Exploring the tough questions about life, faith and Christ.
This interview is anonymous, for the sake of the story we will call the interviewee Dan.
“Like I said, Christianity sounds about right, I just don’t feel comfortable worshiping that God. So it’s like, okay cool I’m just going to hell,” Dan said as he sat across from me in the cafe. It upset me. Especially because of the interview we had just had, I knew it wasn’t my place to pray over him or try to convince him to come back to the religion. My only job was to listen, understand where he was coming from, and possibly respond.
For months I’ve been trying to interview people who don’t fit into the majority culture of Malone students. I wanted to hear and retell the stories of people who are different, so that as a campus we could learn to better understand people who are unlike us. Finally, I met Dan through a mutual friend and he agreed to be interviewed over dinner.
When I asked Dan what religion he identified with, he didn’t flinch or avoid eye contact, but easily explained why he wasn’t a Christian. He comfortably said that he believes in God, but not that we could actually know him. This belief is called agnosticism. Dan went on to say that he was even a step below agnostic, categorizing himself as “void” or a “floater”.
Dan went on to say that he was even a step below agnostic, categorizing himself as “void” or a “floater”.
He grew up the son of a pastor, which for him meant moving six times when the Methodist church relocated his father. Similar to many PK’s, he talked of how the whole congregation knew him and paid closer attention to him. He even had a friend who knew him as a PK expected him to be a “complete freak or drug addict” and was surprised when he was nice. Dan acknowledged that while many PK’s have it a lot worse than him, his father is genuinely a nice guy who was very aware of his family and prioritized loving them. However, he avoids his ideas on religion around his parents now. Based off of kids I know who have grown up in the church, I was intrigued at Dan’s positive reaction towards his family.
It wasn’t until coming to college that Dan walked away from Christianity. He chose to come to Malone because of a summer camp that he attended here for a couple of years and because both of his parents and some of his aunts came here. When he describes what it was like to move away from his former faith, he can’t remember a specific event that propelled him to leave, explaining it as more of a fade. While he still proclaimed to be a Christian, his freshman year he remembers that he was already beginning to act out his beliefs less and less, which eventually turned into him attending events and simply standing, but not participating. Now, still having to attend Spiritual Formation Opportunities and his father’s church occasionally, he says that he has had a “...strict barrier between showing up and respecting what’s happening and faking what’s going on.”
As the interview went on, I had to confront assumptions I had about him before it even began. The more he talked and the more I listened, it became clear that Dan had put much thought into the subject. The confidence he spoke with as he stated his opinion, one that he know is not common on this campus, showed me that he didn’t take this decision lightly. He wasn’t overbearing or defensive because he felt jaded towards the religion, but simply explained what had brought him to think the way he did.
Admitting that it could be because of his bias growing up, Dan says that Christianity “sounds about right”, meaning that it’s not the trinity that he has a hard time believing, but it’s instead some values that he refuses to follow. He cannot bring himself to follow a God who teaches against some of his fundamental moral beliefs. After talking with many Christians that he respected and discovering that their interpretations of the Bible still did not line up with certain things he strongly believed, he decided that it was probably time to stop calling himself a Christian. A decision that not only makes sense based off of his story, but one that I respect him for.
It is easy to be turned off to someone when they think differently, especially when it is about something like religion. Not talking about it, or becoming defensive when the subject is brought up, is not a good way to love people with different ideas. Our two greatest commands as Christians are to love God and love people. How can we love people if we’re not even open to talking to them without judgement or persuasiveness?
In my experience, Christians are so passionate about God and so eager to spread the good news of the Gospel that we (myself included) have gone about it all wrong. So often non-believers experiences and reasons for not being a Christian are negated. After talking to Dan, I realized our beliefs are a lot more similar than I originally thought and I only found that out after having an honest, non-judgmental conversation with him.
Even I, architect of shadows,
a broken window, sharp with
shattered glass, even I,
sallow, distracted, me:
a blown-out birthday candle,
me: with knees bruised blue
and black like any tender
galaxy, can be reshaped--
Because there is you.
