Over the course of the past two years or so I’ve been on somewhat of an individual and intentional faith retreat. I just made that phrase up, so I’m not sure if that even makes any sense, but that’s just what it feels like. Since moving to the Omaha area, my wife and I have felt fairly homeless in each church community we’ve attempted to be a part of, for varying reasons. As Sarah and I have navigated all sorts of challenges and twists and turns in our life together, I have been assessing my own faith and its foundations in my life. There have been all sorts of people, podcasts, books, articles, TV shows, conversations, and simple life encounters that have helped me progress on my journey. There are a few that are especially helpful right now in my life that I thought I would share.
The Bible for Normal People
A podcast is hosted by Peter Enns and Jared Byas.
They interview people about regarding their view and interpretation of the Bible. Although I don’t particularly feel like Peter and Jared are all that great at interviewing people, the people they have interviewed have been great.
What is the Bible?
A new book by Rob Bell.
I’m not even halfway into this book right now, but for me I find Rob’s understanding of the Bible extremely helpful and encouraging. One of my favorite lines is when he was asked if he takes the Bible literally. And he says that he doesn’t take the Bible literally, he takes it literately. Some people may think that he therefore is a heretic or a has a very low view of the Bible, but as he explains his views and understanding of the Bible, you quickly realize that this view is actually a higher view of the Bible when contrasted to those who believe that it is only right to take the Bible as literally as possible.
I also listen to Rob’s podcast and watch his Facebook live videos and it’s hard to not find his joy and excitement contagious. Sometimes when I just need a lift of positivity I go see if Rob as put anything out recently because he’s always carefree, full of grace, and laughing.
“The Science of Sinning Less,”
A Christianity Today cover article for May 2017
I work with at-risk teenage girls. I am constantly thinking about behavioral strategies while also thinking about trying to instill an inner willpower for good in these girls, my own two little boys, and myself. This article uses a simple but powerful metaphor to explain how self-control, willpower, and our behavioral routines are all tied to our spiritual development and our daily life.
“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”
A poem by Wendall Berry that I revisit nearly every day for inspiration. So many great lines. I love the message it teaches.
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Finding God in the Waves
A book by Mike McHargue.
I read this book a couple months ago, but I think of it constantly. I love how much “Science Mike” connected the functions of the brain to our person and our faith. I think he found an incredible balance in his book of how to understand what we know about the science of our brains and how God relates with us and this world.
A podcast by Shankar Vedantam
I love sociology, psychology, and anything about the science of the brain. This podcast addresses all of those areas and I usually find the discussions in this podcast extremely interesting and applicable.
The Leftovers: Season 3
A TV show on HBO.
The Leftovers may be one of the best shows on television in the last few years. Season 2 might be my favorite season of TV since The Sopranos. But this season is also incredible, and it feels like it has the most biblical references of any of the seasons. The psychological dread that I feel as I watch this comes dangerously close to how I feel when I watch the news regarding Trump, too. But the mystery of what is to come (there are only two more episodes left in the series) is extremely exciting and I can only hope that it ends better than the last episode of Lost. (It has the same writer, but he said he learned his mistake. We’ll see…)
The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1
A TV show on Hulu.
This is a dark show in many ways. It’s another dystopian story that feels a little to close to home. But the biblical imagery that it uses is extremely provoking and has caused me to do a deep dive into the story of Jacob and his wives and his wives’ handmaids. Lots of interesting theological elements to wrestle with. In some ways it feels like the age of biblical patriarchs recast into a modern context, told from the women’s perspective.
The story of Jacob
Found in the book of Genesis in the Bible.
There are so many aspects of the life of Jacob that seem very strange to me. But I have been fascinated with his story for about a month now and have done lots of reading and research about him and his story as we know it. Perhaps the most significant element of his life that I have found to shape how I’m thinking right now is his wrestling match with God, as it is explained in Genesis. He wrestles with the angel, his hip is knocked out of place with a touch, and he holds onto the angel with all his might and refuses to let go until God blesses him. After the wrestle his name is changed to Israel, which roughly means, one who wrestles with God. And _this_ is the name that the Jewish nation takes on. And I think we can find good meaning for ourselves in that exchange with God.
The Paradoxical Commandments
A book and “commandments” by Kent M. Keith.
These commandments hung on the walls of Mother Teresa’s home in Calcutta. They speak to a deep sense of purpose and meaning that we can possess which seem to be upside down. They seem to be counterintuitive. They seem to be paradoxical.
I made them into a PDF if you’d like to check them out.