Archive for the 'Faith' Category

Peace or a Sword? – Galatians for Lent

For this Friday’s Darkwood Brew post, I raise a troubling Galatian question about religious pluralism and/or ‘division for the sake of freedom’ vis-a-vis Paul in Galatians 3. I’d love to see you interact with it here.

Sunday Devotional: Love is Love

Hello all you lovers in the blogosphere! Augustine (or was it John Caputo?) once famously probed: “What do I love when I love my God?” And Tom Oord in his Nature of Love: A Theology begins to take seriously, perhaps for the first time in contemporary theology, ‘God IS Love’ as a starting point for theology, spirituality, and practice. I think his project is exciting (you should really check out the book if you haven’t already), and if it resonates, it begs the question: Who do I love? What is love? And how can we explore/express these questions together trans-rationally, devotionally, ecstatically, in song?

Well, if these are questions that matter to you, I’ve got your mystical poetry for absorption into the One this morning. This is Love is Love, coming from post-hardcore band Lungfish‘s visionary, wheel-within-a-wheel frontman, Daniel Higgs. The version that so resonates with me – and with Trinity’s Place, my faith community in Raleigh – is actually a cover by Tortoise, when they collaborated with Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

I use this song frequently – working out on the ROM, and as a prelude to prayer or contemplation. Here it is:

The lyrics are anybody’s guess. Here’s mine:

Love is love in the shape things take

Love is love in the womb of wombs (wound of wounds)

Love is love at the highest height

Love is love at the deepest depth all right

Love is love as the risen rise (as the risen Christ)

Love is love in the sight of creation

Love is love in patterns of light

Love is love at the root of the grave

Love is love in the life of all life

Love is love in echoes through space

Love is love a vigil for this world (a vision for this world)

Love is love in the marrow of new bones

Love is love as above so below

Love is love in the record of events

Love must be love to let time begin

Love is love always reconciled

Love is love in the wind and shade

Love is love – alien and strange

Love is love in truth and falsehood

And, for your added enjoyment, here’s the original Lungfish version. Enjoy!

Red Letter Christianity, Black Letter Epistle-anity, or Whole-Canon Spirituality?

Frank Viola pointed to Leonard Sweet’s Napkin Scribbles podcast awhile back, where Sweet explains why he won’t join Red Letter Christians or The Beatitudes Society. Frank asks what we think of Len’s reasons, which you can (and should, for the purposes of this post) listen to here. This is what I think.

I appreciate what Sweet’s saying here about the sometimes-seeming arbitrariness of exalting one portion of Scripture over & above others – for instance, many Reformed Christians seem to exalt the Old Testament to the exclusion of the New Testament altogether! But the flip-side of this observation is that we all do it – whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have our “canon within the canon” to which we afford pride of place. Sweet himself does this when he, after noting that “Red Letters” are themselves an outdated metaphor, then launches into how Paul seemed to care very little about the historical teachings of Jesus. I happen to agree with this assertion, but so what?

Using the “all Scripture is God-breathed” lens that he introduces as his hermeneutic, why should we care what Paul did or did not emphasize if we ought to be…I dunno what Sweet might call us…Whole-Canon Christians? The very existence of the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels would make the teachings of Jesus important, regardless of whatever is or isn’t found in Paul. (And of course, conversely, it would make Paul’s perspectives and understandings important, regardless of what is or isn’t in the Gospels) In short: I like his avoiding the ditch that could characterize some contemporary social justice emphasizing Christians, but I’m not yet convinced that he wouldn’t steer us into the opposite ditch of reading the Epistles to the exclusion of the Gospels – the ditch that the worst excesses of Protestantism has been steering us in for 400 years.