You who makes veins and
honeycombs and eyelashes,
with your symphony of cracking
thunder and heat sizzling
off fresh pavement. You who
weaves webs, the delicate
gossamer that sticks between
the trees of our rebellion,
catches us like a net--
Almighty author and artist,
In what ways can you sculpt
this soft clay into a waxflower
or an empty palm?
Over and over my story shifts
entirely—a fresh, surprising
plot, a seed potted into red
soil to be made into tulips,
daffodils, or daisies this spring.
Even the waiting and sprouting
and “to come” necessary, even
petals turned brown and sullen
are good, what has withered
will be reformed in your molding
grip. You who rewrites the fingers
of the cosmos into each, new, bursting light.
Riley Gable is currently a senior at Malone University. She is double majoring in Creative Writing and English with a minor in Gender Studies. Her work has been published in Le Femme Collective, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Local Wolves Magazine, and Zaum Literary Press.
Stories have the power to entertain and educate, here are a few that I would personally recommend to Christians wanting to learn or grow...
Books to read...
The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller
Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
Crazy Love by Francis Chan
Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton
Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwe
The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder
Love does by Bob Goff
The Shack by William Young (fiction)
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers (fiction)
Please add any books that you definitely would or definitely wouldn't want others to read in the comments!
I sip on my coffee as the sound of dozens of clanking porcelain cups surround me. The room is colored by the dark finishes of the wood trim as what's left of the moon shines in through the glass windows. The smell of the coffee and tea hang above each passing conversation and eventually settles over mine. A friend of mine I hadn’t seen for months sits across from me. Consequently, we had plenty of thoughts to talk ourselves through as our coffee grew colder with each passing sentence. I see his eyes stop and look over my head at the bell that had just rung behind me. I felt the cool air hit the back of my chair as I turned my head to see the new guest. To my right there is a man who speaks in sloppy mumbles, asking a group at the next table, “Do ya’ll have a couple dollars so I could run to the store and get some meat?” He shakes where he stands and cannot manage to stay still. The group offers him no help and he turns to the table where my friend and I are sitting. The man turns and leans toward me. The lights glisten off of his lips as the spit jumps toward the sleeve of my shirt, his eyes were black to the core and shining with helplessness. He stared into my eyes like a child asking his father for a quarter to put in the gumball machine. Unable to tell if there were teeth in his mouth, I lean in and try to make sense of what he’s saying. “Hey man, you got a couple a…” The barista had quickly walked from behind the bar toward the man begging to those who chose to sit near the door.
“No, no, no, you can’t come in here. You have to leave.” The barista lays his hands on the man’s shoulders and urges him out of the door.
“Wha...I wa...Hey I…” The bell rings on the door and the man is pushed back into the chilling winter air. The barista might as well have had a spray bottle and urged a stray cat to get out of his house and back outside. I sat there, red in the face, trying to process what had just happened. My heart began to pound against my chest and my throat began to swell. I sat there speechless. The man’s saliva sank into the carpet below the table. Before I could collect my thoughts, the barista went back behind the counter. The man was looking through the window where I sat, shaking again, motioning his hand for me to come outside, his eyes still wide open and beckoning me. I lift my index finger to tell him, Wait just one second. My friend sitting across from the table continues to speak. I can’t hear a word he’s saying over the sound of the man’s hand waving. I lift my hand once again. The table next to us stood up at once and walked out the door. The man turned toward the bell atop the door and immediately began to walk alongside them as they took him over toward McDonald’s.
