Tag Archives: Church

Writing for the space you’re in

One of the perks of being the church secretary’s husband, and one of the sound technician team, is access to the church as the occasional writing getaway. I usually write in the sanctuary, often sitting behind my usual post in the sound booth or at one of the back tables. We’re just one of your local neighborhood churches, so it’s not like I’m writing under stained glass or amongst wood paneling or anything, but it is still a sacred space.

Writing alone in a church has its advantages. I never have to worry about leaving my laptop alone when I have to go to the bathroom (a problem for the writing session of more than a couple of hours). I can play my music as loud as I want, and people won’t be around to mind if I decide to sing a few bars to take advantage of the acoustics (a perk I don’t get even in my own home). Sure it can get a little creepy at night once I turn all the lights out, but that’s been fading as I get a different kind of familiarity with the place as somewhere more than just where I go Sunday mornings.

Ironically I was working on a section of The Sky Below dealing with my pastor character, who is going through his own crisis of faith during a disaster. As a writer generally you are always a bit concerned that a character’s views might come across as your own. After all, you thought of what was in a character’s head, so on some level you must believe what they’re saying. In practice, this is often true, but as you get better as a writer it should become less and less true. Some of the things my reverend in the story thinks match my own experiences of questioning faith at times, and how to manage feelings and God, and others are invented for the character as he is.

You might think a church is an odd place for someone to write about someone questioning their faith. I’d say that puts a little too much specific reverence into the building, when the church is really the people who fill it, and their brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. Also, it’s not like God is the eye of Sauron and he can only see me when I’m holding a glowing orb or when I’m standing in his house. If you have faith, then God knowing what you’re thinking, and writing at all times is kind of part of the deal.

Weirdly, the church is a particularly good place to work, and not just because it’s free of a lot of the distractions that a Starbucks next to Half Price Books has. A good church is a place for introspection and reflection, of prayer and worship and thought. The traits necessary for a good experience of church are the same as those necessary for a good experience of writing (at least in my opinion). You can’t write something thoughtful without reflection, and as someone who believes that using talent can be a form of worship, perfecting your craft can be a way of glorifying God, even if a particular passage isn’t so glorious.

I write pretty much anywhere, usually without much thought to the space I’m in beyond the basic creature comforts. But sometimes it can be restorative to write in a specific place, one conducive to the specific craft of writing.

So what’s the place you write where you fell most in tune with what you’re writing? How about other kinds of art?

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Writing Spaces

Where I like to write has changed a little over the years.

I think part of it is that I spent a little while searching for what I had in college. For a couple of years I worked for the physics lab and the computer science department in various low-level research and programming jobs. The best perk of the job was access to labs and private spaces at night. There were public computer labs of course, but these were private spaces, places where I could go to be alone and work.

That’s been a little hard to find as a working adult. I do have my office at home, though there can be a lot of distractions from media, from pets, and from the urge to see what my wife is doing when I’m home. Truth is, I kinda like the little red haired girl and can find it hard to work when I could be spending time with her (at least some days).

Coffee shops kind of work but they don’t have the same privacy or nesting comfort. My labs were personalized, and had much better chairs, or crappy trash picked couches which were somehow a million times more comfortable. Even trips back to campus making use of spaces like Buckeye Donut or the Union isn’t the same.

Occasionally, when I’ve had to stay late at my work for another reason I get a taste of that feeling, though truthfully if I’m staying late at work it’s because I have something time sensitive and involving that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for personal endeavors.

I gave some thought to renting office space, or even a storage container but the expense seemed more than a little impractical, especially given that I had plenty of nice spaces to work.

But lately, as a consequence of being part of the sound team / technical support for my church, I’ve found myself working here late nights, installing OS while trying to write blog posts, or even taking time before Sunday morning to write. It’s not quite the same nest as labs were, but I’m able to infuse a little of my own color into the booth, including a fractal background for the worship computer.

And a lot of nights the church is empty and quiet and once I get used to all of the weird creaking sounds it can sometimes make, it can actually be a great distraction free place away from the world. And there’s something that just feels right about writing in the sanctuary.

I’m sure the instinct to change will take hold of me eventually (there’s talk of my moving my office to the basement though our cat would need to be a lot better behaved before I really consider it). But for the moment I am happy to have a little back of that feeling of college, of quiet nights spent mostly in the dark, working on my projects.

Where’s your favorite place to write?

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Faith Outside The Church

Yesterday, Dad discussed the three kinds of people “lost”to the church (outlined by David Kinnaman in You Lost Me): Nomads, Prodigals and Exiles. Some quick definitions: nomads are people who have drifted away from church, but still consider themselves Christian, prodigals have outright rejected Christianity in favor of another religion or no religion, and exiles are people who may not fit in with their church community, but have a heart for practicing their faith out in the real world and in everyday life.

