Humbled into Pride (thanks & sorry) {a confession}


paul-pipe-bwLast week was an odd week on the blog. It was one that humbled me in such profound ways. The readers of this blog shocked and amazed me with their kindness, encouragement, and continued support of what I try to do here.

My series of discussions with my Atheist friend concluded on (what I felt was) a high note. The number of readers of that series numbered into the thousands, even though the writings were so long. (I copied and pasted all the posts into a single Word document just for the heck of it, and it was over 100 pages long–single-spaced! So if you read most of those, then congratulations, you finished a book in a week-and-a-half.)

People in all parts of my life were reading (at least some of) these pieces. People at work, church, Facebook, and Twitter all sought me out to encourage me in these conversations. The diversity of people who were keeping track of this stunned me and humbled me. I couldn’t believe how many people would spend their time reading stuff I wrote and listening to my own thoughts and opinions about things.
Continue reading

Advertisements

Simplistic Atheism {2}: Science “versus” Theology


darwin-buddy-jesus-humor

(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

I’m doing a little series this week responding to a Facebook post by a friend of mine named Daniel Bastian. He outlined twenty things that would make him change his mind about Atheism. The piece is well-organized and thought out, I encourage everyone to read it and wrestle through it themselves.

In line with my belief that these sorts of discussions always seem to end up at differences in hermeneutics (interpretive filters) rather than facts, I wrote a post talking about what appeared to be Daniel’s bigger commitments and understandings of the world, human reason, and assumptions about spirituality (also read the Facebook comments).

I was, of course, accused of still not engaging with his specific points, even as I sought to talk about principles behind the points. And so, I’m excited to say that with today and tomorrow, we will be hitting many of Daniel’s specific points
Continue reading

Simplistic Atheism {1}: a Reason & Spirituality that’s too small


de-Goya-Sleep-Reason-produces-monsters

(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Last week a friend of mine named Daniel Bastian posted a well thought-out catalog of the reasons why he is an Atheist (let me know if the link doesn’t work). This list includes items that don’t usually pop up in similar offerings, and I encourage every Christian to read this list and wrestle through the realities of what he says.

As I thought about it, though, and thought through how I would respond to some of these things, I found a consistent theme to what I would critique to each of his points: over-simplicity. In this series of posts, rather than going through each of the writer’s twenty points, I’d like to go through some broader ideas he touches on, and offer my thoughts.

By the time I was done writing everything up, I had at least four parts to this response. Today, we’ll briefly talk about how Daniel’s post represents an over-simplifying of human reason and spirituality..
Continue reading

Simplistic Christianity; Simplistic Atheist: a response [GUEST POST]


(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

Earlier today, I posted an introductory post in response to a Facebook note by my friend Daniel. Before I posted it, I had a few friends read the post to see if they thought it would be taken especially personally and shut down, rather than promote, further conversation. They said that it was on the line, but they didn’t think it was too personal. Unfortunately, it seems I (we) were wrong.

Daniel responded in a comment, but I thought it deserved a more prominent place on the blog. I’ve included his response below, and included some brief words of clarification to his points.

__________________________________

Paul,

While I do appreciate your taking the time to respond, I don’t appreciate the flagrant misrepresentation. The religious opinion and intellectual caliber you ascribe to me in this piece in no way reflect my actual disposition and are so off-piste that I quickly lost track of whether you were talking about me or some nondescript internet denizen with which you have passing familiarity.

To set the record straight, you do not know me personally, and you clearly know even less about my views of religion and the serious, contemplative academic respect for and to detail to which I approach the topic. If you have a question about my views on an issue, ask me. Ask me. Don’t implant your own thoughts onto my character and radiate them in a public post. It’s unprofessional and ventures headlong into character intrusion.

To avoid further blatantly misinformed opinion from surfacing, I have tremendous respect for people of any and all religious persuasion, though I may depart from them on the metaphysics of their beliefs. I am under no delusion that theism, and Christian theism, can be dismissively fit into a box rather than a broad spectrum of nuance and theological nicety. Fundamentalism is *not* the truest articulation of Christianity and in fact is the most injurious strain of Christianity in its long history. There *are* legitimate theistic views to be voiced and I can entertain and respect those voices without affirming them for myself. I do so regularly and incorporate many of these voices in both my reading list and my book reviews on various websites.
Continue reading

Simplistic Christianity leads to Simplistic Atheism: it’s our fault


Atheist-monster-poster(Note: These exchanges are now complete. There is a Table of Contents to the discussion now available.)

“I walk outside my house, I look around, and it doesn’t seem apparent to me that there is a God. I just don’t feel it. It doesn’t seem to be the natural conclusion of reality when I live life and look around. I see the world, and the existence of God doesn’t feel like a natural conclusion one could draw.”

