied.  The room for both liberal and conservative sensibility is coherent and commensurate.  The value and love for diversity of culture and the distinctiveness of nationality is profound.

20 hours ago, M. Leary said:

My wife and I did return to the church I grew up in about two years ago. We tried big church evangelicalism for 9 years and it hurt us where it counts. Leaving that place was bewildering. We were not sure what to do, short of doing nothing at all ... Still not sure where I am going here. The question though. Faith now. This question of faith in God dominates my thoughts in a way it never had before. I feel as if the weight of time and trial has finally pressed the question into the right places. And it leaks out. I think at this stage I am waiting to see what that looks like, trying to stick with the logic of recovery. Keeping the path narrow.

My wife and I have only been married a little over three years, and we have already been hurt in the church, more than once.  Leaving hurts too, and we have friends who told us long stories about experiencing far more and far worse than we have.  I do not expect or pretend to believe that we will not find hurt yet again in the Catholic Church.  Evangelicals are thoroughly unsuited to deal with the suffering of others just as all other sinful human beings are unsuited to deal with the suffering of others.  I do not mean this to be dismissive.  I have witnessed and experienced how difficult this can be.  Sanctifying empathy and the resources that can truly give healing to the suffering and to the needy comes from only one source - and His example is still the primary example we can turn to.  My faith has to be in Him.  And I am most interested in the means to His grace which I believe he made specific arrangements for sharing with us.

On 1/19/2019 at 7:02 PM, Andrew said:

Whereas praise choruses or CCM sets my teeth on edge, I still adore music such as the requiems of Faure and Brahms.  When my family and I voyage abroad, I delight in spending quiet times in cathedrals.  Even better when we can combine the two: an organ concert in Geneva's cathedral that dates back two millennia, or hearing Brahm's German Requiem in St Malo's cathedral.

This is good to hear.  Not only can I identify with this deeply, but I can say that it is one of the reasons I am personally headed for Catholicism.  Beauty.  Quiet.  Contemplation.  Of course, I can respect your capacity (just like that of Henry Adams) to appreciate these things without necessarily challenging your hard-won, honest agnosticism.

From my own perspective, I need a theology and philosophy that gives an important place for beauty.  I am surprised in looking back, at the buildings, at the music, at the sensibility, how much beauty simply does not matter in most of the evangelical circles I spent over two decades within.  Not only that, but the beautiful seemed to be replaced by the trendy, the flashy, the technological, and whatever seemed to be the most likely to draw in additional consumers within the contemporary church marketplace.

Now I cannot get over the sheer wonder of the interior of an old cathedral, and how every single detail is richly laden with meaning, symbol, craftsmanship, metaphor, imagination, and reality.  I am increasingly learning the variety, flexibility, and sublimity of both Gregorian chant and Renaissance polyphony.  This stuff makes me want to adore.  I need to learn more about it and why it affects us in the way that it does.  I need language to at least begin to describe it.  I haven't read anything like von Balthasar's seven volumes of theological aesthetics yet, but starting with Aristotle, I've become convinced that exercising the capacity for wonder for the beautiful is a basic human need.  If the first church buildings that were constructed in the world were large beautiful cathedrals, and they were (taking into consideration the elaborate instructions for the tabernacle in Exodus), then why did the evangelicals I was brought up around think that beauty simply does not matter (or, even worse, is not to be trusted)? If it wasn't for cathedrals and choral music, I might not be about to enter the Catholic church.

19 hours ago, kenmorefield said:

George MacDonald has been one of the great spiritual guides in my life, and when I first found out that he didn't believe in the atonement, I had to decide whether it was possible for someone to be mistaken and still holy. Another spiritual practice is my commonplace book, and MacDonald has a healthy place in it ... Elsewhere in the same sermon, MacDonald uses the phrase "wander in the direction of the truth." I can't really think of a better metaphor for my spiritual practice and aims than that.

George MacDonald's teaching on the atonement, and C.S. Lewis's echoing of him in some places, was the first thing I was able to grasp hold of in rejecting the Reformed insistence on how the death on the cross was necessarily Christ's being punished in order the satisfy God the Father's anger against sinners.  While MacDonald does not appear to be entirely orthodox in how he explains this, I have always appreciated how not only his words, but his biography seems to bear out that MacDonald did not make this argument lightly.  In fact he took on great personal sacrifices to do so.  His entire career in the church was destroyed, partly because of his refusal to grant that it was an angry God who demanded the suffering of innocence as the only means of atonement for our sin.  Despite a few of his mistakes from an orthodox perspective, whenever I read MacDonald, I feel that I am reading something wholesome, warming, and refreshing.