At times I have been a nomad, and others an exile. Because of my dad’s work in undergraduate and later graduate ministry, I’ve always had a model for Christian life both in the university world (and the real world careers beyond) and the church world. I tended to favor the former, enjoying trips up north to Cedar Campus, and later manuscript study and hour long expositions of scripture by thoughtful and in depth readers of the Bible. Faith and religion were something that could be approached with the same rigor as other fields of study.

But my traditional church experiences varied widely. Since I was five years old I’ve had an on again, off again relationship with my parent’s church. One consequence of summers spent up north, was that for years I missed the youth camps at Camp Bethany, and subsequently had a harder time fitting in with a tight knit crowd of people. I craved the same deeper experience of faith that I’d been shown in Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, but instead was served lighter fair that perhaps took a single Bible verse as inspiration, but then talked largely through illustrations that had little to do with life.

This is not to say that IVCF was perfect for me. By the time I got to college and actually joined an undergrad group of my own, I had a tougher time fitting in there as well. Some of this was an early emphasis on building leaders which I felt some pressure to participate in because of my Dad’s role on staff (none of that pressure was coming from him by the way), and some was the unusual makeup of this particular chapter. Because of this, and later a relationship that separated me from church and family for a couple of years, my first few years of college were spent thinking of myself as a Christian, but doing little to build my relationship with God. Choosing to end a destructive relationship, and being invited to reorient myself back toward God through another college ministry led to the series of events that now has me taking a more active role in my parent’s church, and also resulted in my meeting my wife.

I’ve been fortunate throughout that my parents have provided both a model and encouragement for practicing faith both through writing and through my profession. I’m doubly fortunate to have a pastor now who has a real heart for the community, for society, and for exploring ideas deeply. But I’ve seen the desire for Christians to withdraw within their own community, to reject the pop culture and music of today’s society, and while I haven’t experienced a lot of first hand questioning of my more mainstream desires of writing, I know it’s out there*.

I do feel we are called to practice our faith in all aspects of our life, to live and breathe scripture. How we do that can vary widely, an sometimes is as small as being a good example, of practicing love toward others rather than judgment. I’ve met many Christians who practice this in real life and am grateful for their example. I agree with the sentiment (repeated by Kinnaman) of us needing to be “in but not of” the world. At times I have been “of but not in” the church, and I do think that many of my generation are inclined toward a more non-denominational, or even non-organized religion stance. I still find little particular value in denominational differences and doctrines, what Dad might call “Jesus and”, but this is probably a subject for a whole other discussion.

Has your experience of faith put you in exile in your church community?

*You can read more of my thoughts on not being a Christian Writer, here.

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Losing our faith is personal

And so is keeping it.

There’s been an article circulating about “why millennials are leaving the church“. Leaving aside the argument about what exactly a “millennial” is (I believe there’s an additional generation gap between people who’ve used a floppy disk and those who haven’t), why does anybody leave the church?

For me it was dating.

In the late 90s early 2000s there was a trend going around christian circles of “kissing dating goodbye”, of only considering dating as a path to marriage. This is kind of a drag for a guy in high-school and early college life. Note, I’m not talking about sex, just hanging out, having a good time and getting to know a person.

Dating someone who doesn’t believe in God can lead you to drift away from your faith. It doesn’t have to, but God didn’t talk about not being “unevenly yoked” for nothing. For me I wasn’t making a conscious choice to leave the Church, but my actions were making the choice for me. After a particularly bad relationship ended I realized I needed to repair my relationship with God, and that’s ultimately what led me back to the church (and happily to my future wife).

That’s my personal experience, but I know plenty of people who leave the church for the reasons outlined in the article (seems too judgmental, interested only in superficial change, not engaged with social justice, anti-intellectual). But even though these are common ideas in the culture about what the church is, I think it’s important to realize that not all churches are the same.

What is a church? It’s not buildings, or denominations, it’s people. Whenever two or more Christians are gathered together that’s a body of Christ. “Millennials” are not a single homogenized group, and neither are Christians.

My church is concerned with social justice, both in serving the poor in our community through schools and a food pantry, but also for reaching out to the “exurbs”, communities with no name, no government to support them. We’re multicultural, intellectual, traditional and non-traditional together. Yes, our pastor does wear jeans and sandals, but it’s not a hipster act. He even listens to NPR.

My dad works (as an IVCF staffer) with graduate students and faculty at OSU, helping them to not only grow in their faith, but share it with others. These are serious scientists in chemistry and physics (one of his former students is now working at Fermi, another at Argonne). It is possible to reconcile science and faith.

But most importantly Jesus is definitely in the house, in our life groups, in our ministry, in our daily prayer life. And it’s not just us, trust me.

