On Confirmation in the Episcopal Church

542429_115537645244031_1405666807_nSo, obviously, I’m a history nerd. Which is why the most meaningful thing about being confirmed today was the laying on of hands by David Reed, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. That’s not a super comfortable thing for me – touching was not a part of the religious tradition in which I was raised – but sometimes the best things are those that push us out of our comfort zones.

The principle of apostolic succession was a big deal in early Christianity, and it remains a big deal today, especially in liturgical traditions like the Episcopal Church. When a priest is ordained, the bishop lays hands on her or him. That bishop was ordained and received blessing from hands from a previous bishop, and so it goes back, hands upon shoulders or heads, all the way back to the earliest church leaders – apostles like Paul, Junia and other women and men who shepherded a small Jewish sect that insisted the savior of the world had come, and that his kingdom would set to right in a new heaven and a new earth all that had gone wrong.

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How Christianity Created Marxism

29940916I didn’t anticipate writing more about Marx beyond my comments last week about how despite being an avowed critic of religion, Marx has had profound impacts on Christianity, but here we are because I couldn’t help notice some parallels between the Europe of Marx’s time and the America of ours.

In honor of Karl Marx’s 200th birthday, I’m reading Gareth Stedman Jones’ Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion.

As a philosophical biography, Stedman Jones’ work is focused beyond just the nuts-and-bolts info of Marx’s life; instead, he takes pains to paint the social and philosophical context into which Marx was born and raised. This is very helpful, as no one thinks in a vacuum, and if we are to understand Marx and what he believed, we should also understand the currents into which he was born.

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How Marx Changed Christianity

Image result for marx religious iconSaturday was the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, occasioning a slew of think pieces and hot takes (he was a genius! he was a monster!) – but here’s one that rarely gets made: Marx, that notorious skeptic of religion, was arguably one of the most influential figures in shaping 20th century Christianity.

On the one hand, this is obvious – Marx’s influence on world history generally is hard to overstate, and to the extent that Christianity partakes in world history, it must also have been influenced by Marx. Likewise, because so much of American Christianity, especially the fundamentalist and evangelical strains, embraced anti-communism, Marx obviously exerted a significant, albeit negative influence in the development of those traditions.

But I mean something more specific, and more positive – that Marx’s critique of capitalism’s inherent depredations and his yearning for a better, more just society shaped at least two significant Christian movements in the 20th century.

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Dear GQ (and Fellow Christians): The Bible Is Not a Book

Image result for the bible gq
Wrong Bible?

The latest front in the seemingly unending culture wars is Bible-believing Christians versus GQ.

In case you are blessedly ignorant of what’s been happening, allow me to ruin your day.

First, GQ decided to publish a snarky, irreverent piece essentially saying: “These 21 books are almost universally considered great. They actually suck. Read these other 21 thematically similar books instead.”

Now, obviously, the goal of a listicle like this is clicks. Fans of the dissed books will express their outrage, whether feigned or genuine, GQ will reap the ad-revenue and brand-expansion benefits, and the world spins on.

End of story, right? Well, no.

12. The Bible

The Holy Bible is rated very highly by all the people who supposedly live by it but who in actuality have not read it. Those who have read it know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.

The takes, they were hot.

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Quarterly Book Update: Tolstoy, Levine, du Bois, Etc.

Book listFor the past few years, I’ve been posting quarterly updates of what I’ve been reading on Facebook with little two- or three-sentence reviews of what I thought. And now I transliterate it here, so that the five people who read me on my Facebook page can see the same post on my blog! It’s called cross-promotion or something. Deal with it. (Links go to my typically more in-depth Goodreads reviews.)

1. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (1956) – This retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid is quite good. It gave me a whole new respect for Lewis as a writer of more than “just” children’s fantasy and Christian apologetics. If you liked Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, you should give this a read because it’s better. *ducks*

2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017) – Easily one of the best novels of 2017, if not the entire decade, if not this generation. Everyone should read it. Everyone.

Continue reading Quarterly Book Update: Tolstoy, Levine, du Bois, Etc.

Hello Again

So it’s been a while.