The man was out of sight, but not out of mind. My heart was climbing up my chest, pumping blood throughout my cheeks and making my hands tremble. Rotating the coffee cup before me, I look back into the eyes of the friend that sat in front of me and interrupted him. “I’m sorry. I’m just really shaken up right now. I don’t know why. I’m shaking right now.” The tremble in my voice is evident and my friend simply nods his head at me. “I want to give him money, but I know he’s just going to spend it on drugs.” I assumed why his teeth were falling out, why he shook where he stood and why he wandered around begging for money. I believed I would only kill him faster. That wasn’t what was important. Maybe he wasn’t hustling. Maybe he lost his teeth some other way. I may never know what brought him to wander the streets begging for money. But thinking about his eyes and his hands asking me for food, I tell my friend, “it’s like watching a man die right in front of you.” I met the man multiple times and knew he was helpless. I learned his name was Sheldon. On this night, the last night he approached me, I watched him get kicked out of a coffee shop because he might have genuinely been hungry. Whether or not he was addicted to drugs or just mentally ill and left on the streets, I did nothing to help him. I saw no way to help him. Instead I made my friend and I leave the coffee shop and try to forget what happened. All the while I claimed to be part of the Church, whose main goal is to bring hope to the hopeless and lend a hand when nobody else does so. Instead I watched a helpless man get shooed out the door, and had the nerve to wave a finger at him and tell him to wait.
As he continues to wander, the weekend passes and I am in church service once again. The lights are shining across the stage and then slapping me across the cheek. The service is orchestrated, telling me when to take my seat and wait for the announcements. The head pastor, dressed in modest yet stylish clothing, gracefully walking within a tracking spotlight. A somber look of the face and a gentle hand raises the microphone to his lips. The audience waits for the blessed words to proceed, prepared to eat up every aphorism that follows. “Sometimes in life we are approached with situations that test our faith. Maybe your marriage is in a bad place. Maybe you're struggling with your finances. You might have gotten a bad report from the doctor. But, God promises us that he will walk us through our trials and bring us out better on the other side!” Promptly, a round of applause, an emotional prayer, and a plea for help through a plethora of first world problems ensues before a final amen. Outside of the auditorium is a foyer with tile floors that lay between a bookstore and a full cafe. Once the service is complete, we’ve sang our songs and taken our notes, we can buy a snack while I take a seat next to a flat screen on the wall. The University of Washington did research on churches like mine, saying that large churches “...use stagecraft, sensory pageantry, charismatic leadership and an upbeat, unchallenging vision of Christianity to provide their congregants with a powerful emotional religious experience…” (Kelley). Truthfully, this description matched identically to what others have said about my church, and rightly so. I’ve had my doubts as to whether or not my church was “challenging” or really focused on the right things. There are flaws within it; this is where I began to realize that the Church is not a perfect body. It is easy to be spiritual when you are in the midst of people who all seem to think the same on Sunday. It’s easy to sing loud when the music drowns out each voice except for the gifted one on stage. The lights, the music, the building, the signs, those are not inherently bad things. What’s damaging is when we become comfortable or entitled and refuse to leave our cushioned seats and sacrifice for the love that was given to us when we least deserved it. When I had the opportunity to back up my convictions, I was able to talk myself back into my perfect little bubble, sip on my four dollar cup of coffee, wait for Sunday and raise my hands when the lights die down to pray against all of the struggles facing the middle-class. As I back away from that night in the coffee shop and look at what happens each week when I attend service, why is it like I had never gone in the first place? I’ve spent four years riding the vision of my church and the vision of my head pastors. I’ve gone every week, I’ve read my bible like they told me to, I’ve heard the same messages over and over.
When I raise my hand and tell God that I am following Him above all else, do I really mean it?
