Finding my way back to church

One of my friends from college is currently working on her PhD (she’s wicked smart!) and every once in a while she sends emails about articles that she has read (and that she thinks others might find interesting). Last week she sent a link to a talk given by Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The talk is titled Finding my way back to church — and getting kicked out: The struggle over what it means to be Christian today and it was presented to the Methodist Federation for Social Action (probably sometime in 2006). I’m posting an abbreviated version of the talk and want to note that due to my edits, the version below does not follow all the main themes from the talk (all the text is directly quoted, all I did was take sections out in a way that I hoped would not change or confuse any of Jensen’s thoughts/ideas). If you would like to read the talk in its entirety, the title above is a link to the full version. The sections I chose to focus on deal with his personal struggles with faith & belief and the ways the Church has helped/hindered him wrestle with his questions and doubts. I do not know anything about Jensen beyond this article, so I am not endorsing him or anything else he has written, but I think he raises some good questions/issues in this talk and shares opinions about the church that are worth reading, thinking about and discussing. If you have anything to say in response, I hope you will leave a comment for me and others to read.

This past year, after decades of steadfastly avoiding churches of all kinds, I returned to church…I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but my early experience with church had been life-threatening: I was bored, nearly to death…

Whatever one thinks about theology, church is a place where people go to think about essential questions: What does it mean to be human? What are our obligations to other people and the non-human world? How do we create meaning in a world that appears to be playing a cosmic joke on us…

I think about those questions a lot. I ponder them in the abstract, and I struggle with the very concrete implications of them in a world saturated in so much suffering. I am always looking for help in that pondering and struggling, which is what led me to a new church…

I described myself as “a Christian, sort of. A secular Christian. A Christian atheist, perhaps. But, in a deep sense, I would argue, a real Christian.”

After talking to people about what I believe, they quickly realize I’m not a dogmatic atheist, the kind who takes pleasure in ridiculing religion or faith…So, people ask me, why don’t I call myself an agnostic or a seeker or a doubter or something that conveys more openness? Am I really so sure God doesn’t exist in the traditional form? How can I be so sure?

I can’t be sure, of course. It’s impossible to prove the non-existence of God. In that sense, I’m an agnostic, just as I’m an agnostic on the question of whether or not my life is controlled by tiny magic elves who live in my desk drawer at work. I can’t prove that I’m not under the influence of those alleged elves, and hence I can’t really be an atheist on the question. But what really counts is not what I can or can’t prove, but how I live. Do I go about my day as if elves are running the show? Do I sneak a peak into my drawer now and then to try to catch them plotting? Do I ever offer prayers to the elves to which I think they will respond? No, I don’t. In philosophical terms, I’m agnostic on the question. In practical terms, I live like an atheist, on the assumption they don’t exist.

In that sense, most people in this culture, no matter what their stated beliefs about God, live like atheists… Continue reading

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a “new” doxology?

I have many blessings in my life (many of which I probably don’t even recognize as blessings). I have a great family, wonderful friends, material possessions (that I care far too much about), and – on my better days – a faith that guides me through life. One of the earliest expressions of thanks that I learned as a young boy was the doxology, a song that religious folks have been singing to God for several centuries.

The most common version of the doxology (the one I have sung in church and at my grandma’s house since I can remember) comes from a hymn written by Thomas Ken in the 17th Century (lyrics below).

The word doxology comes from two Greek words, doxa (meaning ‘glory’) and logos (meaning ‘word’), so quite literally, doxology means “words to glorify.”

The title I have chosen for this blog – “a new doxology” – is not a statement against earlier doxologies, but an expression of my hope that together (assuming others are interested in joining me on this journey) we will create fresh new ways to express our thanks and praise, not to mention our wonder and confusion, about God. In short, I want to create doxology remixes that help today’s younger generations discover and express new “words to glorify” using language that is meaningful to them; although I never want to forget these beautiful old words…

“Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”