Bonnie Poon Zahl has an amazing interview in the Salvation Army magazine about the psychology of religion and anger at God. Bonnie, who wrote an amazing essay in our Mental Health Issue on attachment theory, here discusses the link between religious life and the life of the mind. Incredibly wise, she notes the fear Christians have of expressing their negative feelings and uncertainties towards God, very often because they have learned that such emotions mean a lack of faith. To the contrary, she says, such invitations to honesty comes directly from God:

God gave us emotions as important cues. We need to listen to these emotional signals that tell us things that aren’t right. Christians worry that anger at God will last forever and that God can’t handle us when we’re angry. On both counts, that’s not correct. Such an attitude also assumes that God is not big enough to deal with our lives and our emotions. In my experience, he certainly is more than capable of dealing with all of our anger and all of our doubts.

She goes on to discuss this in her own life:

In my teens, I attended a highly emotionally charged church in Hong Kong. For several years, though, I went through what the Spanish mystic St John of the Cross called ‘the dark night of the soul’. During that time, all the teachings about hearing God’s voice and being in his presence were stripped away. God felt absent. It didn’t even feel like God was saying ‘no’ to my prayers, rather it felt as though my prayers were falling on deaf ears. I would go to church and come away feeling more alone.

Like any social groups, churches have norms – expected ways of behaving. I couldn’t participate in the same way that others were. There was a discrepancy between the way I was feeling and the way I was expected as a Christian to behave. I was very angry at God for not answering my prayers and for not speaking to me, especially when I knew that he could. At some point, I had to come to terms with the possibility that I might never experience Christianity in the way that I used to and that, for the rest of my life, God may just feel absent.

There came a point when, in the light of this, I felt I had a choice to make: either accept that God is real even if I can’t feel him or don’t believe that he is real. I concluded that I think I still believe that God is real, but the only way I could even cope with going to church was to attend a church service early in the morning, where we would recite liturgy from The Book of Common Prayer. It was just me, my husband, the vicar, and maybe one or two other congregants. The vibrant, emotional, spontaneous, spirit-filled worship services that I used to love had begun to make me feel hollow inside, and I had no prayers of my own to offer. But the time-honoured prayers of the liturgy helped me to verbalise the feelings of loss, loneliness – and of hope. There is such depth and compassion in that liturgy. Many years later, and rather unexpectedly, I began to regain some of the spiritual experiences I had lost.

2. Speaking of personal histories, and God’s reality in light of those histories, Father Freeman is at it again, in a post from this week about just that. Freeman discusses the “storyline” of history, a line forever tied to the past, and only moving forward by way of cause and effect. Many of us, Freeman writes, feel the tenuous weight of this kind of storyline in thinking about God. But this misses the point entirely. As Freeman writes, the eschaton triumphs over history, and not the other way around.

History exercises a sort of tyranny in our lives. The mistakes we make and the consequences that extend beyond them threaten to bind us to the past. We think of ourselves as the product of the past, shaped and formed by what has been. Our history controls our destiny, haunting every movement and decision.

The story of our salvation is the deliverance from tyranny, the smashing, and destruction of that which binds us. As surely as Christ trampled down death by death, he trampled down the dominion of history. The coming of the Kingdom of God is the entrance into history, into space and time, of the timeless freedom of eternity. The End of all things is not the result of what has come before. The End does not belong to history.

The Scriptures place the End outside of history. It is a transcendent reality that is drawing all things towards itself. Christ is described as the “Beginning and the End.” He is the revelation of the End of all things, the purpose towards which all things were created and the point towards which all things move…

3. In the Podcastsphere, you gotta check out The Sporkful’s story, “The Holy Smoker,” about Devin Pickard, pitmaster and preacher. Pickard, who runs a BBQ joint on his family farm, uses the smokehouse as a pastoral care center of sorts. While there’s plenty of down-home bonhomie to the connection between food and faith, what’s really worth the time is Devin’s understanding of providing a place of welcome for weary and troubled people.

Also, this new Podcast is worth a listen, too, I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats, even if you’re not a Mountain Goats fan (I am). In it, Joseph Fink (Welcome to Night Vale, Alice Isn’t Dead) and Montain Goats lead man John Darnielle, talk about music, religion and community (ht JR).

4. Funny, funny sexist rom-com list at McSweeneys: “Everything You Know About Me, the Female Character You’re Falling in Love With In a Romantic Film Written By a Man,” the last two of which are:

  1. This is the most I’ve ever talked about myself! Normally I’m just listening to you or talking about that one subject I’m an expert in.

  2. I will save you but don’t worry, you’ll still be the hero of this story.

And this one, from Clickhole, “The Children in This Sunday School Class Are Overwhelmingly Siding with Pontius Pilate” (ht BJ).

5. This week, the Atlantic published a thorough history of money as the American metric of success. Eli Cook writes about the shift in thinking about status and well-being in quantifiable terms rather than unquantifiable ones.

In the mid-19th century, the United States—and to a lesser extent other industrializing nations such as England and Germany—departed from this historical pattern. It was then that American businesspeople and policymakers started to measure progress in dollar amounts, tabulating social welfare based on people’s capacity to generate income. This fundamental shift, in time, transformed the way Americans appraised not only investments and businesses but also their communities, their environment, and even themselves.

Today, well-being may seem hard to quantify in a nonmonetary way, but indeed other metrics—from incarceration rates to life expectancy—have held sway in the course of the country’s history. The turn away from these statistics, and toward financial ones, means that rather than considering how economic developments could meet Americans’ needs, the default stance—in policy, business, and everyday life—is to assess whether individuals are meeting the exigencies of the economy.

6. Pope Francis might have a little Reformation on his mind, as he reportedly asked Catholics to pray for priests, so prone to “claim salvation comes only from fulfilling God’s laws” (ht CB). Francis, reading from Romans 3, argued that “The Pharisees, the doctors of the law are not things from the olden days, there are many of them today, too…When one loses this close relationship with the Lord,” he said, “one falls into this obtuse mentality that believes in the self-sufficiency of salvation with the fulfillment of the law.”

7. And speaking of the law-abiding, religious types, and the freedom they are offered, this one comes from Donavon Riley, who will be at the Here We Still Stand Conference with DZ and the 1517 crew. If you’re in California, I’m sure they’d love to have you!

Respectable religious types can spot an absence of good old fashioned piety a mile away. Take the religious leaders in Jesus’ day as an example. The more they see and hear from Jesus, the more they are sure they want nothing to do with Jesus. They disagree with Him so much, they are so convinced He is a threat to good religious order, that they actually make plans to murder Him. Jesus is not just irreligious, He is a bogus Savior. A sham Messiah…The reason Jesus gets their dander up is because they are afraid of Him. He breaks their Sabbath rules. He prefers the company of disreputable types. He attends a dinner party at a tax collector’s house. Jesus seems to actually enjoy the company of prostitutes. Worse yet, He forgives sin with no respect whatsoever for the rules set down and enforced by the religious establishment. Jesus even seems to delight in challenging their views about how God does business.


Mark Lilla’s Hard Travail Against Identity Politics

Imagery Courtesy of Brutally Honest Job Titles

Crazy Story of Catfishing E-Dating Gone Wrong, then Gone Right

Ted Danson and Larry David’s Long Squabbling Relationship