All this said, I acknowledge that there is much that is wrong and even alarming about the Catholic Church.  There are many questions about it and objections to it that I would be happy to discuss (perhaps elsewhere so as to not take over the topic of this thread).  There are currently some great evils in the Catholic Church.  But I have found that no other church I have attended has anything like the riches of the Summas of Thomas Aquinas, like the Roman Missal, or like the four volume Liturgy of the Hours.  That the sources from which these come are richer and deeper than I ever imagined they could be.

For all that I can find to love about them, there is not much universal about American Evangelicals, Southern Baptists, or for that matter, English Anglicans.  I've been looking for a faith and spiritual practice that can be adapted to Africa as well as to America, to Asia as well as to Europe.  I am surprised to say that I have found it, and it is more open and has more space and room for intellectual exploration and development than I have found anywhere else.  And, finally, from a Catholic perspective, I do not mean to come across as possessing more certainty and having found more than others here who are openly acknowledging serious struggles and doubts.  I still have great doubts too.  I have these doubts along with what I am finding to be a great deal more than I ever expected, and part of this is the confidence that all truth is God's truth, and part of this is a belief that the kingdom of heaven really is here, in hostile enemy territory in a lot of different ways - which are real and literal and sacramental.  I will keep all of you in my prayers - along with old regular prayer practices that that I am learning now only for the first time.  If I can be of any help or encouragement to any of you, or point anyone in the direction of further hope or light, email or private message me and we can talk privately if you wish.

I can also thank Steven for his witness and example here at A&F.  While I never needed to dialogue with him about my questions concerning Catholicism, he has always been one of the more gentle but unwavering Catholic examples that I have been able to see over the years that always exemplified a rhetorical temperance and a generosity of spirit in his conversation about theological ideas in the arts.  Years ago, reading Steven's patient explanations for what he believed, I never would have dreamed that I would find myself entering the Catholic church.  But now I can see that reading as another part of what has lead to the present.

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J.A.A. Purves wrote:
George MacDonald's teaching on the atonement, and C.S. Lewis's echoing of him in some places, was the first thing I was able to grasp hold of in rejecting the Reformed insistence on how the death on the cross was necessarily Christ's being punished in order the satisfy God the Father's anger against sinners.  

I am not familiar with MacDonald's thoughts here, nor am I sure exactly where Lewis echoes him on this subject (though I have read a lot of Lewis over the years), but for what it's worth, my rejection of this particular *theory* about the atonement (it doesn't sound to me like MacDonald or Lewis rejected the atonement *itself*, per se) is what set me on the path to becoming Eastern Orthodox. I reached a point in my life where I became convinced (partly through Robert Jewett's Saint Paul Returns to the Movies: Triumph over Shame) that the Protestant emphasis on guilt and punishment goes back to Anselm and, before him, Augustine, but does not go back to the Bible or the earliest teachings of the apostles. So I flirted with post-evangelicalism and even attended a liberal Anglican church a few times (where I was startled to see priests denouncing the Bible from the pulpit just like the Bad Preachers in cheap evangelical movies), but I was never comfortable or satisfied with the idea of subscribing to a theology that had basically been invented the day before yesterday. It didn't make sense to me that the Church would have gotten something as important as the atonement wrong for so many centuries. I shared these thoughts with some friends in another forum, and one of them piped up and said I should check out the Orthodox, who also didn't care much for the Augustinian-Anselmian approach to the atonement -- and this appealed greatly to my desire for continuity with the early Church.

I offer all that as part of my own personal spiritual journey, and not to try to argue anyone into agreeing with me.

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On 1/21/2019 at 10:31 AM, Darren H said:

I mention that now because I still can't believe how totally inept the community of my big evangelical church was at responding to -- or even acknowledging -- our needs at that time. Friends have suggested that we left the church because the murders made us angry at God. I won't speak for Joanna, but for me it was more boring than that. The murders were just the tipping point. I've spent too much time over the past decade knocking down evangelical straw men and don't want to fall back into that now, but I can say, honestly, that the community I thought I'd built in that church totally failed me when I needed them most. Again, forgive me if I step on any toes when I say this, but I think the church culture I was part of is really good at creating and reinforcing a particular kind of social/cultural identity. (What Rohr calls building order.) I felt as if the murders stained us somehow. It was as if our encounter with real trauma, real tragedy, real violence, as opposed to the metaphoric, Sunday School kind, threw a wrench into that well-oiled machine.

