Tag Archives: Christian Century

Saved by fiction: Reading as a Christian practice | The Christian Century

We could all do far worse than a life raft made of books.-JBH

Over the course of my life, I have taken on all manner of spiritual practices, from now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep to centering prayer. I have prayed with the Psalms, with the rosary, with icons. I have picked up practices and put them down. Some still discipline and nourish my praying life.

But of all the spiritual disciplines I have ever attempted, the habit of steady reading has helped me most and carried me farthest. Of course, reading scripture has been indispensable. But reading fiction—classics of world literature, fairy tales and Greek myths, science fiction and detective novels—has done more to baptize my imagination, inform my faith and strengthen my courage than all the prayer techniques in the world.

For as long as I can remember, even before I could read, I have loved books. The heft and smell of them, their implicit promise. The magical way they hold riches beyond measure, like chests of pirate gold. The way they open doors to other worlds. The house I grew up in had floor-to-ceiling bookcases in nearly every room, books piled on tables, books stacked in the hall and lining the stairs.

I still remember the shock of amazement and delight when I first learned to read by myself: the alchemical moment when random hieroglyphics on the page leapt into meaning, forming pictures in my mind. From that magic moment, I took off like a rocket. I read fairy tales from Germany, France, Russia, Denmark, Scandinavia; I read Arthurian legends and Golden Books, Andrew Lang and George MacDonald. I went steadily through everything the home shelves and the public library’s children’s room had to offer.

My passion for reading alarmed my father; by the time I was in the third grade, he was worrying aloud about bluestockings and bookworms, mournfully predicting myopia and spinsterhood. But my mother, amused and pleased, encouraged me.

In fact, I realize now that my mother carefully crafted my love of books from my earliest childhood. Like an Argonauta, the mysterious many-tentacled deep-sea cephalopod known since ancient times for the beauty of its fragile egg cases, my mother launched me on a paper nautilus of her own creation. As though she knew that she could not stay with me, and that I would not survive in the dark depths for which she was bound, she carried me up to the sunlit surface of the open sea and left me there, in a life raft made of books.

via Saved by fiction: Reading as a Christian practice | The Christian Century.

Baptist again: Going back to church | The Christian Century

In a Baptist church at age seven I “accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior”—an emotional and powerful experience that I have tried to respectfully write about in fiction. Sixty years later, I sometimes think about what drove me toward that decision. My mother influenced me, that’s for sure. So did the total experience of the church and its embrace of me.Back then I believed that something substantial existed up beyond the blue sky—a place as solid and touchable as the nearest Dairy Queen. That was heaven, and I was headed there.Heaven was no less certain than ice cream, but if I was bad I could never go there. This part got complicated: I would go there only if I were forgiven for my sins—which happened when Jesus died on the cross. In spite of that death on the cross, I had to confess my sins or I wouldn’t make it to heaven. Finally, with an acceptance of Jesus Christ as my personal savior the question was settled.At 18 I left home for the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, about a 30-minute drive from where I lived. When I came home on weekends I’d attend church. One Sunday the preacher talked about what an evil place Chapel Hill was. I was coming to love Chapel Hill. I thought the preacher was wrong to assign evil to a place, but I was not brave enough to tell him so.And at about this time, in the early 1960s, the civil rights movement was beginning to shake the earth around me. One Sunday in a church business meeting a member of our church asked what the church should do if a black person other than the janitor came to the church door and asked to enter. After some discussion an answer was reached: “Inform him that he has his own church.” I remember sensing that the person who asked the question was in trouble. I’ve always wondered if he agreed with the answer he was given.

via Baptist again: Going back to church | The Christian Century.

The Christian Century: Public pews

This book review in the Christian Century hits on something that I believe has hamstrung not only the oldline protestant churches, but also the evangelical movment.  The polarization of the institutional oldline churches against many of their own members is epitomized my the fact that churches such as The Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church are affiliated with the Religious Coalitition for Reproductive Choice despite the oppositon of many of their members and the fact that–at least in the case of the Episcopal Church–aspects of the RCRC’s agenda blatantly clash with General Convention Resolutions on abortion.  The fact that mainline churche maintain lobbying offices is a situation that I’ve found profoundly disturbing since I became aware of it.  The fact that these lobbying offices often support legislation that many church members oppose is simply another way that our institutions are furthering alienation vs. reconcilliation.  If the oldline is ever going to be able to reform itself–or to birth a separate renewal movment that will offer hope to those in the evangelical wilderness without becoming part of that wilderness itself–then it is going to have to address these sorts of unnecessary means of fragmentation and alienation.

Tipton’s study proves my point. It tells the story of the “institutional ecology” of the public sphere in which the denominations operate: In the 1960s and 1970s the mainline churches’ leadership moved from a centrist or mildly conservative position to a frankly progressive one, while their congregations were far more mixed. The institutional consolidation of a progressive agenda was secure by 1980; one sign of this was the emergence then of parachurch groups—such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy—that protested the consolidation. These groups complained about the “leftist” and “Marxist” captivity of the mainline leadership and initially seemed interested in offering the laity a big-tent alternative to the official line of the churches, purportedly to preserve the traditional faith against the elite’s woolly liberationism. But by the 1990s these parachurch groups had begun to focus their efforts on simply attacking the other side. While members of the official church hierarchies didn’t fixate so totally on their enemies, they became ever more resistant to ceding them any intellectual or theoretical ground. This polarization left the vast middle underserved. And that is our condition today.

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