Posts from the ‘Reading’ Category

A Review of The Gospel of Inclusion

I was first exposed to Bishop Carlton Pearson on NBC’s Dateline “To Hell and Back”in the Fall of 2007, and did a little internet reading on his story. I saw him again as a panelist in March of this year on ABC’s Night Line Face Off “Does Satan Exist?”. A lot of what he had to say resonated with me and peaked my curiosity to learn more. I recently got his book The Gospel of Inclusion and finished reading it last night.

I enjoyed the book, but it left me unsatisfied. I have a lot of sympathy with what Carlton went through. Like him, my conclusions and de-converting did not begin with an epiphany but was rather the result of a process of wrestling with questions and answers and more questions. True to his disclaimer the book does represent the collective of his post-evangelical sermons and is heavy on Biblical references. I think I was hoping for a little more biographical narrative and less sermonizing, even though I appreciate the difference in tone and aim in the message. I think the book was written primarily as a message to evangelicals, starting where they are and taking them through his theological transition and reasoning making the case for the Gospel of Inclusion.

It’s funny to me that some of the things that many people consider “liberal” seem oddly conservative to me still. Perhaps that’s a measure of how far I’ve come or evidence that I don’t use a yard stick anymore.

I admittedly speed read through the first two-thirds of the book, because he was “preaching to the choir” where I’m concerned. I need no de-converting from evangelicalism. I appreciate the last portion of the book most, where he talked more about life on the otherside of his “coming out” of evangelicalism. I relate to that more. I’m still looking for a book that wrestles more with reading the Bible again for the first time or rethinking faith and practice on the other side of evangelicalism.

I really like Carlton Pearson as a person and have not seen or read anything that would lead me to doubt his motives. If he was out to make money, he surely wouldn’t have thrown away a profitable and high-profile ministry. I think this book is a good bridge for people who are questioning and wrestling with their evangelical background. This book and message won’t lead you away from Christian faith altogether. There’s no brain washing going on here. Just one man’s candid and very personal journal of his faith journey.

10 Practices of a Peacemaker

  1. Recognizing that I am not separate from all that is.
  2. Being satisfied with what I have.
  3. Encountering all creations with respect and dignity.
  4. Listening and speaking from the heart.
  5. Cultivating a mind that sees clearly.
  6. Unconditionally accepting what each moment has to offer.
  7. Speaking what I perceive to be the truth without guilt or blame.
  8. Using all of the ingredients of my life.
  9. Transforming suffering into wisdom.
  10. Honoring my life as an instrument of peacemaking.

Taken from Jean Smith’s The Beginner’s Guide to Zen Buddhism

Crazy for God a must read for post-evangelicals

I just finished reading Frank Schaeffer‘s memoirs Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. I knew of Frank and his father Francis Schaeffer but arrived on the evangelical scene after the rise of the religious right was in full swing. I could not put this book down for a week. It details the childhood and adolescence of Frank in the Schaeffer home of L’Abri in Switzerland where he grew up and the rise of his family in the evangelical community. It is brutally honest, eye-opening, at times laugh out loud funny, and heart breaking.

I enjoyed the book most for being a personal story of someone else on a similar journey as my own, for the same reasons I enjoy de-conversion.com. It is incredibly helpful and psychologically healthy to know that I am not alone in my questions and struggles with faith, doubt, and reason. While all of us end up on different ends of the theological spectrum between devotion and atheism, we share a common journey, common experiences, and a common voice.

I appreciate most from Frank’s book his acknowledgement that this is his life’s story as he sees it now. He recognizes that all our perspectives are skewed knowingly or unknowingly and always written or told from the vantage point of the moment. He says asking the question “who are you?” is insufficient. The necessary question to follow that is “when?” He realizes that as individuals we are in a state of flux throughout our lives and likely to be very different from even ourselves at various times in our lives.

Near the end of the book Frank discloses that he is plugging away at faith, in part, through his conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church mostly because he says, “the Orthodox idea of a slow journey to God, wherein no one is altogether instantly ‘saved’ or ‘lost’ and nothing is completely resolved in this life (and perhaps not in the next), mirrors the reality of how life works, at least as I’ve experienced it.” That makes a lot of sense to me, and while I vascilate daily between belief and unbelief, mystery and reason, life is, if nothing else, a journey on which I am trying to grow and learn and become all that I can while I can. This book is a welcome stepping stone along the way.

Why Is God Laughing?

I recently finished reading Why is God Laughing? by Deepak Chopra with a foreward from Mike Myers. The book peaked my interest because I saw an episode of Iconoclast featuring both of them together some time ago. The book is also ficiton.  A comic comes to grips with the death of his father and all of the big questions that haunt us with the help of a spiritual mentor of sorts. Both characters seem like alter egos of both Chopra and Myers interestingly enough. I recommend the book as an easy, entertaining, and enlightening book. At the end of the book there is a section called “The Path to Joy: Ten Principles of Spiritual Optimism,” which I enjoyed as much if not more than the whole book. One section made me think more than usual:

Can a loving God  really supply us with life’s good things one day and pain the next? Most people who feel grateful to God tend to deny that he is also responsible for disease, calamity, and death. yet an all-knowing, all-powerful diety can’t be responsible for only part of what goes on. Either he sustains everything or nothing.