I started this blog way back in 2011, primarily because I was starting graduate school, and I wanted to chronicle my exploration of what I was learning and how that affected my beliefs. Somehow, I managed to get up and write several mornings every week – posts that summarized class lectures or textbooks, others that provided more political musings and eventually a few big series that explored topics separate from my education but to which my studies had pointed me.

By happy coincidence, our three children were either too young for school or being homeschooled, so I could write all the way until I had to go to work without much interruption – no lunches to make, hair to brush, teeth to double-check, screaming matches to referee. But as the kids got older, they needed more help in the mornings, and so it became harder and harder to keep this up. I could feel it drifting away, and although I don’t recall a specific decision to stop publishing, essentially that’s the choice I made.

I wish I’d kept it up.

A lot has happened since 2013, when I last posted regularly – most of it in 2015 and 2016, when I took a new job and moved several hundred miles away, and graduated with my M.A. in modern and American Christianity.

When I was last blogging actively, I hesitated to provide too many details about myself because I worked where I went to school, and I wasn’t sure how my employers would react to my ruminations. That was probably an excess of caution, but I worked in the fundraising arm of the university while openly questioning things like the virgin birth. If the wrong donor found the wrong post, it’s not hard to see how that could get awkward.

But that’s not really a concern anymore. So I don’t mind saying now that I earned that degree from Abilene Christian University, a fairly small liberal-arts school in West Texas affiliated with a cappella Churches of Christ.

We moved from Abilene to the Central Texas Hill Country in 2015, and I graduated a year later. Around the same time, we started attending our local Episcopal Church, which we love. How we joined the long line of former evangelicals to become Episcopalians is probably worth its own post.

Not only do I wish I’d kept blogging to better keep track of my thoughts as I wrapped up my degree, which included some work I’m really proud of regarding mid-century Churches of Christ and their responses to evolution and the civil rights movement, but I wrote a lot of words on Facebook about the 2016 election whose reach was necessarily limited to my friends. I’ll try to fill in the gaps with some flashback posts.

Finally, I wish I’d kept it up because, let’s be honest, this thing was doing pretty well. I’d had some success with Rachel Held Evans and Andrew Sullivan linking to the blog, with Fred Clark throwing some bones. Traffic seemed to be pretty steady, and there was some fairly consistent commentary back and forth from regular visitors. When you stop maintaining a site for five whole years, that pretty much all goes away. It’s probably not born from the highest and purest motives, but I hate the idea of starting from scratch.

But here I am, looking at starting over anyway. Why?

Because I need to write. And while I’ve had some papers published and continue to work on academic publishing and freelance writing, blogging allows almost infinite flexibility in what I choose to say and how I choose to say it.

In this blog’s very first post, somehow written almost seven years ago, I said:

Join me, won’t you? For perhaps the first time in my life, I can’t promise any answers, but I hope we can have some stimulating discussion and share in some amazing revelations as God reveals more and more about his nature to this student.

Let’s become disoriented together and see how God reorients our lives.

A new job, a master’s degree and hundreds of blog posts later, it’s more of a struggle to embrace the humility of that initial post. My brain has always tended toward figuring out and then disseminating the answers. It’s the old journalism background, I guess.

But one thing I have learned over the past seven years is that the life of faith is one of constant disorientation and reorientation. So I re-extend the invitation: Join me, won’t you? Let’s embrace the questions, the doubts, the struggles and see what God turns them into.

Billy Graham’s Faltering Legacy

When Billy Graham was born in 1918, American Christianity was engaged in something of a civil war between Fundamentalists and modernists.

As Christians, mainly in colleges and big-city churches, increasingly accepted scientific explanations for the origins of life and accordingly changed the way they viewed the creation and transmission of the Bible, they were subjected by conservatives within their denominations to heresy trials, sometimes successfully ousted from positions of leadership.

That division was memorably described by Harry Emerson Fosdick, the famed pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New York City, who in 1922 – when Graham was a toddler – delivered his sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”

“Their apparent intention,” Fosdick declared, “is to drive out of the evangelical churches men and women of liberal opinions.”

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