Why do we vacillate from ditch to ditch? Let me offer a possible reason, speaking as a very young Gen-Xer (born in the last years that it’s acceptable to be an X-er, but I’m rather out of place as a Millennial) who has deep sympathies with the theologies that make my friends Sweet and Viola nervous: The reason why groups like The Beatitudes Society seem to be more focused on following Jesus rather than believing in Jesus is because we, generationally, have significant doubts about the kind of world has been left in the wake of “believing in Jesus.” Even if Jesus’ teaching is simply a re-assertion and universalizing of core Judaic values (or indeed, an ethical core at the center of all the great world religions), these are values that we feel the world is out of touch with, and desperately needs. If the Church had followed the Sermon on the Mount instead of  canon law reflecting Christendom-Empire values, would we see the massive devaluation of human, animal, and ecological life that runs rampant today?

For many in my generation, an over-emphasis of the metaphysics of Paul’s Epistles seems to have created a world where ‘spiritual’ salvation is divorced from practical change, where the state of one’s soul seems to have little bearing on the way we treat one another. Nowadays we distrust metaphysics in general – too much talk of God (even in church!) makes us nervous. A dear friend of mine recently asked me wistfully, “Couldn’t we love another another, serve one another, sing, eat together, even pray and meditate, without God? ‘God’ seems to have caused so much pain, and so many problems, in our lives.”

Focusing on the beatitudes, justice and morality of Jesus might indeed be lowest-common-denominator stuff compared to the semiotic actions, signs and wonders, symbol-laden death, vindicating resurrection, astonishing ascension, and (allegedly) transforming indwelling of Jesus the Christ, but for many bewildered Christians of the Red Letter ilk, starting over from square one with the Son of Man seems not only the sanest course of action, but the only viable alternative we have, facing conceptual-metaphysical burnout. Just give us something to do, please, and don’t tell us we have to believe anything.

And yet, having swam in such waters for the past 3-5 years, I have to confess that this perspective is bankrupt, damaging, and most certainly not sustainable. I do not say this as a judgmental outsider, but a sympathetic insider. I love me some deconstruction, some Caputo, Kearney, and Rollins; if given a desert island Bonhoeffer choice, I’ll take Letters and Papers from Prison with it’s death-row-conceived Religion-less Christianity over the bright-eyed idealism of The Cost of Discipleship any day. Give me divine mystery, holy opacity, the via negativa and apophatic mysticism. Revelation conceals as much as it reveals, and I think such a perspective is a healthy corrective of overly-positivist, modernist articulations of Christianity, where there’s a 1:1 correlation to what we imagine to be true and What Exists.

Still – a human life and human faith cannot be nourished in the long term from wholly deconstructive faith paired with righteous activism. We’ll become burned-out husks, without an epistemological web of meaning to rest in. Further, the culture at large, while suspicious of metanarratives, craves a larger meaning-making story to situate ourselves in. It can’t be a contemporvant version of What’s Come Before, but needs to be a deeply-rooted yet wide-open faith, with the human and divine Christ at the center. And I stand by what I said in June – Sweet and Viola’s work is a crucial, needed, and important Evangelical contribution to the re-enchantment and re-faithing that must happen in the next 10 years if Christianity is to be transfigured.

It seems obvious that – given the very real ecological and humanitarian crises (as well as opportunities) that face us, things we need to act on immediately if we are to survive as a species and a culture – we all need each other. It doesn’t do to dismiss Red Letter Christians only to over-correct in a “Paul Only” Protestant throwback. We need a recovery of the mystical, the positional, and the activist dimensions of faith; we need a gospel that is Good News for the cosmos; we need Sweet and McLaren (and Boff, for that matter, not to mention the scores of unsung women theologians and leaders who truly make up half the sky); we need the same kind of risk-taking taken with early, transgressive works like Quantum Spirituality, and drawing on voices like Brian Swimme, Tim King, Ken Wilber, Cynthia BourgeaultMichael Dowd, the late Thomas Berry, and Bruce Sanguin. We might not agree with everything these folks are saying and doing, but they’re out there, interaction with the questions and crises that people are facing today, as well as addressing the perennial questions of humanity’s search for meaning. Since when is 100% agreement the prerequisite for operating in grace? At what point did we begin thinking that any of our factions could compass an infinite God? Is the idea of a generous orthodoxy so hopelessly early 2000s? As Tim King says, we all need to come together at the intersection of mystery and humility.

