Christians at ExploreFaith.org were asked, “What proof is there that Christianity is not a myth created to assuage our fears about death?” I donʼt want to spoil the surprise of their first reply (especially if youʼre only used to dealing with Christians who believe they hold all the proofs of God in their back pockets), so please click here to read it.
The existence of Christians like those at ExploreFaith.org is evidence that for some religious believers there can never be reason enough to leave the fold, no matter how many “questions of faith and doubt” one has. The website features a cadre of famous editors and/or contributors including Marcus Borg, Bart D. Ehrman, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Phyllis Tickle in addition to ministers of different denominations (Anglican, Catholic and Protestant) and at least one rabbi and Buddhist spokesperson as well.
Jon Sweeney is one of the editors of the site, and the author of Born Again And Again: Surprising Gifts Of A Fundamentalist Childhood (pub. Aug. 2005). Although Sweeney moved away from his fundamentalist upbringing, he refuses to give up the idea that we are all born again… and again. (One reviewer pointed out that “Sweeneyʼs practice of openness and hospitality make this autobiographical journey something special. His respect for his fellow Christians, even those with different beliefs, is something we should all emulate in our own spiritual journeys”—published in The Lutheran: The Magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, November 2005)
Seeing how open, honest, compassionate (and in control of their tongues) as are the Christians at ExploreFaith.org makes me wonder why inerrantists canʼt be more like them?
Barbara Brown Taylor is on the editorial board of explorefaith.org, and even her short Vita is long! [Ten years ago Baylor University published a list of the worldʼs “most effective” English-speaking preachers and only one of the top twelve was a woman: Barbara Brown Taylor. After having had volumes of her sermons published, and spoken round the country and overseas, she surprised her growing number of admirers by resigning from her church and accepted a teaching “chair of religion” at a local liberal arts college. Taylor isnʼt the first to leave parish work in search of a second career as a professor. Religion departments are full of clerics and/or former clerics. But very few so honestly and so masterfully compose the memoirs walking the reader through the conscious and subconscious hopes and fears of all the years of “church life.” Not that Taylor betrays parishioner confidences. Her writing, rather, covers interior ground.—Evelyn Bence]
Taylorʼs new revealing book is titled, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith (Harper, May 2006).
Hereʼs an excerpt:
“By now I expected to be a seasoned parish minister, wearing black clergy shirts grown gray from frequent washing. I expected to love the children who hung on my legs after Sunday morning services until they grew up and had children of their own. I even expected to be buried wearing the same red vestments in which I was ordained.
“Today those vestments are hanging in the sacristy of an Anglican church in Kenya, my church pension is frozen, and I am as likely to spend Sunday mornings with friendly Quakers, Presbyterians, or Congregationalists as I am with the Episcopalians who remain my closest kin. Sometimes I even keep the Sabbath with a cup of steaming Assam tea on my front porch, watching towhees vie for the highest perch in the poplar tree while God watches me. These days I earn my living teaching school, not leading worship, and while I still dream of opening a small restaurant in Clarkesville or volunteering at an eye clinic in Nepal, there is no guarantee that I will not run off with the circus before I am through. This is not the life I planned, or the life I recommend to others. But it is the life that has turned out to be mine, and the central revelation in it for me—that the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human—seems important enough to witness to on paper. This book is my attempt to do that.”
Taylorʼs website also features an address she gave at the Washington National Cathedral in June, 2006, a few paragraphs of which appear below:
“If my other books have been whole milk books, this is my single malt scotch book, which is the main thing I want to speak with you about tonight. After twenty years of telling the public truth—the truth I believed was both true for all and good for all, or at least all within the sound of my voice—my first attempt at telling the private truth—the truth that may only be true or good for me—well, that was quite a stretch. Clergy spend a lot of time talking about what is right, in case you hadnʼt noticed. For once, I thought I would concentrate on what was true—just for me, from my limited point of view on planet Earth—in hopes that might be helpful to someone else trying to do the same thing.
“Making the move from sermon to memoir has been one of the more strenuous passages in my life, and it also makes the reviews a whole lot scarier to read. A couple of weeks ago I received one via e-mail with “Review of You” in the subject line. Just for the record, my mother confirms that everything in the book is true…
“A preacher who wants to keep his or her job would do well to avoid trying to say anything true about sex, money, politics, war, or existential despair in church. It is also not a good idea to question established readings of scripture or tradition…
“While I knew plenty of clergy willing to complain about the high expectations and long hours, few of us spoke openly about the toxic effects of being identified as the holiest person in a congregation. Whether this honor was conferred by those who recognized our gifts for ministry or was simply extended by them as a professional courtesy, it was equally hard on the honorees. Those of us who believed our own press developed larger-than-life swaggers and embarrassing patterns of speech, while those who did not suffered lower back pain and frequent bouts of sleeplessness. Either way, we were deformed.
“We were not God, but we spent so much tending the God-place in peopleʼs lives that it was easy to understand why someone might get us confused…
“In 1997, after fifteen years of full time parish ministry, I left my little church in the north Georgia foothills of the Appalachians to become a college teacher. My soul was sunburned, for one thing. I thought there was a chance I had lost my vocation, for another, although I continued to preach and to teach preaching in between my undergraduate classes on everything from the religions of the world to the life and letters of Paul.
“The teaching was and is wonderful. I get to work with nineteen and twenty year olds—an age group I saw very little of in church. I get to ask the questions instead of providing the answers, which is a great freedom and relief. I also get to give grades, which clergy only do in their secret fantasies. (I am sorry, Mr. Smith, but your efforts have been so minimal that I am afraid you have flunked Lent.) I am still a Master of Divinity—isnʼt that an interesting name for a theological degree?—but more importantly to me now, I am a member of the Department of Humanities, whose truth-telling has taken a decidedly private turn.
“My last book came out six years ago—a long time, for a wordy person. When people asked me what the hold up was, I told them I had lost my long time editor at Cowley Publications, which was true, but I had also lost my voice—or my voice was changing, anyway, and I did not yet trust it enough to put anything in print. I was no longer a parish priest. Many of my old certainties about life and faith had slipped from my hands.”
Add to the above a few more brief quotations from Taylorʼs book:
“I learned to prize holy ignorance more highly than religious certainty.”
“I empty the bag of my old convictions on the kitchen table to decide what I will keep.” [Ultimately what she keeps will not satisfy orthodox Christians, as it has more to do with faith (as a verb) than with beliefs.—Evelyn Bence]
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