I'm sorry you experienced this, Darren, but I'm not surprised.  I'm sure I would've left the church sooner or later anyway, but the church's response to my vicarious traumatization of hearing hundreds of trauma narratives from combat vets with PTSD was much the same as you describe, and was a nail in the coffin of my belief and praxis.  If I attempted to discuss it, I was typically met with silence and less than zero empathy, leaving me feeling an insignificant non-person.  And numerous veterans with actual PTSD, not my vicarious traumatization, recounted to me similar experiences that led them to leave the church.  

What gets published in the Christian press says much to where the heart of the mainstream Protestant and evangelical church is.  I can count on two fingers the psychologically insightful books that were written about trauma and faith during my time in the church (Mahedy's Out of the Night and Jones' Trauma and Grace).  Maybe this has improved, maybe not...

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On 1/22/2019 at 1:38 AM, J.A.A. Purves said:

I am now finally and unequivocally on the path of converting to Catholicism

Thanks for sharing about this, Jeremy, for your willingness to explore beyond the faith of your upbringing, as well as your abilities to communicate that process here. I've come to deeply appreciate much of Catholic theology (although I am admittedly very critical of some Catholic theology and praxis, but that's for a different conversation), and I can empathize with your experience of reading deeply--"sear the page as if with a flame" is a beautiful phrase--as having a profound effect on your spiritual practice.

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On 1/21/2019 at 10:31 AM, Darren H said:

I mention that now because I still can't believe how totally inept the community of my big evangelical church was at responding to -- or even acknowledging -- our needs at that time.

 

 

On 1/25/2019 at 6:51 AM, Andrew said:

I'm sorry you experienced this, Darren, but I'm not surprised.  I'm sure I would've left the church sooner or later anyway, but the church's response to my vicarious traumatization of hearing hundreds of trauma narratives from combat vets with PTSD was much the same as you describe, and was a nail in the coffin of my belief and praxis.  If I attempted to discuss it, I was typically met with silence and less than zero empathy, leaving me feeling an insignificant non-person.  And numerous veterans with actual PTSD, not my vicarious traumatization, recounted to me similar experiences that led them to leave the church.  

I have appreciated the attempts that everyone has made in this thread to not flame on or induce others to do so, especially when navigating difficult feelings or relating negative feelings towards churches/evangelical culture, etc.

For what it's worth--and recognizing that may be very little--it has helped me to overcome or avoid some bitterness by reminding myself that the community *outside* my (big/little/medium Evangelical/Reformed/Catholic Church/Synagogue/Mosque) was also totally inept at responding to or acknowledging my needs at the time of my own traumas. 
 

That's not meant as an excuse. There are good individual people in all manners of professions and communities who help. (As Mr. Rogers said in his tragically non-nominated documentary, look for the helpers.) But I worry that *sometimes* some people, especially Exvangelicals, speak as though it is always and only the church that has failed people, betrayed people, or disappointed people. 

I will hasten to add that, of course, such failures are more irksome if and when they come from people or communities who don't know they are inept--who speak and act like they are uniquely qualified or the only ones who are good at it. I think if you follow the logic of most American Evangelical teaching and preaching, you are certainly warranted in claiming that they/we *should* be better at it. But not being any better than the person/group you look down on isn't quite the same thing as having a monopoly on sucking at something. 

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Thanks to everyone who has posted here. I am grateful for the reflections. I read this thread about a week ago, but life got in the way before I could post my own thoughts.

I didn't grow up in an Evangelical environment, but had a traditional conversion experience while I was in High School. After some years of academic wandering in college, I decided to pursue a career in academia, and received a PhD in Theological Studies in 2008. I've since found a full-time teaching position in a Christian seminary and, as a result, have moved a couple of times. The moves in the last few years have created a fair amount of upheaval in our personal lives, and have, as a result, created opportunity for reflection on this subject.

Underneath that rather traditional backdrop, I have not felt settled in the church for a very long time. There have certainly been things about it that appealed to me--a sense of care and connection motivated by a shared love of God and neighbor and opportunities for service to "the least of these" being two of the most significant. My wife and I have made a consistent habit of serving in each church we've been part of, and while that has led us, at times, into direct conflict with others, the service has been the most valuable factor in our being able to abide or persevere or just plain hang on in church communities.