All hands on deck, ladies and gentlemen. Spaceship Earth is in for some rough turbulence in the decades ahead – materially, spiritually, kosmically. We need a coordinated effort, not a spitting contest between so-called orthodox, so-called heretics, and everything in between. We’ll need the wisdom of crowds, the nerve of leaders, and the collaboration of every domain of knowledge – as well as its transcendence. Are you with me?

Paradoxy: Paradigm Pathways

I met Ken Howard at a party at my house last month – a Big Tent Christianity kegger wherein we raised funds to put a Raleigh homeless couple into a home. There were like 100 people here (at least it felt that way!) but we hit it off despite the din. Ken’s a priest in Maryland; he wrote a book that I’d already begun to hear good things about. He asked me to participate in a blog tour & I said “sure!” I haven’t been disappointed.

Ken Howard’s Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them opens up with a premise strikingly similar to Jim Belcher’s Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional (see? Even the titles sound similar): The Church is being torn apart by dissonant voices; we need to move forward in a creative ‘third way’ direction that honors our deepest values while laying aside our addiction to our niche. Beyond this starting point, however, the two books diverge pretty significantly. While Belcher (to some people’s acclaim, and others’ disdain) desired to create a ‘mere Christianity’ essentialist orthodoxy that nods toward emergence while drawing out the best of his PCA Presbyterian tradition, Howard attempts to craft three ideologically-neutral terms to re-frame old verities and serve as self-identifiers of where you are as an individual and congregation:

  • The conservative way we will call Doctrinal-Propositional Orthodoxy or Orthoproxy
  • The liberal way we will call Ethical-Practical Orthodoxy or Orthopraxy
  • The emerging middle way we will call Incarnational-Relational Orthodoxy or Paradoxy

In chapter 8, my stop along the tour, we’re looking at where particular faith commuities fall along this spectrum. It’s here that Ken offers a 14-question congregational self-inventory. Here are two samples:

Which statement best describes your church’s view of religion?

a. Ultimate truth is found in one religion (Christianity is the only way).
b. Deepest truth is shared by all religions (Christianity is the only way for me).
c. Religion is irrelevant for following Christ (Christ is the way, the truth, and the life).

Which statement best describes your church’s understanding of the process of including newcomers?

a. First conversion, then fellowship.
b. First full fellowship, then fellowship catalyzes transformation.
c. Community offered with few conditions, then the inner faith experience leads to the person’s change of heart.

Curious how your responses to these questions place you along the Orthoproxy-Orthopraxy-Paradoxy continuum? I was – and the answers surprised me. Paradoxy is a book that conservatives and progressives can read together with mind and heart, grappling with issues of pluralism and inclusion on the one hand and the integrity of our faith and conviction on the other hand. It’s an excellent meditation on our quest for a generous orthodoxy that is, indeed, both generous and orthodox. I recommend it.

Check out the rest of this tour:

Foreword and Introduction: May You Live in Interesting Times
Brian McLaren on brianmclaren.net
Ken Howard on Beyond Us and Them

Chapter 1: The End of the World As We Know It: Collapsing Paradigms
Bosco Peters on Worship Blog

Chapter 2: Constantine’s Ghost: Christendom
Amy Moffit on Without A Map

Chapter 3: Reality Ain’t What it Used to Be: Foundationalism
Jana Reiss on FlunkingSainthood

Chapter 4:  Hanging by a Thread:  Christianity as Religion
Tom Brackett on Church Planting Central
 

Chapter 5:  O God, Our Help in Ages Past: Christianities That Might Have Been
Sarah Dylan Breuer on SarahLaughed.net


Chapter 6: The Shape of Things to Come: Promising Principles for a New Way of Church
Joel Borofsky on Christian Watershed

Chapter 7: A New Middle Way? Characteristics of an Incarnational Orthodoxy — a.k.a. Paradoxy
Andy MacBeth on Faithfully Reading

Four From McLaren

I enjoyed getting to see & hear from Brian McLaren last week here in Raleigh at Big Tent Christianity (Speaking of BTX, have you downloaded the free BTX eBook yet? If not, here it is).