It’s comforting to know that others have shared my embarrassment. Shane Claiborne, in his Letter to Non-Christians, writes, “I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity” (n.pg). I am sorry--to Sheldon and all others that I’ve failed--because I am part of the problem. More often than not, people have only seen the televangelist or the angry hell-and-brimstone street preacher. They have only seen the suburban white parent in the mini-van with the “Jesus Fish” emblem next to their license plate, soon to find their middle finger sticking out the window when they get cut off in traffic. Perhaps just as damaging, they have heard nothing when they needed to hear Jesus the most. Shane Claiborne verbalizes what I ignored when I hung on to the milk money in my pocket as Sheldon’s stomach grumbles in the streets. “It is this Jesus who was born in a stank manger in the middle of a genocide. That is the God that we are just as likely to find in the streets as in the sanctuary, who can redeem revolutionaries and tax collectors, the oppressed and the oppressors... a God who is saving some of us from the ghettos of poverty, and some of us from the ghettos of wealth” (n.pg.). Jesus was accused of being a sinner by religious leaders during his time on earth. When I read my bible, I didn’t meet a Jesus who chose to stay above those he served. I met a savior who washed the feet of those who would deny Him. I met one who gave to a humanity that couldn’t give Him anything in return. I confused him with the handy pocket Jesus, who gives us a ticket to heaven and an easy life full of white-picket fences, two and a half kids, and a religious experience that was reserved for an hour on Sunday mornings.
There is a song I hear and a parable that I think of each time I imagine Sheldon wandering the corner of Walnut and Cherry avenue and my eyes continue to watch him shiver in his one change of clothes. In Matthew 25, Jesus is speaking a parable about a King dividing those who had faithfully served Jesus and others who hadn’t. Verse 40 states this: “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” The least of these are anybody who was in need: the hungry, naked, sick, imprisoned, and the stranger. I was moved by the slobbering man who begged me, for help, and my audacity to let him leave me unaffected. Around the same time I had this experience, I began to listen to Kendrick Lamar. Sitting on my couch, one of the last verses in his song, “How Much a Dollar Cost,” plays in my ears. In his song he is approached by an addict who asks him for money. Kendrick refuses, seeing past the man's facade and becoming more and more angered as the man demanded his attention. It eerily parallels the night that challenged my theology and called my biggest bluff. Sheldon walks up to my table and asks for money. With my silence I look at Sheldon and echo the man in the song.
I looked at him and said, "Every nickel is mines to keep" The panhandler then paraphrases scripture,
He looked at me and said, "Know the truth, it'll set you free.
You're lookin' at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the higher power
The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit
The nerve of Nazareth, and I'll tell you just how much a dollar cost
The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss, I am God"
In the traditional Christian community, one might not typically draw theology from a Kendrick Lamar song. But the rapper who might never be called a theologian or the image of the “perfect Christian” tells me in his lyrics what I found in my Bible: what is done to the “least of these” is what we have done to God. God spoke to me first in a flurry of conviction when I rejected the man in the coffee shop. He convicted me again through my headphones, putting his hands through, grabbing both sides of my head and sticking my face where he wrote, “...inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” In my comfy seat and behind my overpriced cup of coffee, I was moved by a man who seems to be withering away. I, like Peter, had denied my Lord the worship which he deserves, to serve with all that I have. I had the ability to take Sheldon across the street for some food, but I waved my finger at him and told him to wait. But this isn’t about one man I failed to help. It’s about the reality that I accepted when I lifted my hands in church: to represent the God who stepped down from his throne to serve the lowest of the low, the lowest of a humanity that is forever beneath Him. Whether you believe that or not, you can see how I’ve fallen short of that. Whether I am surrounded by crumbling streets or cushioned pews, I know that the next time my heart jumps into my throat, I can’t push it down and act like it doesn’t demand my attention. The call of God is no place for spectators or consumers. I pray that when God comes up to me dressed as the least of these, I would recognize His voice, His eyes, and put my treasure where my heart is.
Tyler Howell is a sophomore English major at Malone University. Aside from reading and writing in his spare time, he plays on the football team. He was recently invited to present one of his essays at Taylor University at the Making Literature 2017 conference.
I am a huge fan of the Avett Brothers. They are an American folk rock band that I began listening to in the beginning of high school. This year they released their ninth full album titled True Sadness. In the chorus of the song with the same title, the band sings, “'Cause I still wake up shaken by dreams And I hate to say it but the way it seems Is that no one is fine Take the time to peel a few layers and you will find True sadness.” While some of my friends have always thought their music sounded depressing, I have never agreed until this album. Aside from the actual sound of the music, what made me like this album less was the overwhelming sense of sadness that came with listening to it. In this album, and song in particular, it’s hard to ignore the sorrow that this band has felt and recognizes in the world. Listening to it, I couldn’t help but confront the sadness in my own life and the lives of people around me. That’s when I began to feel tension because
“Christians aren’t supposed to be sad.”
