losing my religion

Watch It!: The Family

Photo by Ricky Turner via Unsplash

Earlier this year there was a bit of buzz related to Netflix’s new show, The Family. I took note of the fact that it would air later this year, but otherwise, left it alone. That is until a few weeks ago. One Saturday morning I noticed that someone in my social media feed had posted about the show. By that Sunday, I’d begun to check it out. 

Thus far I’ve seen The Family once and if I have time I might watch it again. I don’t want to reveal too many spoilers, but I would like to talk about what I saw. 

Hence, on that note, how can I best describe it?

As the content unfolded onscreen I was…Surprised–but not completely. Just thinking about the way American politics has evolved over the years, it’s been hard not to believe that behind the scenes,  something horrible has been going on all along. And I can honestly tell you that if you’ve had any fears about religious corruption, The Family will confirm them. Although it isn’t in the horror genre, its content gave me the creeps. Overall, though, I was mostly disgusted. 

The Family is a docuseries that recounts the evolution of a bipartisan religious organization–referred to as The Family–which has been tied to the government’s top leaders in Washington, DC. Based on a pair of books by Jeff Sharlet, the first episode begins by telling its story through the eyes of the author. In his younger days in Washington, Sharlet was first introduced to The Family via his time at Ivanwald–a household that serves, essentially, as a Christian fraternity. 

Throughout the series several snippets of dialogue reveal the sinister nature of a movement with seemingly innocent roots. In one scene, James Cromwell, as religious leader David Coe, speaks to a group of young men. He asks them a simple enough question.

“Can you think of anyone who made a covenant with his friends?” 

In response, young Mr. Sharlet gave what I thought was the most obvious answer to this question. “Jesus.” However, Mr. Coe had another person in mind. 

At this point I should note that when Coe replied, I initially thought the screenwriter was using a bit of artistic license. After all, some of The Family’s segments were dramatized. I honestly wanted to believe that Movie Coe didn’t actually use Real Life Coe’s words. And I might have, if not for the fact that The FamIly includes actual footage of David Coe standing in a pulpit. As he speaks to his audience about how to influence others, he shares his thoughts.

“Hitler. Hitler made a covenant. The Mafia made a covenant. Look at the strength of the bonds.”

“HITLER made a covenant”?! Watching that footage, I don’t think I’ve ever given my computer a more horrified stare.

Truly, I was stunned. 

Imagine. You have Jesus Christ HIMSELF, as the head of your religion. Yet when you want your followers to have an example of someone who successfully made and kept a promise to others, you choose HITLER?!  

That bit of dialogue haunted me. It also called to mind a greater problem within mainstream religion. Time and again, certain Christian leaders try to put up a good front. Yet ultimately, they demonstrate that they don’t have genuine confidence in their faith. This tends to be revealed in challenging situations: Rather than standing by their principles, in a quest to relate to the world, some pastors rush to support evil in all of its forms.

For some reason or another, some would rather choose fame over discernment and authenticity. 

But I digress.  

I already thought something was off with Big Box Christianity and its connection to the American government. In the end, The Family only confirmed my suspicions.

Before I go, let me offer you a warning: If you’re going to view this show, you might want to mentally prepare yourself. Especially if you have any previous experience with religious fundamentalism. The Family wasn’t easy to watch. Nevertheless, I’m glad I did.

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Jesus, losing my religion

Status Report?: Spiritual Renewal

Earlier this summer, one of the hottest musicians in the galaxy mentioned prayer in an interview, and I felt it.

When I first read Rihanna’s chat with Sarah Paulson, I was excited. I had just shared a post on meditation. Next on my schedule was prayer, but I needed a hook. Perfect timing, right?

Except it wasn’t.

Something was wrong with me. 

As a writer, over the course of this year I’ve had doubts about my skills. And as I looked at tackling spirituality, I felt more intimidated than inspired. The thought of writing on God opened infinite possibilities. Yet how can someone possibly quantify something that’s immeasurable?

Thankfully, not too long ago, I faced a genuine moment of divine intervention.

One day, rather than feeling a sense of intimacy with God, I felt overcome by the weight of an incredible distance. It was an odd, painful encounter. And of all the things in the world, while listening to a gospel track, I started to sob.

Looking back on that moment I recognize that I was pretty much the epitome of a religious cliche. But at the time, I felt as though a door had opened. I started asking myself questions. Was I dreaming, or when I was younger, did I have a more authentic spiritual practice?

Lord knows (no pun intended), over the past few years, something has felt different.

And so, back to my origins I’ve returned.

Mind you, as I go, I’m still discovering what this means. Yet the loss of people such as Rachel Held Evans has reminded me that there’s work to be done. In this political climate, the theologian within still wants to call people towards a more conscientious vision of Christianity.

Overall, I’m not comfortable with any form of piety that denies our common humanity. I really want to dive into religion and some controversial material. But that’s another post for another day.

And so, until next time… Here’s the last sermon I watched. Pastor Furtick offers a decent riff on the idea that man contains multitudes.

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Books

Losing My Religion?: A look at Love (Wins).

A few weeks ago I drafted a long-winded blog post about having an alternative take on my faith. (I was inspired when I read this article from The Huffington Post about one of the Pope’s declarations.)

I sent what I’d come up with to a friend of mine. Among other things, when she wrote me back she suggested I read Love Wins. [Thank you, Lisa.]

lovewinscover

I finished the book last month.

And if I’m completely honest, I thought that every word of it made sense.

(At this point, some of you will say,“So what?” Well…If you’re not very religious, you should know: To some, Rob Bell is a heretic. His book’s content does not fall in line with (conservative) Christian rhetoric. Love Wins emphasizes the idea of pursuing a faith focused on God’s love over condemnation. It was not well received in some circles. Hence, basically, by agreeing with Bell’s work, I realize that to certain people, I’m basically a heathen.)

Some people complain a lot about those who are disappointed with the church (aka organized religion). However, I think they need to be open to all of the reasons that people are turned off–and often choose to leave. There are those who become atheists or convert to other faiths. Yet there are also folks like me, who adopt a broader view of what they believe. For example, I still believe in God, and I pray. But I do not believe that my faith makes me superior to anyone else–religious or otherwise.

Quite frankly, conventional Christianity has left me weary of its over-reliance on an us-vs-them gospel.

Still, for conservatives, the “othering” of non-Christians is vital. This is one of the reasons that I think that some Christians reacted to Rob Bell’s work as they did. They’re protective of the ideas that he rejects.

Yet I don’t think Rob Bell’s work expressed anything truly blasphemous. In fact, he wrote what many of us do not have the courage to say aloud. As far as I can tell, people objected to the fact that Bell’s ideas pose a threat to the Christian establishment. They undermine a notion that a lot of folks’ faith is built on.

Hate. Fear. And being right in a world full of wrong.

A few weeks ago, I caught myself feeling…Bound by what I believe. I was wrestling with an issue. One sensation kept coming up, again and again.

I felt trapped.

I struggled with the usual demon–the sense of obligation that I’ve felt towards my faith. For years I’ve reluctantly accepted the fact that I was meant to endure negative tension between myself and…Life. I was having thoughts along those lines when  I had an epiphany:

I can be as free as I want to be in my spirituality. Or, as strict. For better or worse, my path is mine to choose.

I’ve shared this piece so that you would know my spiritual status. However, it’s also here because I need to breathe.

I’m eager to address my fears these days. And I shouldn’t feel anxious about being honest about what makes me me.

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