A Little Farther Down the Path: Healing Spiritual Wounds

I am not a medical professional, but I assume that, if an individual shows up at the emergency room in excruciating pain from some sort of injury, the first order of business is to ease the pain so that the injured party can assist the attending physician in determining the cause and extent of the injury, thereby abetting treatment and eventual healing. The same procedure applies to pain inflicted through psychological and spiritual injury as well. Continue reading

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A Little Farther Down the Path: The Great Spiritual Migration

I am not the same person I was twenty, fifteen, or even ten years ago. Neither are you, although for some of us, the differences are more stark, more startling, especially when they involve, as they do in my case, changes in fundamental beliefs arising from a change in many of the presuppositions that underlie my worldview. As I’ve written so often that it almost sounds cliché (at least to me), if you change your underlying presuppositions about life and reality, your belief structure is bound to change, and you will draw significantly different conclusions about priorities, meaning, and how you should live your life. Continue reading

A Little Farther Down the Path: Hillbilly Elegy

In a way, Hillbilly Elegy could not be a more appropriate place to begin this literary journey through Lent by way of fourteen titles that have recently moved me “a little farther down the path” on my personal pilgrimage as a follower of Christ. (For the significance of that imagery, see yesterday’s post on this blog.)

At every Ash Wednesday service, marking the beginning of the season of Lent, when ashes are “imposed” on the forehead of each worshiper, the officiant intones the words, “Remember that you are dust (or dirt), and to dust (or dirt) you will return.” There were times while I was reading the book that I really felt like dirt. Continue reading

Lent 2017: A Little Farther Down the Path

As someone wisely said, regarding the potential benefits from observing the season of Lent, “It’s not the deprivation, it’s the discipline.” (Oh wait, I think it was me, so it can’t be all that wise. Still, it is true.) The benefits of Lent don’t come from what we give up but, rather, from what we learn—about ourselves, about the world around us, about God and ultimate reality—through some sort of focused, intentional experience.

On the church-year calendar, Lent (from the Old English word for springtime) is the 40-day period, excluding Sundays, leading up to Easter. It represents the forty days Jesus spent alone in the wilderness, following his baptism, during which he was “tempted by the devil” as part of his preparation for the ministry that lay ahead of him. Since Jesus fasted from food for the duration, his followers have traditionally deprived themselves of some commodity or activity as a way of identifying with Jesus and preparing for the observance of Passion Week and the celebration of Easter. Continue reading

From A Distance

It would be hard to find someone more predisposed to the Christian religion than I am. I grew up going to church every Sunday, and I didn’t hate it. In fact, by the time I was in my late teens, I was certain God had “called” me to devote my life to the service of the church and the gospel. That is what I have done. I have been ordained in three different denominations, and I have friends in virtually every major tradition of the church from the fundamentalist right to the progressive left.

I have looked at the church from almost every imaginable perspective. I’ve seen the best and the worst, things that make me proud and things that make me ashamed, things that make me smile broadly and things that make me weep uncontrollably. I’ve seen the church be a place where people experience joy and delight, and I’ve seen it cause intense pain and do grievous harm. Continue reading

The Dream Must Never Die

In his first address to the nation as president, following the resignation of Richard Nixon, who had been forced out of office by the Watergate scandal just ahead of likely impeachment, Gerald Ford opened with these words: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

I was a twenty-four-year-old fundamentalist pastor at the time, and like everybody I knew, I had voted for Nixon when he was elected to a second term in 1972. I had followed the Watergate hearings on TV, sort of, and I knew that all the “chattering class”—politicians and news analysts especially—regarded the matter as a constitutional crisis with the potential to destabilize our government, weaken our economy, and jeopardize our international influence. It would be years, however—after I managed to disentangle myself from that intellectually restrictive thought system—before I would understand just how serious the crisis really was and how much of a national nightmare it had really been. Continue reading

On The Threshold Of A New Year

Over the past decade, I have made a lot of changes in what I believe about life and faith and how I evaluate truth claims and worldviews. Like so many others in similar situations, I changed my mind about essential matters when I found that, at the most crucial times in my life, my previously-cherished beliefs simply did not work for me; they promised far more than they delivered.

When I looked more deeply, I found that the superstructure of my belief system crumbled because the foundation on which it rested was riddled with cracks. In philosophical terms, my presuppositions were flawed, so the conclusions based on them turned out to be flawed as well. You don’t have to agree with my assessment here; I’m just putting it out there. Continue reading