MW Cook

an ex-evangelical doing a year of living christianly

Tag: exvangelical

Religious, but not Spiritual

I get confused when people say they are spiritual, but not religious.

I don’t know how you can do spirituality without religion. Religion is like scaffolding. Both the five-hundred-year-old tradition and the vague conception of following your own inner truth are religion. Religion is the structure, the ritual, the lens through which you see parts of the world.

I think I’m religious, but not spiritual.

“What does that even mean?”

I pray and read the Bible. I belt out hymns and attend church. Christianly myth undergirds my interpretation of reality. I love sacred things. I’m religious, and I can’t help it.

But I don’t think any of the stories really happened. I don’t think the Bible is a book from God, and I don’t think that Jesus rose from the dead. I don’t think anyone is listening when I pray, or spiritually leading me, or that I’ll survive my death in any meaningful way. I’m not spiritual. I believe in the sacred, not the holy.

The Bible is sacred, foundational to many religious frameworks. But it is not holy. It is not whole and pure and uninjured. It is a collection of disparate works across time and genre that do not internally cohere without a complex hermeneutic formula. If I believed it was holy, I would have to accept the obviously evil bits of the Bible.

Here’s a guy who’s religious AND spiritual

A benefit of being religious but not spiritual is that I can hack my religion. Since it’s not the eternal edict of the universe, I can toss out every word of the law that contradicts the spirit of love and, with a nod to Marie Kondo, every doctrine that does not spark joy can be reverently discarded.

A Christian and Two Ex-Believers in a Pink Room

Ruth and I sat down with P.J. Tremblay, A.K.A. P’Jamz. We all met at Bible college a couple life-times ago. We had a great conversation about the faith and losing it and keeping it and how we can all start to speak the same language.

P’Jamz recently released his an LP, Foibles & Fiction. Songs like Proud and Odd One Out candidly talk about the fallout from losing faith. Go to his Audio4n6 Site to check him out and buy his album.

 

Sit in on our conversation on the Audio4n6 channel. There’s a lot here, and it’s been split up into convenient little chapters:

Part 1 — How we all got to Bible college

Part 2 talks about evangelism and missions

Part 3 — the uses and abuses of Christianity

Part 4 talks about what it takes to be successful at religion

Part 5 — how if religions don’t change, they don’t endure

Part 6 makes Ruth choke on water

Part 7 — childlike curiosity

Part 8 reminds us there are a few things to keep

Part 9 — the power religion can provide

Part 10 talks about how hard it sometimes is to talk about this stuff

An Anxious Evangelist

I am anxious. Especially around other people. You should see me at Costco. Actually, you shouldn’t. And if you do, stay out of my way because I may have a panic attack or run you down in a frantic attempt to escape. I dread nothing more than encounters with others.

In college I became an evangelist. My first time handing out tracts I almost passed out. It never got easier, but I kept doing it anyway. Sketchboard Evangelism. Open air preaching. Intentional friendships with shopkeepers and strangers in Ontario and Sindh with an eye to sharing my great and glorious salvation. Absolutely terrifying. But there was a script / story / drama that gave me the power to rise above myself:

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:9

The fear didn’t hold be back because I believed Christ was the only one who could heal the nations, and if the knowledge of him filled the earth, all hurt would end. My own anxiety was nothing compare to the eternal weight of glory that was promised. It helped me do difficult, powerful things.

I still want to work for a story that brings healing.
But the script is no longer simple.
I don’t think a single way is possible.
The gods, being greater than us, are not likely jealous.

I do, though, miss the script that made me do the things I “knew” I couldn’t do.

The God-Shaped Whole

(I’ve been slowing down on the blog posts because of other projects. Gonna have a new thing starting up soon. Stay tuned.)

I still love the Bible. Heck, I still have a thing for reformed theology, and the precise and careful application of a christianly spirituality. Evangelical Christianity features powerful mythos, ritual, and ethics.

But it also features a slow-to-anger-abounding-in-lovingkindess God who considers religious pluralism to be so heinous as to warrant occasional genocide and eternal hell.

And if God, who is love,
is willing to eternally immiserate
the overwhelming majority
of sentient beings
over a defect they cannot remedy
without His direct intervention

well, that could certainly mess up a person’s idea of love, couldn’t it?

If it were swallowed whole.

I’m thinking about the ex-evangelical hashtags and the harsh, brazen, and deeply important stories and conversations attached to them.

#ChristianAltFacts
#EmptyThePews
#HowToEvangelical

There’s a lot of people hurt by the church–not just by the people, or specific conflicts, or isolated incidents–by the whole thing of it because Evangelicalism is a whole life. If you’re unsure what could be wrong with the church, please read some of the threads with these hashtags. And if people seem unduly agitated about the faith we hold dear, consider what could have made them that way.