What I appreciate about Brian is how he’s always wondering, always thinking, always learning and growing – and doing so with transparency, and humility. I was a good deal more immature and argumentative before I encountered his Christ-like example nearly a decade ago.

What follows are four meaty pieces that have come out from the New Kind of Christianity author in the past month or so, two of them interviews. Here they are, with an excerpt from each.

Post-colonial theology.

Call me cynical, but here’s my suspicion: adjectives in front of theology are deceptive. Yes, they’re needed; no, I’m not against them, but still, they’re deceptive. Here’s how.

By distinguishing some theology with a modifier – feminist, black, Latin American, eco-, post-colonial, or indigenous, we are playing into the idea that these theologies are special, different – boutique theologies if you will.

Meanwhile, unmodified theology – theology without adjectives – thus retains its privileged position as normative. Unmodified theology is accepted as Christian theology, or orthodox theology, or important, normal, basic, real, historic theology.

But what if we tried to subvert this deception? What if we started calling standard, unmodified theology chauvinist theology, or white theology, or consumerist or colonial or Greco-Roman theology?

The covert assumption behind the modifier post-colonial thus becomes overt, although it is generally more obliquely and politely stated than this:
Standard, normative, historic, so-called orthodox Christian theology has been a theology of empire, a theology of colonialism, a theology that powerful people used as a tool to achieve and defend land theft, exploitation, domination, superiority, and privilege.

(I’m not 100% sure, but I think Brian will be attending the Postcolonialism and the Missional Future of the Church event hosted by Emergent Village in Decatur (Atlanta) this November. I’ll definitely be there – will I see you around?)

Conversations on Being a Heretic – This is a transcript of Scot McKnight‘s recent (in)famous interview with Brian at the Q conference, with commentary by a blogger.

Here’s what I think. First of all, in the Bible, salvation is by grace, and everybody gets judged by works. So, I think the mercy of God comes to all and the judgment of God comes to all. But, the universalism that I think is far more important in the Bible is not “What happens to everybody when they die?” I think it’s the question, “Does everybody learn to see the image of God in other human beings, or do they continue to divide the world between us and them, and ‘us’ is always the ones that God loves, and ‘them’ is somehow always the other.” And my concern is that by making the big issue who is the inside us and who is the outside them, by doing that, we violate a more important ethical universalism of seeing the image of God in every person.

(For more development of this line of thinking, with the biblical exegesis and theology to support it, see Brian’s novel The Last Word and the Word After That, a compelling narrative to which I was able to make modest editorial contributions back in the day!)

Between Mixed Martial Arts and the “L” Word: An Interview with Brian McLaren in The Other Journal

Let me say something on Christian identity. Right now I think we have two unacceptable options. On one extreme, there’s a strong Christian identity that defines itself as an antagonist toward other faiths. It says, in essence, “We will convert you if we can, and if we can’t, we will resist you and limit your influence. In any case, we will outlast you. Resistance is ultimately futile—you will either be assimilated or punished for failing to convert. For us to thrive, you cannot thrive.” It’s not said that overtly, but I think this is the underlying assumption that motivates a lot of the public behavior we’re seeing today.

On the other extreme, there’s a weak Christian identity that reacts against the first one and says, “Oh, whatever you believe is fine. All beliefs are good. One religion is as good as another.” If the former approach threatens the existence of other people, this one threatens the existence of Christian faith, because it doesn’t offer a good reason to take the faith seriously. Of course, on the line between these extremes, there are any number of variations.