The way to escape from living under a God who brings pleasure one day and pain the next is to realize that God isn’t a person. We only call God “he” because our minds resist thinking of God as a total abstraction. In truth, being total, God has to be abstract. you can’t wrap your mind around the All. Instead, we wrap our minds around the things we notice, and choose to believe in.

I’m not really sure what to do with God anymore, as I’m sure he doesn’t know what to do with me either, assuming either of us are really real. This thought provoking excerpt challenges the assumptions that I grew up with. I have never read or heard Deepak say anything that would disavow the existence or presence of God in our lives, but he regularly challenges our preconceived ideas in order to stretch our imaginations. To think of God as a person like us completely baffles my mind. If he is a person like us, he is either powerless, ignorant, or a bigger prick than anyone can fathom. The problem of human suffering is one of the biggest hurdles to the argument of an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God. K + P + L ≠ G in any conceivable way to me. Evangelicals reconcile the problem by blaming us for our own misery, i.e. sin. I don’t have the time nor the stomach to go down the road refuting apologetics at the moment. Suffice it to say that most of the classical theological positions don’t measure up to science, common sense, or even common decency that one would expect from an all-loving God. It seems that many of the problems I have and maybe others is that we think of God as a person and try to force our expectations and assumptions upon that image. 

In both this book and others Deepak talks about God as the All, the unifying force creating and sustaining everything we know as reality (my words not his). That helps me to think about God in a different way, albeit more distanced. I’m still not sure if I believe in a unifying force in the world that we tap into, ignore, or abuse at our peril, anymore than I do the Judeo-Christian view that many of us were raised with. The jury’s still out on the subject for me, but I appreciate being challenged to think about God in a different way before giving up on the idea altogether.

The book starts to take shape

I’m working through the nuts and bolts process of research and planning for the book I’m writing. There will be many rewrites of everything, but here is the working draft of what the book is about and a brief overview. Comments appreciated. Free critics are the best.

 

A young Irish refugee begins her new life in the bayous of the Louisiana Territory.

A young girl flees the green shores of Ireland with her family for the murky bayous of the Louisiana. Sarah McWilliams tries hard to adapt to life in the Spanish territory, but she’s soon married off to an Irish immigrant approved by her father and moved north to start a family far from her own. Soon after adjusting to their new life together, Sarah’s husband is tragically killed leaving her a very young widow with three small children. Gabriel is fresh from Tennessee to make a name for himself, but soon befriends his fare red-headed neighbor and wins her heart and hand in marriage. Within a few years the sugar boom is calling and the vagabond packs up home and family once more to start over yet again in the foreign French-speaking bayous of south Louisiana. Together Gabriel and Sarah endure hardship and setback to carve out a life in the backwater wilderness for their family leaving a legacy of love and endurance known as the Wildwood Plantation.

So, I’m writing my first book

     

Another Wildwood Plantation, in similar style to the Beasley home

 

 

 

 

Another Wildwood Plantation, in similar style to the Beasley home

There are a few things I’ve always wanted to do before I die, as they say. I learned how to fly and received my private pilot’s license a few years ago. Check. Learn to play the guitar comfortably, half-check. Open my own little coffee shop, no check yet. Sigh.

I’ve always wanted to write a book, as well as music someday. While I love to write and manage to sound coherent most of the time, I’m generally not the creative artsy type. I admire the free spirit and abandonment to risk that artists take. They expose their most intimate selves to the world and rise or fall on their merits. That’s admirable to me, but I’ve never considered myself the fiction writer type. The dialogue confuses me. I’m far too analytical and philosophical at times to write fiction, I think, but who wants to read an autobiography of a former preacher turned… well, something else? 

As it turns out, the book I’m going to write is fiction after all, well, fiction based on fact. That seems a safe enough bridge to cross for the first time. I’ve picked up my grandmothers love of family history/geneology and have been tinkering away at it for the last six years or so in her place. It fascinates me. I want to know who I am and where my family came from. Along the way I’ve discovered some amazing stories of love, loss, hardship, and even murder. There are at least three or four stories that beg to be told. I’m starting with the story that’s fascinated me the most.

An Irish immigrant finds love and heartache in the Bayous of Louisiana, or something like that. It’s a story from the oldest known ancestor of my grandmother’s paternal line, the Burns. I’ve always had a love of all things Irish. It turns out for good reason. There are at least two lines of my family that trace their roots back to Ireland.

The young Irish immigrant is Sarah McWilliams born in 1780 in County Cork, Ireland. She came to Louisiana at some time before 1800 with her family and married a young Irish-Scot, John Burns in Opelousas shortly thereafter. After settling in the pioneer region of Morehouse Parish and giving birth to their third child, John died, cause unknown. Within a couple years this young widow met a young North Carolina boy named Gabriel Beasley fresh off the trail from Tennessee and married him. They bought a plantation and expanded their family for 10 years in North LA, while the Louisiana Territory became part of the U.S. and sugar became king over tobacco and cotton. Around 1820 they moved near Napoleonville in Lafourche Parish and slowly carved a sugar plantation out of the wilderness of the Attakapas Canal, which later became Wildwood Plantation where they enjoyed a long life together. Sarah died at home of pneumonia at age 80 in 1860 and Gabriel died later that same year, just in time to miss the destruction of the Civil War.