Palm Sunday Report

It’s Palm Sunday today and I’m a quarter through my year of living christianly. Here’s some observations:

  • It wasn’t hard to lay down a habit of waking early and spending decent time in meditative reading. The habit has opened my mornings up, and it feels like there are more hours in the day.
  • The first few months were emotionally intense. This is a deliberate understatement. I never felt such sadness and anxiety before, though I could sense a healing thread in it all. I think I had to properly mourn my loss of faith a while.
  • I can sit and chew on a piece of myth or devotional reading without believing that any of it actually happened and still find worthwhile nuggets to carry with me and change mt outlook on life.
  • I haven’t been to church for about a month. I’d like to blame school and term papers, but the fact is, church is meant to be a community of like-minded spiritual pilgrims. It grows hard to sit as an outsider. I’ll be back, though.
  • Digging into Scripture and dense spiritual literature is invigorating. I’d forgotten.

 

Christianly Book Review #2: Intimacy With God by Thomas Keating

I spent a few years as a Cognitive Science major, mostly because it spoke to the kind of spirituality I used to pursue: very introspective and interested in mental/spiritual/emotional growth. I first heard about Thomas Keating’s book on Christian Centering Prayer, “Intimacy With God,” while doing a paper on the similarities and differences between meditative practises and prayer. This year of living christianly is a good opportunity to finally read it.

Here’s how Thomas Keating lays his prayer out:

  1. Choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God’s presence and action within.
  2. Sitting comfortably and with eyes closed, settle briefly and silently introduce the sacred word as the symbol of your consent to God’s presence and action within.
  3. When you become away of thoughts, return ever so gently to the sacred word.
  4. At the end of the prayer period, remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes (16).

The idea is to “gently establish an attitude of waiting upon the Lord with loving attentiveness” (43). I’ve found it to be a difficult practise to keep up, perhaps because it doesn’t have the same, er, cultural flavour as the evangelical disciplines I’m used to. Also, training intention is a different skill from training attention–one of the goals of mindfulness meditation. So while I think Christian Centering Prayer could be really useful for some people, it’s not super palatable for my evangelical tastes. Has anyone else tried it?

Morning Devos: Proverbs 3:31

Envy thou not the oppressor, and chose none of his ways.

Lines like these strike a sad chord because of how often Christendom is the oppressor. And how often Christianity envies the oppressor and choses his ways, or at the very least gets out of the oppressor’s path so he can get on with his oppressing. And how many times cries against oppression are implicitly and explicitly resisted by Christian voices.

Almost every week I hear social commentary from the pulpit: how #metoo is rooted in the sin of sexual liberation, how social justice distracts from the gospel, how conservative politics are a mark of being Christian: and all of it couched in Biblical-sounding talk.

oh i don’t know the sufferings of people outside my front door.
and i join the oppressors of those i choose to ignore.
i’m trading comfort for human life
and that’s not just murder, it’s suicide.
and this too shall be made right.

Derek Webb, “This Too Shall Be Made Right”

Morning Devos: Job 30:20

“I cry unto thee, and thou dost not hear me: I stand up, and thou regardest me not.”

Job’s not doing so well. By the end it works out for him because (spoiler alert) eventually God is going to show up and give answers. Cryptic answers, but at least something to work with. Job is going to be OK because eventually the voice from one high will have something to say about the whole situation.

I’d like to see what would happen if God never showed up, and Job just had to deal with the silence, like so many others who have cried out with no answer, and stood with no regard.

Morning Devos: Job 27:5

Job’s friends are still at it. He says, “God forbid that I should justify you: till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.”

There’s something noble about being willing to face death before disintegrity. I think integrity isn’t the same as convictions. Integrity implies a kind of stable wholeness. It implies my integrals–my important things–are in position and cared for.

Job can’t repent for something he hasn’t done. He’s not going to capitulate to his friends on their word, because that would ignore what he knows about his situation and experience. In the end, his friends can’t understand, but that doesn’t make it Job’s job to justify them. He just needs to hold on to his integrity.

Morning Devos: Job 21:3

Job’s friends were downers. I guess they probably had good intentions when they first came, but Job’s condition was so mind-reelingly bad that they sat there speechless for three days trying to figure it all out and came to the conclusion that Job must have sinned because there’s no way a just God could let an innocent man suffer this much.

Job’s all, “No I’m a good guy, this isn’t fair, something’s wrong,” but his friends are like, “That’s not possible, Job, it’s a more or less just world and we more or less know the rules to it and the rules say you must be in the wrong somewhere. In fact, your attitude is downright disrespectful and basically proves you’re in the wrong.”

It’s been going on more or less like this since chapter three. Whatever the conclusion ends up being, the striking thing about the conversation is that everyone knows the answer to Job’s problem, even though they haven’t heard anything he’s said. By chapter 21, Job’s caught on.

“Suffer me that I may speak,” he says. “And after that I have spoken, mock on.”