Last but certainly not least is Who’s Chasing the Wild Goose?, Brian’s hopes and reflections in anticipation of the upcoming North American arts, music, justice & spirituality festival, the Wild Goose Festival.

Through the Wild Goose Festival, I hope that several streams of Christian faith and life here in North America can come together in a fresh and new way…I see Wild Goose as uniting these sometimes-disparate spiritual kin into a powerful movement of faith, hope and love. I hope you join me there…

I hope so too! The Wild Goose Festival is reaching critical mass, as volunteers from across the continent are working hard to make next June a special time that outlasts the weekend itself. If you’re interested to learn more, check out Brian’s post and the website in general at WildGooseFestival.org; if you’re on Facebook you can “Like” the Goose, and you can RSVP at the Event Page and become the first to know when tickets go on sale. Finally, if you’re on Twitter you can chase the Goose @WildGooseFest.

Anne Rice: “Some of us don’t want to be thrown down the stairs by the followers of Christ”

Listen to our interview here!

About a week and a half ago, celebrated novelist Anne Rice made waves – first on Facebook and Twitter, then in international media coverage – for quitting the Christianity that she had joined about a decade before. Quoth her Facebook page:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

Holy Explosive Declarations, Batman! This all sounded familiar, as she’d denounced atheism half a decade previous with similar passion and articulation. I should know – I was there. Five years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Anne for Relevant Magazine after her profession of Christian faith and the launch of her Christ the Lord novel series. She was in nearby Birmingham, Alabama, for an incredible night of conversation with a priest, a rabbi, and a Baptist pastor. (The feature article was never online at Relevant, but an unabridged version can be read at the Burnside Writers’ Collective site.)

So naturally, with the impact of her current declaration, I couldn’t resist catching up with Anne and asking her what’s changed since we last spoke – and what’s stayed the same. You can hear the results of this far-reaching conversation right here on Homebrewed Christianity.

Let me know what you think!

(Two details: Our interview starts at the 7:40 minute mark, though the witty introductory repartee between Chad Crawford and Ryan Parker is definitely worth listening to. Also, I committed a significant faux pas in my fast-talking introduction to Anne before our interview; I mistakenly identify her current Angel Time series as her “return to vampires.” This is not the case; its a metaphysical thriller involving angels, but not blood-suckers. Sorry.)

I’m no Anne Rice, but you can follow me on Twitter @zoecarnate and on Facebook here.

Chasing Francis, the Sleeping Giant

Mike Morrell: Chasing Francis is a book that just keeps on going. It’s been three years since it’s publication and I still hear about people discovering it for the first time. The terms “slow burn hit” and “long tail” come to mind. What do you think about that?

Ian Cron: You ever listen to old Neil Young records? Musically, they still hold up, you know? You listen to something like Saturday Night Fever …not so much! I think the book is holding up over time. I think the things Chase learns and talks about still really matter. Again, there are lots of ideas in it that are not original to me. I just organized them into a story and made a book out of them. I think there is truths in it that continue vibrating in our current context, and maybe more loudly when they did when the book first came out. There is an increasing upsurge of people saying, “You know, there’s just got to be something else”.

MM: Indulge me a moment. Here are some endorsements that have only come out in the last 3-6 months.

“I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s a remarkable book.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams

“Chasing Francis is absolutely seductive. This one is a feast for the soul as well as a great, churning, joyful romp for the spirit!”

Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why

“Cron provides us with a deeply moving account of loss and discovery. It bears witness to the ability of Francis of Assisi, to speak with a full voice to contemporary seekers and persons of faith.”

Frank T. Griswold, Twenty-Fifth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

“A powerful and wonderful book! I was deeply moved by this story of the conversion of an evangelical pastor to a much broader vista of God’s passion for the world.”

Dr. Marcus J. Borg, author of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

These are some heady endorsements, especially coming three years after the book was released!