I stare down into my coffee, catching the corner of my pastor’s glasses in the dark reflection.

“Well”, he says, “I know it doesn’t fix how you feel, but in the grand scope of human history, and even the global humanity living today, that opinion you just expressed is in the extreme, extreme minority. Most people living in the past and now have found looked at the world and have not been able to come to any conclusion other than their being a God.”

Crap. He was right. What I thought was such an objective engagement with the world around me, was (of course) still the product of the cultural forces from which I drink deeply. History and developmental psychology have shown us that religiousness is the default mode of the human heart.

We are by nature religious. It takes other, external forces to push back against that and move us away from it. And this fact is no apologetic for religion. It’s neither a point “for” or “against” religion. We are also by nature selfish and willing to do whatever it takes to be the fittest and survive. We try not to give into this natural drive and through education and conditioning try to move away from it.

Continue reading

Pentecost: spirituality vs. Spirituality


crazy-clouds

I don’t know about you, but too often I divorce spirituality from the Holy Spirit.

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that “spirituality” is a matter between my spirit and the Holy Spirit. But I too often define spirituality as fundamentally being about my spirit–stirring it up and syncing it up to God. Too often, when contemplating my own spirituality, my thoughts first turn to how I can ” feel the Spirit more”.

If I’m honest, I too often think that a healthy and vibrant spirituality is ultimately defined by intense spiritual experience (emotions, gifts, fruits, and such). And yes, these are definitely products of a vibrant Spirituality, but don’t we too often pursue the product, and ultimately miss the point? Most of the time, I think that if I simply achieve those “experiences”, I have been “successful.”

True “Spirit-uality” is not first and foremost about the state of my spirit. Instead, it is about developing a dynamic vitality with the Holy Spirit. It’s about being swept up in a force greater than myself–a person greater than myself.
Continue reading

Diving into Death


books-death

It’s always difficult to talk about one’s own fear of one’s own death. It usually comes across as a little melodramatic and seems to carry with it the appearance that somehow your fear of your death is somehow felt more deeply, analyzed more fully, or experienced more truly.

In short, when people start whining about their fear of death. It can be annoying. I acknowledge this. And yet, here I am, telling you all that I am really, really scared of death.

When I mention this to people that know me as the guy who writes a lot about faith and seems to believe these things pretty deeply, people are (for some reason) shocked to hear me explain just how deep my fear of death goes. I know it’s not logical, but I somehow find the past works of God more easily believable than the future acts of God. I know you can’t have one without the other, but the human heart is a storm of contradiction and paradox.

And for some reason, Death has occupied my thoughts of late. Sure, I’ve wrestle with it’s reality, thought through it’s theological origin, seen it in the faces of the hurting, wrote about how to live in spite of it, and even engaged it in poetry and in song, but something has really captured me recently. I’ve been sitting in the presence of this fear.
Continue reading

Christianity: paradox & Paradise, fall & Fall


I had the privilege of spending a long weekend these past few days in western Pennsylvania under the kindness and hospitality of my girlfriend and her family. It’s a place that is hard to describe without falling into cliches of big sky, clear air, and bright stars. It’s near the area that Johann Jacob Burkhardt, my first ancestor in America, settled in 1754 after sailing from Germany and landing in Philadelphia exactly a week ago today. I made almost the exact same trek as Johann and his family, from the rivers of Philly to the rural countryside of unsettled Pennsylvania.

Strangely, in the rest of Pennsylvania that I have seen, the trees are still mostly green and just starting to turn for the Fall. But here, this weekend marked the peak of that beautiful transition. The pictures above and below should testify to this (click them for larger versions). They were taken only a couple of days ago–with my phone (fun fact: the picture directly above this text was taken from Mt. David, the highest point in Pennsylvania).

I can’t express to you the beauty my eyes and soul were able to behold.
Continue reading

Christianity as Sin Management?


Anyone that follows this site regularly has probably noticed I’ve been taking it easy on the blogging this week. As my want to blog slowly began turning into a need, I knew I had to take a step back and approach it a little more leisurely.

This past week, our Executive Pastor preached a great sermon on the “I am the Vine, you are the branches”/”Abiding with Christ” section of John, and it really re-enlivened my taste-buds for time spent with Jesus. I knew I had to reassess my priorities. My near-daily blog writing was only possible because I was sacrificing sleep to do it (as I’ve done before), which in turn made it all the more difficult to wake up in the morning and do anything resembling communing with Christ.

And so, this week, I have been able to get up more easily, make my coffee, pour some cereal and do some devotional time.
Continue reading

Sex & Crazy People


I’m currently at the beach all this week for work. I’m having to help some clients learn the real-world skills of socialization, vacationing, and relaxation (yes, seriously–my job is awesome).

