Thinking Out Loud

March 12, 2010

Currently Reading: Flanders’ Book of Faith

In the Christian blogosphere you are judged by the books you review.   Academic, church growth books, and anything by Mark Driscoll or John Piper are acceptable.   The latest edition of Bible Word Search Puzzles doesn’t count as serious reading.   Neither does anything remotely related to The Simpsons TV series.

So it was with great fear and trepidation that I decided to write this.   But it was with different motives that I decided to take the half-hour or so necessary to cover all of Flanders’ Book of Faith (HarperCollins, 2008, no specific author credit.)  I wanted to see how they actually treat Christian belief.

I’ve always been aware of the fact that from Rev. Lovejoy’s sermonizing to Ned Flanders’ diploma from Oral Roberts University (not mentioned in the book) the writers have an intimate knowledge of Evangelical Christianity.   They get the culture.  (And if you grew up with those little Jack Chick tract/booklets, you’ll see how well they get it.)

There’s another issue at stake here.   I got multiple copies of the title in a book remainder sale and decided to put them on display in our Christian bookstore.   Seriously.   They’re there right now.

There are episodes and themes in The Simpsons that are downright offensive to Christian sensibilities.   I knew that going in.  Many of you reading this do not allow the program to be viewed in your home.   But I wasn’t sure that their religious references — more specifically Christian references — were part of that offense.

My multiple purchase hunch was correct.   There’s nothing in particular in the book that attacks or degrades belief.    They understand the issues of faith, the complexities of theology and the thorny areas of doctrine, but it’s really no different than things you might read online in blogs.

The book will stay on display.    Rather than being offensive in and of itself, it’s really part of the larger issue:  Some Evangelicals have a low tolerance for humor and satire.    They’re offended by the infamous “Laughing Jesus” sketch print because scripture doesn’t record Jesus ever laughing or even having a sense of humor.

I beg to differ.   The Christ I follow expects no less than my complete transparency, and my personal ethic is to fellowship with people who share that view, which includes the ability to laugh at our various foibles.  (This issue will reappear next month when Zondervan releases Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like; bet on it.)

I can’t wait for the first complaint so I can launch into my book choice apologetic, though I won’t get the chance if the copies sell out.

May 17, 2009

Engaging Life’s Big Questions With Rainn Wilson

Filed under: Christian, Christianity, issues — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:50 pm

ctrl_zWhat if you had the chance to read a blog that had fresh, daily content, and dealt seriously with the big issues of life, but was written from a somewhat atheistic perspective?    Many Christians only read blogs written by other Christians, which is rather sad, because it is in coming in contact with the broader population that we are kept, for lack of a better phrase, on our toes spiritually.

And what if, as an added bonus, the blog in question was written by an actor currently appearing in America’s #1 comedy series, Rainn Wilson of The Office (NBC)?

Seriously, you should check this guy out!  The blog is called Soul Pancake.  He is asking all the right questions, confronting all the right issues, and is being brutally honest with believers, non-believers and himself.

And if you’re a pastor, and you like to be current, and you like to connect with the thoughts and ideas that are “out there,” then this is a blog you should keep in touch with on a regular basis.      Admittedly, sometimes Rainn simply kickstarts a topic and then lets readers take care of the rest, but oh, what great topics those are.   Sometimes an anecdotal incident or even one of the many great pictures and graphics — see image at right — is all it takes get the discussion going, with lots of great answers provided.

While the blog is packed with great material — like this blog, scrolling back ten pages may only take you back a single month — here’s some interesting elements from the current home page:
A list of five needs is interesting in light of # 2:

I “NEED”
1. Caffeine – Without my morning Americano, it’s hello Headache-ville.
2. Prayer – I may turn to prayer only as a last-ditch resort, but it never fails to bring me a sense of resolve.
3. Focus – One of the things I find difficult is giving people my undivided attention. I pride myself on multi-tasking, but every now and then I wish I found it easier to focus on one thing.
4. My iPhone – It is my connection to the world. I need my hourly dose of tweetfacespacemailing.
5. Adventure – I am constantly seeking new experiences and challenges. I am scared of being complacent and missing out on something.

A quote from Lewis Smedes:

“You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”—Lewis B. Smedes

And this very telling moment of truth from May 11th:

God’s not showing up today. I’ve been artistically flat for a week, without idea or inspiration, unimpressed and unmotivated. And it doubly sucks because as an Atheist, I can’t count on a helping hand from heaven above.

So I hit the streets, damning the nonexistence of God and the consequent lack of divine intervention in my art (while simultaneously dodging all of the speeding buses). If only I could tap into God for a hot artistic second and then go back to being a nonbeliever. And then epiphany strikes: How many of us secret away our beliefs and reach for them only in our self-absorbed, egotistical moments of need—when it serves us best, it’s advantageous, or, frankly, it’s the last chance we’ve got?

That’s the big knock on Atheists, you know—that as soon as we step into the crosswalk and see that flame-engulfed motor coach careening right for us, we’re secretly praying, “Please, God. Not today, God! I believe, God… I BELIEVE!!!” As if some split-second sanctimonious tribute to a superior being that you’ve spent a lifetime denying is going to make that much of a difference now.

But that’s the rub: When their backs are to the wall, most Atheists will hedge their bets and start praying. If God’s a loving God, perhaps he’ll show forgiveness and spare an Atheist or two in that last second. Some believers say he will. Most, however, are busy saying, “Damn! Did you see that speeding bus totally crush that poor Atheist?”

But I’m open-minded. I’m sure that within the universe of Atheists, there are a few of us who secretly believe in God. When all the other Atheists aren’t looking, these interlopers cast faithful eyes toward the heavens and whisper a private penance. The law of averages says there must be at least a couple of Atheist posers out there who are just trying to look existentially cool. And since real Atheists love flaunting their certainty, I felt obliged to do a little investigating. It’s not as if I was making any headway on my artistic endeavors.

…to keep reading this one link here.

But probably the finest moment in the most recent fifteen or so pages of Soul Pancake is Rainn’s take on The Simpsons.

So, your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to follow this blog throughout the week.   Maybe become a commenter.   Then report back here in a rainn_wilsonweek.

In the meantime, if you’re one of my regular readers, what non-Christian bloggers do you read regularly that you would like to share with everyone else here?

Graphic:  From an April post at Soul Pancake

HT: Dave at Big Ear Creations blog.


Rainn’s blog is constantly being updated.   It had changed a few times since this was composed on Saturday.  Your impression may vary depending on what’s up at any given moment.   Take the time to scroll through several pages.

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