IC: Heh – yeah, where were these people three years ago? Seriously, its pretty humbling to get these responses from people I admire so much. I’m praying they help the book get some wind under its wings. It would be great if it would just take off!

MM: Earlier in our conversation we spoke about contemplative spirituality – it amazes me the variety of responses it evokes. It’s all the rage in some circles while many others have never heard of it, even now in 2010. Centering prayer, spiritual direction, lectio divina, and labyrinths…these have ardent supporters in many mainline and emergent and progressive Catholic circles, but then sadly, I think contemplative spirituality is dismissed in other places. It’s seen as “liberal” and “un-biblical.” Could you share your perspective on the importance of contemplative spirituality for the church as well as maybe touching on its biblical and historical roots?

IC: Well, its historical roots go back 1,700 years to the desert mothers and fathers. Then later the language of the contemplative was lost in the Reformation and the Enlightenment, for all of the obvious reasons. Since the Reformation I think that we over-privileged rationalization and under-privileged the transformative power at coming to understand Jesus and truths about the spiritual life through other, more experiential, mediums. At Augustine once said, the human heart particularly delights in truth that comes to it sideways, or in indirect ways. I think that’s what the contemplative life is in many ways about.

The contemplative life is just about waking up to what is. It’s about learning to pay attention. The world is suffused with the presence of God. As Ignatius of Loyola would say, “The whole point of the spiritual life is to see God in all things.” So now God is not just an idea, God is a living, humming reality in every moment. So to learn how to pay attention is learning to live mindfully in the moment, to experience God in everything; that’s the point. Now, the way you get there is through a rigorous life of meditation, prayer, and spiritual exercises -some that that go beyond or bypass the rational mind.

But this material does infuriate some people. I wrote an article for the Catalyst conference on the contemplative life – Everyday Mystics – and I talked about the fact that every Christian, at some level, whether they know it or not, is a mystic. People wrote in and killed me for it. “It’s not in the Bible,” they cried. Well what about Martha and Mary? Martha was modeling the Active Life and Mary the Contemplative life. Both are important but Jesus said Mary chose the better way.

MM: It’s interesting to observe, because I feel like if even self-proclaimed progressive and emergent Christians truly embrace the contemplative vision as you just described it, we could really give some of the more entrenched dead-tradition folks a run for their money in terms of taking seriously the idea that God is really real, present, changing, and alive.

IC: Yeah. Now that’s not to say that the spiritual life doesn’t have to be built on strong intellectual foundation. It does. But the intellectual life can only bring you to the edge of the wilderness of God; it can’t take you in. I think the mystics and contemplatives agree on this. Entering into the wilderness of God happens in a mystical, contemplative encounter with God. This is a gift of the Spirit and is something neither you nor I can manufacture. Look what happens to Aquinas. He gets to the end of his life. He’s written the Summa. Then he has this powerful, mystical experience and what does he do with all his academic material? He calls it “straw” and abandons it. All his life the academic had taken him to the edge of the Wild but it paled in comparison when he finally went through this mystical encounter.

MM: Oh that’s fascinating!

IC: When that contemplative or mystical moment happens, it is a gift. Some people do contemplative prayer for 30 or 40 years and wait for the 3 seconds of communion and they are never the same again. To give you another phrase, “the contemplative life is about a unitive knowledge of God”. It’s about union with God.

This concludes part five.

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets
Part Four: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?

The Chasing Francis interview is to be continued..! You can keep up with Ian on his blog at IanCron.com and on Twitter @iancron.

Tears for Fears: My Anxiety and Modern Life

“My Name is Mike; I’m An Anxiety Sufferer.”

I don’t know if there are Panic Anonymous meetings, but if there were that’s how I imagine I could introduce myself. I’ve alluded to this on the blog before; my close friends and even many of my acquaintances know about this aspect of my life…and now I’ve decided to let you, dear reader, in on a significant truth about my life: I suffer from panic. Anxiety. Phobias. Fear.