I’ve been working in the direct care and counseling of individuals with mild to severe mental illness for just over two years now. I’ve encountered many different presentations of many different mental illnesses and disabilities, but I’m beginning to notice some common themes.

One of the main (obvious) effects of mental illness and disability is that they prevent the person (or at least hinder them) from conforming to the normal standards of behavior and acculturation most of the rest of us go through more or less successfully. In other words, mental health issues are very good windows into the heart and nature of humanity apart from the “limitations” and “controls” our culture and our upbringing place on us.

So as I have looked into these bits and pieces of our truest, most unfiltered humanity, what have I seen? Sex. Lots and lots of sex. Continue reading

The Practice of His Presence


Well it’s that time again. Anyone that has followed this blog for a while knows that I go through “blog angst” from time to time and now and again. I get into a “funk” and question the direction and content of my blog-writing. By now the script for my whining and pining is well-formed and well-documented, but it always seems to end up at the same place: I need to make this blog more personal; it’s not the right venue for in-depth theological engagement; I need not be scared of putting myself in this thing (as I’ve written before).

And this angst could not come at a stranger time for me to try and talk about my personal spirituality rather than using the theological stuff to keep myself at a distance.

Continue reading

Pain, Sickness, Spirits & the Bible (Steve’s final reply) [Guest Post]


[Update: a dear friend of mine has added her thoughts, informed by her first-hand experience in this area.]

Over the past two-and-a-half weeks or so, I have been in a conversation with Steve Wolf concerning a comment he made on a post I wrote about how I felt I was encountering God in an extreme illness I was facing several weeks age. He felt that it was an injustice to God to think that his Providence has any place in physical illness. I responded to his comment. He then replied to that post. I then gave my final official response to his perspective, with a promise that I would give him the last word and feature his reply as a full post.

Well, here it is. As you can see (if you’ve been following this), he doesn’t really respond to anything I actually said (in my opinion). But, nevertheless, I said he could have the final official word. Any more replying I do in this conversation will be in the comments. Here’s Steve:

Continue reading

The Hope of Gethsemane (of Lent, Mortality, & Ashes)



I always have high and lofty hopes for Lent. Each year I have visions in my head of those amazing “spiritual” things I will do over these 40 days that will result in life-long and generational sins merely falling away from my life; my heart finally unburdened of the weights and yokes it has borne for so long.

And alas, God consistently and assuredly meets me in this season, but the time is rather marked by a sharp sense and sting of failure in these things I have dreamt of doing.

And so, I find myself here, five days into Lent, having already felt this weight of my own shortcomings and self-deception: dearest brothers confronting me in the facades I present to the world out of my own fears and insecurities, telling me how hard it is to love me; finding my heart wander to those old idolatries that I thought only marked my youth and immaturity; my social anxieties paralyzing me in my greatest opportunities of worship; falling short of the fast I have offered to God in this season; etc., etc., etc., etc….

And it’s right then in these moments that my greatest love–my Bridegroom, my Lover, my Hope, and my Healer: the Lord–meets me. Continue reading

“David Bazan: an Example for Christians After All?” – Patrol Magazine


bazanI’m having blogging withdrawal.  So sorry.  I’m still trying to find my rhythm with the new job.  I have several articles I’ve slowly been working on and others that I was working on, only to have the “moment” pass before they were done.  This is particularly true of some political articles I’ve been thinking through.  Just when I get an idea for a political article, the proper time passes before I’m actually able to get the thing written and published.  So once again, sorry.

But, I’m not slacking on my writing for Patrol Magazine.  Here’s the new article:

David Bazan: An Example for Christians After All?

As I said last week, I am the new Thursday blogger for the site.  My first article went up last week, and it was on Christopher Hitchens’ brother, Peter Hitchens.  This week’s article concerns a David Bazan show I went to early this week and some things this show taught me concerning my own spirituality.  So read and feel free to comment!

On Poetry & Atheism (I’m Writing for Patrol Magazine)


Sorry things have been so slow this week on the blog.  I’m still trying to find my rhythm for writing while I have this new full-time job.

As of late last week, I am the newest writer for the blogs at Patrol Magazine. Patrol is a great site putting forward some of the best writing available on culture, the arts, and spirituality from the perspective of post-everything twenty-somethings. I am the Thursday contributor to “The Scanner” section of the site. The Scanner is the place for “daily culture, media, views, and blather.” Today, my first article went up. Here’s the link:

Poetry is the Only Thing That Can Save Atheists, Says Other Hitchens Brother

I’m really excited and grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to one of my favorite sites. Like I said, you can see my writing every Thursday there on Patrol Magazine. As I continue writing, you can see all of my articles here.

Does anyone have any ideas for future posts?

[Art above: “The Last Judgment” by Rogier van der Weyden. Just read the article. It’ll make sense.]