For Christians, sadness can come with guilt and shame because it toys with this idea we’ve created that says Christians must have a great life, always filled with God’s joy, and full of hope for the future. So many times I would I would get frustrated with myself and try to put on an act anytime I was feeling sad, angry, or hopeless around people, Christian or not, because I knew that I was supposed to be an example of Jesus. Representing Jesus is where the myth that Christians cannot be sad fails, though, because Jesus would get sad too. Jesus was always moved to compassion by the people around him and even wept for us. By confronting my sadness, I actually felt closer to God because I realized that He is a God of passion and justice and understands my pain. I also began connecting with parts of scripture that I’d never related to before. In Ecclesiastes we are reassured “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:… a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” We are human and are expected to feel the full spectrum of emotion; it’s how we react to our innate responses to life that may matter more. Christianity isn’t about denying the sadness we feel, it’s about turning to God and community for comfort. Being honest and open with our emotions is how we can connect with God in a deeper way. It can also be the beginning of healing or transformation from the pain and sorrow we feel. The song by the Avett Brothers later states, “I cannot go on with this evil inside me, I step out my front door and I feel it surround me, Just know the kingdom of God is within you, Even though the battle is bound to continue.”
From the election to family members with diseases, it seems like there has been so much to be sad about lately. I, like many people I assume, could make a list of everything that upsets me in the world. However, I won’t because simply naming what is wrong without questioning why it bothers me would just be complaining. While I have very real reasons for feeling sad, being reprimanded for complaining throughout my life has made me drawn back instead of sharing my unhappiness. There is a difference between voicing genuine heartache and just complaining. So by just being open about pain I felt, I’ve realized that most of my sadness came from spiritual homesickness. C.S. Lewis explains this as living in the world, but longing to be brought to Heaven where everything will be perfect again. He wrote, “Creatures are not born for desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world....” We were made for more than what earth has to offer so we are bound to be left unsatisfied and upset sometimes while we’re here—it’s normal, especially for Christians. We were created for freedom, not oppression; love, not hate; health, not disease. We have an all perfect Father who we have been separated from; I can’t think of anything that would produce more justifiably true sadness than that.
A couple weeks ago I was talking to a few kids on campus and we somehow got to the topic of creation. I would try to stay away from controversial topics like this before coming to Malone, mainly because I hated when anything challenged my faith in the slightest. It’s easier to believe in something when that belief isn’t tested. Also, since I wouldn’t be trying to figure out my questions among other believers, the conversation would turn into me defending my faith if we couldn’t figure something out, which was a lot when it came to controversial topics. Finally, I hate making decisions for myself, especially when there are so many interpretations and theories about biblical stories and teachings. None of this, however, stopped our conversation about creation evolve (lol). Someone mentioned how one of their science professors, here at Malone, believe in the creation story. Another person has a theology professor here who believes in evolution. We talked about evolution, which none of us were fully convinced of, then of how there are two different accounts of creation in Genesis. I was clearly struggling to figure out what I believed and kept asking questions to everyone else, who had clearly put more thought into the topic. Someone there tried to help me make sense of it all, comparing the creation of the world to a painting, and God to an artist.
He said something like, if an artist made a painting that you loved and you went up to him/her and asked how they made it, they wouldn't say, "Well first I went to the craft store for supplies, then I began stretching my own canvas....and then on stroke seven I pulled the brush down...then on stoke 284 I sneezed as I was painting and it made this mark right here...etc." He/she would tell us the inspiration behind the painting. They would tell us why they painted it, and how it reflects who they are. We decided that the same goes with the creation of the world. God isn't going to describe the scientific process, because first off it would take forever, but more so because that is not the purpose of the creation story. The purpose isn't how the world came about but who brought it into being and why they did that. Now that we have advanced science we can try to discover the how, but the how was ever supposed to matter as much as the who or the why. This concept, that it’s sometimes about the bigger picture, applies to so many things in the Bible.