Apparently, I’m not alone. By my admittedly-sketchy statistical abilities, I estimate that a whopping 10% of the U.S. population suffers from some form of panic, phobia, PTSD, or generalized anxiety. (Crunch the numbers for yourself here) And we seem to be growing in numbers as our social, spiritual, and physical environment continues to complexify in the 21st century.

We all get scared, of course. Certain stimuli – whether interior or exterior – prompt our fight or flight response. A roller-coaster; seeing a snake in the yard; witnessing a bank robbery. Our brains and bodies are remarkably resilient; most of us confront and get over specific fears with amazing adaptability. But for some of us – for a host of reasons – this fight-or-flight (or heightened adrenal state) just stays with us, becoming aroused at increasingly non-life-threatening stimuli. For many of us, it begins to creep up at unexpected moments, or not go away for hours. For growing numbers of us, anxiety, panic, and phobia are a way of life.

This is certainly true for me.

It started years ago – innocently enough at first: I’d be driving with a buddy or a family member on a long, interstate road trip, when suddenly I’d feel overwhelmed. The open road, unpredictable hills and dips, lots of cars, hundreds of miles – it felt like the ocean was spilling into my bathtub – unstoppable. And I’d have to pull over, and let someone else drive. Gradually it became more intense, and more consistent: Soon I wasn’t driving on the Interstate beyond the perimeter of my city, then beyond the more suburban areas near my city. Whenever I tried, I’d become a liability to myself, my passengers, and other drivers; I felt like I was piloting an out-of-control roller coaster, and I couldn’t wait to hit the brakes or pull over. Finally, I wouldn’t drive on the highway at all. This has been my state for quite some time.

Rather simultaneously with this, I was becoming an increasingly troublesome passenger. First I had difficulty, occasionally, riding in the front seat with drivers; I’d writhe and squirm as though I was strapped to a rocket headed toward the moon – on the outside. It wasn’t that I was afraid of an accident per se – I’ve never been in a serious car accident. It wasn’t fear of sudden impact or death; the motion itself is its own source of dread. For awhile the backseat was my safe haven; no more, not necessarily. When this sense of sheer panic would come or go was unpredictable; I could go cross-country with no problem, or go around the corner with a friend and be crawling out of my skin. I began to avoid riding in the car with others besides my wife (who, ordinarily, does not provoke this response). I get out less nowadays.

This is your brain on fear..

For awhile, I considered all of this a simple matter of phobia. I couldn’t stand being in cars, but I was fine in airlines and in social situations. Once I got from Point A to Point B, I was perfectly normal. But then something comically absurd happened: I started trying a variety of therapies – cognitive-behavioral, hypnosis-based, and healing prayer-based – to overcome the vehicle-related phobia. Not only did therapies of various sorts not help, they made things worse: Specific phobias multiplied into new phobias as fast as I could think them up; phobia itself blossomed into full-bloomed generalized anxiety.

What happens when I’m feeling anxiety? Most often, things in my chest: A feeling of ‘heart racing,’ and ‘the willies’ – but super-strong and disorienting. Shaking and shivering. Other times, I’ll feel things in my head: Dizziness, headaches, racing thoughts, approaching ‘insanity.’ Shortness of breath. Chest and head tag-team together a good deal, squeezing me out of the game of life altogether.

This has been effecting me more and more, of late; I love to travel, and I love spending time with people. But lately, I’ve restricted both, significantly, as a panic attack can occur anywhere – at a restaurant, at church; surely on a cross-country or transatlantic flight. More significantly, anxiety (and my response to it) has cost me a move: We’re not going to Colorado Springs as originally planned. I’m still working with the awesome folks at The David Group and Presence, but we’re not able to move to that beautiful mountain country, namely because it’s high altitude made me feel even crazier than usual. Following the advice of two doctors, we’ve indefinitely postponed the move – “While most people adjust to the altitude in a few weeks to a few months, people with your condition sometimes never adjust,” they in effect told me. I just couldn’t imagine feeling as disoriented as I do in the mountains, 24/7. So I had to pass up a wonderful opportunity for myself and my family.