There are so many questions that I have about the blanks in the story. Thinking about those questions for years now has fueled my imagination about why, what, and when. Their story is romantic, adventurous, and heartbreaking all the same. Sarah’s life in Ireland and coming to America is a great story. The first love of her life died way too young leaving her a widow in a strange land with three children. A young North Carolina boy fell in love with a young widow and took her children as his own. They worked hard and built a wonderful life for themselves and their children for generations, only to die oddly enough months apart.

I’ve been doing a lot research into life back then, people, places, history, social/economic conditions, etc. It’s been really fascinating and sort of like trying to solve a mystery with whatever clues you can find. You have to take a certain license of liberty to fill in the blanks of their life and make choices about what you think happened and why they made the choices they did. I’m trying to make careful decisions about what most likely happened and also what would make the best story. This will be a work of fiction after all, but I hope to honor their story as best I can, before its lost and never told again.

Sarah’s lifespan parallels the history of the birth of the sugar plantation, the state of Louisiana, and the arrival of the Acadians. There are several other things that make the story really interesting to me. They tie together the history and culture of north Louisiana and south Louisiana which are worlds apart. Half my family is from south La and half from the north. I’ve spent half my life in each and know them well, but there is a lot of the Acadian French-speaking world of the bayous that I only know through story. Gabriel and Sarah were like other Anglos that came to the bayous chasing the sugar boom, feeling out of place and working to adjust to a different kind of life. 

This is going to take awhile, but I think I’ll enjoy it. I don’t have any high aspirations of selling the book or of many people reading it, but I will feel especially accomplished when I finish it. I think my grandmother would love it. She was so passionate about her family history and took such pride in where she came from and who she was. 

I’m working near the southern site of the story and plan to spend some time there doing some research and getting a feel for the story. I hope to make a trek north to the earlier homeplace and do the same in a few weeks. I won’t make it to Ireland though, so books will have to do. I’ll be blogging from time to time about my progress, the challenges, and nuts and bolts of putting a book together. I hope it challenges you to step out on a limb and check off one of your boxes too.

The State of Me Post

Ok, so I’ve been gone for awhile. I’d say it’s been hard getting back on the horse after so long, but I just haven’t felt much like blogging. I’ve been a little busy I guess. It seems like getting things rolling with my job after the holidays is a bit like pushing a freight train up a hill. So I’ve been focused on work but still feel like I haven’t gotten back in my groove yet.

I haven’t been reading at all for a couple months. I am very excited about the arrival of Deepak Chopra’s newest book, The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore. It will be released February 19th. Mine is pre-ordered with Amazon. The basic premise of the book, as I understand Deepak’s description from his Sirius Stars radio show, is that the first Jesus was the historical Jesus who actually lived, which is fairly elusive to our grasp. Then there is the second Jesus, the one who has grown out of centuries of tradition and cultural bias and perhaps a largely mythical persona. The third Jesus would be the one we try to return to that speaks to us in our present reality with truths and grace that transcend dogma and religion. Let’s be honest folks, the church has effectively hijacked Jesus and twisted his words and intentions into a convaluted mess to promote an agenda of control through fear. Anyway, I’ll be blogging about the book quite a bit once I get started.

The bulk of my time has been spent at home with my family. The kids are growing and have been a lot of fun, all in all. I’ve enjoyed spending more time with my wife. We had a good Christmas. We came away with the resolve that next year it will not be about everyone else and will focus on our own little nuclear family. Things just seemed to get out of hand with buying stuff for everyone. By the time you get a ‘little something’ for everyone, it turns out to be a ‘big something’ in the wallet. It’s not reciprocated, and I seriously question that grown adults need someone to buy them something that they may not want that they could not better buy for themselves. Anyway, that’s my rant on Christmas gift-giving.

I have spent an inordinary amount of time on my newest addiction, World of Warcraft. It’s one of those Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) you may have heard about. No doubt the most popular one. A high school friend of mine has been playing since 1999 and told me about it on more than occasion. I was always intimidated and never checked it out. My friend and I were working in North Mississippi in December, when a WoW South Park episode came on. It was hysterically funny and inspired me to try the free trial version of the game. Like I said, I’m hooked. That’s why I haven’t been reading or blogging. LOL. I’ve learned a lot and had a lot of fun. My six year old loves to watch me play and could probably take over my character should something happen to me. For you WoW buffs I’m playing as a Night Elf Druid and have made it up to level 55 since mid-December. Yah! It’s a definate indulgence, but it keeps me out of mischief.

The other passion that I’ve been enthralled with is presidential politics. I am a news junkie. Until recently I haven’t liked any of the candidates, but I love the process. It’s the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I’ll probably be blogging more about presidential politics in the future. I just didn’t want my first blog of 2008 to be a political one. Talk to you soon.