The sense of dislocation has strengthened in recent years as I've chafed against pressures to conform to a particular image of Christianity that simply does not fit what I believe to be the heart of the gospel. This started in the '90s with pushback against new, bland church music that seemed designed for little other purpose but to elicit an emotional reaction from me (a trend that has only grown, to my dismay), to being shunned and looked down upon by family and "friends" for not fitting their image of true Christianity, to what we've all seen in the past several years with the monstrosity of Christian Republicanism, where someone's stockpile of guns matters more than the life of an impoverished brown kid. Church life has felt very much like an accumulation of wounds--not from the "baddies" out there, but from the "good guys" on the inside.

One of the early church fathers described the church as safe harbor. Despite the issues noted above, it has sometimes been that for me, not often through organized services or studies, but through a few key relationships that continue to bear fruit, to challenge and encourage and love me. However, when I look at organized activities and megachurch pastors, I see less a safe harbor for the weak and broken and more politicking or fighting the supposed culture war against those same people. My portrait of the church remains terribly conflicted. I suspect it will always be so.

I continue to actively engage in the church because I can't shake Jesus and I continue to see a strong connection between him and the church he has created. I appreciate very much Mike's earlier language of believing as discipline. Attending an organized service is an extension of that discipline for me. And continuing to serve the church remains a significant way in which my belief makes itself tangible.

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I’m in an airport, tapping on my phone, so I can’t respond at length to the last few post right now, but I will this weekend. 

John, I don’t know if you remember this, but we touched on this subject when we had dinner in Knoxville years ago. I asked you why you remained active in your church, and I still quote your first response: “a lot of people there love my kids.”

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On 1/24/2019 at 4:50 PM, Peter T Chattaway said:

I am not familiar with MacDonald's thoughts here, nor am I sure exactly where Lewis echoes him on this subject (though I have read a lot of Lewis over the years), but for what it's worth, my rejection of this particular *theory* about the atonement (it doesn't sound to me like MacDonald or Lewis rejected the atonement *itself*, per se) is what set me on the path to becoming Eastern Orthodox. I reached a point in my life where I became convinced (partly through Robert Jewett's Saint Paul Returns to the Movies: Triumph over Shame) that the Protestant emphasis on guilt and punishment goes back to Anselm and, before him, Augustine, but does not go back to the Bible or the earliest teachings of the apostles. So I flirted with post-evangelicalism and even attended a liberal Anglican church a few times (where I was startled to see priests denouncing the Bible from the pulpit just like the Bad Preachers in cheap evangelical movies), but I was never comfortable or satisfied with the idea of subscribing to a theology that had basically been invented the day before yesterday. It didn't make sense to me that the Church would have gotten something as important as the atonement wrong for so many centuries. I shared these thoughts with some friends in another forum, and one of them piped up and said I should check out the Orthodox, who also didn't care much for the Augustinian-Anselmian approach to the atonement -- and this appealed greatly to my desire for continuity with the early Church.

C.S. Lewis actually explicitly rejects the atonement "as punishment" in Mere Christianity.  Given his reading of MacDonald, this isn't a surprise (one of MacDonald's most explicit treatments of it is in his Unspoken Sermon entitled "Justice").

For what it's worth, there is at least one lovely Antiochian Orthodox church in my town, where my wife and I have visited occasionally during our process of working through where we belong.  We still go to their Saturday evening Vespers on occasion, and every time we leave refreshed and readied for Sunday morning.  Coming from my evangelical background, the differences between Catholicism and Orthodoxy appeared to be very small compared to the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism/Orthodoxy.  Our landing in the Catholic Church probably mostly has to do with our being persuaded by Newman's work on the development of doctrine and our understanding of the doctrine of the universal visible Church.  As a Catholic convert, I already love the Orthodox church, think the Great Schism to be a great tragedy and to be more the fault of the West than of the East, will work for giving the Greek liturgy a greater place within the Catholic church, and will work and pray for reunion.  As far as Augustine and Anselm's penal substitutionary teaching on the atonement goes, my understanding is that not only does the Catholic church not take this teaching as far as the Protestant Reformed view (which emphasizes a juridical view of justification) does, but that the reason for this is the corrections and distinctions drawn by other theologians such as Cassian and Aquinas.  (But, I have not read John Cassian yet.)