This is no fun at all.

So where do I go from here? I wish I could wrap this post up with a neat ending – “But I’ve finally had breakthrough – I got better!” – but alas, I can’t. I do hope to type these words some day – and some day soon, dammit! But in the meantime, I continue to learn. I’ve had some very illuminating brain scans; I’ll be following their leads on some blood tests next week; I’m trying some alternative therapies too bizarre to share with you just yet (though I certainly will if they yield results). I might have to bite the bullet and try a pharmaceutical approach, at least for a season, though I have to admit I’m biased against this. (I hear that many anxiety sufferers don’t take meds, because – get this – they’re afraid to! Ah, the vicious circle…) In all of this, I’ve become a student of the human psyche, in its cognitive, nutritional, fitness, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. I have way more empathy and camaraderie with those who suffer from mental illness of all sorts, especially anxiety and depression. We’re all in this together, y’know?

I tend to think that, in all of this, I’m a living embodiment of the zeitgeist – full of the promise and perils of this age. We’re living such intense lives now, sped up by technology, depthsof knowledge and empathy; its bound to take its psychological and physiological toll. Not all of us have adapted yet; not even (or especially not) those who are most keenly interested in, and dispositionally calibrated toward, these exciting and tumultuous changes happening in our cultural milieu. So we are God’s misfit children and evolution’s maladjusted innovators. God help us all. I only hope that my pain and eventual breakthrough can play some small part in the transfiguration of the world.

So…keep inviting me to get out of the house, and grab lunch or a drink. Tell me about your conference or retreat. But don’t be surprised if I don’t hop in a car with you. 🙂  Feel free to share your philosophies of anxiety and fear, or the crazy remedy that you hear worked for your cousin, though please understand that I’ll give far more weight to phobic people themselves weighing in and sharing stories. With open source collaboration and the discovery of Divine ubiquity amidst our mess, perhaps we’ll all learn something in the process!

Why the Archbishop of Canterbury Thinks A New England Novel Can Change the Future of the Church

This crossed my desk this morning and I thought it would be of interest…

For Immediate Release

Archbishop of Canterbury Endorses Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale

Colorado Springs, CO (June 28, 2010)—More than 800 years ago St. Francis of Assisi single-handedly altered the spiritual and political climate of his time. Today, Chasing Francis, a captivating book that examines the lessons the saint can teach contemporary Christians, has received an endorsement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams.

“I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s challenging, disarming and delightful, and the vision behind it is a serious one. It’s a remarkable book,” says Dr. Williams.

This significant endorsement has sparked a renewed interest in Chasing Francis, which is a creative and compelling hybrid of fiction, theology, and historical biography. The first book by Ian Morgan Cron, Chasing Francis masterfully weaves actual accounts of St. Francis’ radical impact on the world into the fictional story of a New England minister on a pilgrimage to regain his faith.

Listen to Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams’ address at the “Fresh Expressions: Changing the Landscape” conference in which he summarizes the plot of Chasing Francis; discusses the five principles the book emphasizes for the church: transcendence, community, beauty, dignity, and meaning; and explains why he is strongly recommending it to others. (Begin at minute mark 23:00.)

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    My Writings: Varied and Sundry Pieces Online

    Illumination and Darkness: An Anne Rice Feature from Burnside Writer's Collective
    Shadows & Light: An Anne Rice Interview in MP3 format from Relevant Magazine
    God's Ultimate Passion: A Trinity of Frank Viola interview on Next Wave: Part I, Part II, Part III
    Review: Furious Pursuit by Tim King, from The Ooze
    Church Planting Chat from Next-Wave
    Review: Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola, from Next-Wave

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