There are bad churches, just as there are bad groups of people. Not everybody who calls themselves a Christian is a nice person to be around. But we millennials are not a group who let one bad experience, or even a series of experiences, color our view of Christianity as a whole.

That would just be BS.

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God, Jesus and Zombies

My pastor didn’t time the crucifixion right.

By Palm Sunday, when Jesus was supposed to be walking into Jerusalem, he had already risen from the dead and appeared before the disciples.

Oh well, maybe next year.

But what is a good theme for Palm Sunday? Zombies.

Zombies are a bit of a cultural obsession right now (and one I’m afraid I don’t quite understand). A number of my friends are preparing for the coming Zombie Apocalypse and there are more than enough films to reinforce the idea coming this summer to a theater near you. I kinda understood vampires (Spike is cool) but even they are undead creatures without a soul, and an inclination to violence, destruction and spreading like a disease.

Kinda the opposite of the resurrection right?

Christ is not undead, death has no hold over him. He’s not a mindless killer, but instead opens hearts and minds to faith and to his fulfillment of prophecy. Zombies and vampires can only create more death or more of themselves, spiraling down to ultimate destruction. If the whole world were zombies, then the zombies could not survive. What if the whole world believed in Christ?

This idea of contagious faith intrigues me.

As a Christian I find myself apologizing at the start of conversations, or clarifying that “I’m not with those guys”. The behavior of other people who happen to claim the same beliefs as me can be a little embarrassing  You wanna see real zombies, just take a look at the members of the Westboro Church.

I want to find ways not to just grow my relationship with Christ in a bubble but to genuinely share it. To be bubbling over with faith so that anyone I interact with will be affected. I’m not saying I want it to be part of every conversation, or to suddenly change all of my writing, or anything like that. I just want someone to meet me and go, “there’s a guy who believes in God” as opposed to “there’s a guy who likes Star Trek and Fractals.” though that’s fine too.

I have something like 13 Bibles sitting on my shelf (maybe closer to 20). I don’t read any of them, since I have several good ones on my Kindle. And while I was weeding my books I was thinking of selling them. But I don’t want to sell them, I want to share my faith with others and give them to people. I’d kind of like to make it a life goal to talk to enough people to give away all the Bible’s I’ve acquired. I just don’t know exactly how to go about it yet.

Fact is, right now the blog is how I encounter people of different faiths. Work is pretty conservative and “christian” and even for those who are not of the same faith it’s not a great place to witness. The rest of my time is either spent at home with Hannah, working on books, or interacting with friends in the Church. I don’t want to be in a bubble, but right now life has kind of put me in one.

I realize this is sort of a prayer on paper, I’m writing some of the things I’ve been thinking about with God. Fact is if not contagious I’m at least bubbling about a lot of things besides my faith. Fractals, Star Trek, Writing in General, Babylon 5, anything tangentially computer related, video games, etc. Why is faith something I only seem to talk about on Sundays or the occasional plaintive post?

I think life can make us like Zombies, can rob us of zeal and of sharing the things that make us who we are. If it’s the drudgery of routine, or TV, or the same meal every Tuesday or whatever, life can get us down.

As always I want this blog to be a place where that isn’t true.

In what ways do you share your faith, your cherished beliefs?

PS. Pastor Rich’s sermon has some pretty great stuff about Zombies and more. You can hear it here, or read a transcript here.

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What Divides Us

When someone asks me what I believe I don’t answer that I’m a Lutheran, a Catholic, a Presbyterian or a Brethren.

I say I’m a Christian.

Faith in Christ, desire for a closer relationship with God, and the desire to do God’s will, these are pretty fundamental concepts of Christianity, and yet we Christians seem to have a lot of different ideas about how we’re supposed to do God’s will and live our lives.

I think any faith or religion has instances where you want to say “I’m not with those guys”, the Westboro Baptist Church for example, but we divide ourselves in so many other ways. We call them denominations, like denominator, the bottom part of a fraction. We take the whole and make it smaller, fractured, and separate. There’s one Bible, but there are dozens, hundreds of ways to interpret it, to live its principles out, and only one of them is right, or at least best.

Bull.

I understand the desire to gather together as Christians. It’s one of the things God calls us to do, to sharpen our own faith and to hold others accountable. There’s also a joy in being in a community of people who care about the things you do (even outside of church it’s great to find other writers, programmers, etc).

But strong denominational doctrines send the wrong message both to Christians and to people outside the faith. Most people who look at Christians don’t see those divisions and will lump them all into one pot, just like we do with Muslims or other religions. But the thing is, we should be acting more like a unified whole.

I grew up in a denominational church, but my faith was really born through non-denominational groups like Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, both before and while I was a student. Staff and students in IVCF run the gambit in terms of denominations, but they choose to worship, and to study the Bible deeply and together.

Christ is the right path, and denominational churches for the most part seem to be headed in that direction. I’m just not always a fan of the detours.

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