This revelation about creation opened my mind and made me less confused. I still don't know what story, or theory, I believe when it comes to creation, but I personally don't think it matters that much. It was freeing to understand something in a way I never have before. Hopefully you’ll find peace in this exploration as well. Maybe you think the same thing you did before reading this article, though, or maybe you are more determined than ever to get answers. Whoever you are, I just want to give you two pieces of advice. One, relax. God is God. He is omniscient and all powerful; we are not. Do we really expect to understand everything that he does? Be at peace knowing that even though we don’t have it all figured out, He does. Second, if a question is really eating away at you, ask God to show you the answer. Read the Bible. Pray. Talk to people whose opinions you respect. Maybe it won’t be in the way you expect, but God will reveal himself to you. Even if you don’t get all the answers, hopefully you will feel the freedom I now have in not knowing. :)
She was a woman of faith, mother to the prophet Samuel. We read her story in 1 Samuel 1 & 2. For years she went before the Lord, crying out for a child. Her husband was not enough to satisfy this deep craving of her heart. In her longing, she did not run from the Lord, she took her pain and wept bitterly before him. Only when she was surrendered enough to truly open her hands and say, not my will but yours, and promise the Lord that this gift would not be for herself but for His glory did the Lord open her womb. Because this gift could not satisfy the longing of her heart- only Christ could do that. And after she truly surrendered, opening hands and giving the child back to the Lord to serve Him as a priest, Hannah bore five more children. The Lord did not forget Hannah's faithful heart.
This piece by Kara Brathwaite gives us a glimpse into the anguish, longing and surrender of Hannah's heart.
It seems like everyone is going or has gone on a short-term missions trip. Our social-media feeds are flooded with people asking for support and many of us have been the ones on the other side, asking for support and prayer as we prepare to enter another country or culture to serve. Are short-term missions trips actually beneficial? Can we really help those who are in need with our time and finances during such a short amount of time? We have taken a look at two different sides of short-term missions and the role that they play in missions and our hearts.
Articles by Emily Mattioli & Juliana Cole
We are ash and dust
A kaleidoscope of whirling pieces
Atoms and cells shifting & moving in our life dance
Of broken bones and mended hearts
We are bone of your bone
Rib hidden beneath your heart that beats for us
Our DNA is twisted with who you are
Between every strand
Grace and glory rising in our beings
Mountains declare the glory
Rising into air that we cannot breath
Lungs expanding with the holy & the fire longing
This is what we are made for
To know you
Our atoms shift and long
We grasp for the knowing of You
This is what we are
Sand and mountain
Web and drop of clear water on cusp of golden leaf
You are the light dancing
And grace aching sweet in our hearts thawed from ice
We are broken
We are woven together in divine plan.
If I rise on the wings of the sunrise and live on the far side of the sea
Even there I am held.
On the tops of mountains
In the valley darkness
We cannot go where you are not
We are this: sand and chaff
Tossed by wind and swept by wave
We are heavy,
We know all that we are
That we have done
Show me how you see me.
I am dust made clay
Pressed heavy, compressed, dirt
You are bringing me up
Darkness to light,
You are pressing and molding
Dust to dust and clay to cup,
Spilling mercy, full of grace
Held hollow and full.
Spun round and stretched full
Hands open, twirling in freedom
Grasping for wind with fingers
Pressed down, raised up.
Centered to hollow
Centered to spin smooth
Atoms and carbon whirling in perfect unity
Molecules aligned with this mountain
Dust, ash, air
Full, held, hollowed,
Poetry & Film by Juliana Cole
A project focused on helping students learn and grow together; exploring the ways that we are part of a group of people who are learning and growing alongside us.
There is unity in the differences- this project is to illustrate the beauty in those differences.