On 1/25/2019 at 3:51 AM, Andrew said:

I'm sure I would've left the church sooner or later anyway, but the church's response to my vicarious traumatization of hearing hundreds of trauma narratives from combat vets with PTSD was much the same as you describe, and was a nail in the coffin of my belief and praxis.  If I attempted to discuss it, I was typically met with silence and less than zero empathy, leaving me feeling an insignificant non-person.  And numerous veterans with actual PTSD, not my vicarious traumatization, recounted to me similar experiences that led them to leave the church.

Partly because some PTSD combat veterans are personally close to me and partly because of an interest in neuroscience, I have had reason to research the basics of the different schools of thought that are out there for treatment of mental health issues.  Out of these different schools of thought, I have been very impressed with some of the work that is being done in cognitive behavioral therapy and in dialectical behavior therapy.  I have found that the mainstream Protestant and evangelical church has rejected a great deal of ancient and medieval theology regarding how consciously forming habits and practices can lead to different forms of healing and life changes.  I am still learning more about this, but I believe Protestant and evangelical thinking rejects works/practices/habits as a means of grace, because they teach that salvation must only depend upon God's grace being given to the believer.  Put another way, Protestant/evangelical theology rejects salvation "as a process."  Instead, salvation must be instantaneous upon the first moment of faith.

The consequences from this is that I have found both impatience and intolerance in evangelical churches for any kind of "working out of salvation," whether this means changing or forming behavior patterns or thought patterns.  Given the time, the empathy, the work, and the daily practice of dealing with trauma, it does not appear to be the easy instantaneous grace of the work of a sovereign deity bestowed after the sufferer utters a simple "I believe."  I suppose this is because they believe that if one works out any kind of redemption by practicing and forming specific thinking or specific behavior, then that must be a redemption worked out by man, not God - which takes away from God's glory or sovereignty in some way.  Personally, I am seeing cognitive behavioral therapy help those I love, and I am finding that the requirement of faith (or bestowals of grace) does not have to be mutually exclusive with the requirements of daily practice or habit forming.  (All this is said with the caveat that I've made some broad generalizations here and that I grant that these are matters of great complexity and diversity of both belief and experience.)

On 1/25/2019 at 7:21 AM, Joel Mayward said:

Thanks for sharing about this, Jeremy, for your willingness to explore beyond the faith of your upbringing, as well as your abilities to communicate that process here. I've come to deeply appreciate much of Catholic theology (although I am admittedly very critical of some Catholic theology and praxis, but that's for a different conversation), and I can empathize with your experience of reading deeply--"sear the page as if with a flame" is a beautiful phrase--as having a profound effect on your spiritual practice.

Thank you, Joel.

To put this in another way as I think more about this, I have become persuaded over the years that literal "spiritual practice" really does matter.  Daily practices and habit forming, and the formative character of ordering one's time and attention, is a traditional theological concern of the church that I was never taught in my evangelical churches.

How one thinks about the importance of regular, spiritual practices is determined by one's sacramental view of reality.  Hans Boersma, for one example, calls this sacramental ontology.

I recently read James K.A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, and while I admired his discussion of cultural liturgies and the ways in which practices and habits form us, I was struck by the complete lack of his discussing or citing to the major theologians and philosophers of the past who have made the same arguments in even far greater detail.  In other words, except for a couple offhand references to St. Augustine, Smith presents his cultural liturgies arguments about the formative practice of virtue as if they were new.  It feels to me that making a theological argument in this way is making an unnecessary break in the continuity and community of the church.  I was very lucky that my father instilled a deep love in my brothers and I for the practice of the inductive Bible study method.  But no evangelical church ever taught me that the experience of reading deeply was itself a spiritual practice called lectio divina, and that there were riches to be had in practicing it along with other disciplines.

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On 1/28/2019 at 4:51 PM, kenmorefield said:

I will hasten to add that, of course, such failures are more irksome if and when they come from people or communities who don't know they are inept--who speak and act like they are uniquely qualified or the only ones who are good at it.

That last part was/is the rub for me. I don't know if what I'm about to describe is a hallmark of many churches or only of the ones I've attended, but I was raised to believe that something transcendent happens when two believers study the Bible together or pray together. I wouldn't have been able to articulate it like this at the time, but I really believed that the only authentic communion we can experience is born somehow in the workings of the holy spirit. That was why I attended small group Bible studies for decades. We were supposed to read the same chapters, talk about them, pray together, and then, inevitably, magically, we would be blessed with true relationships. What a comforting thought! Once that was proven to not be the case, I felt strangely unburdened.

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