The Sacredness of Questioning Everything
– David Dark
“This book is for everyone who quietly suspects that God is
a whole lot bigger than the church would have us believe.”
– Jana Riess
This is a powerful read. Just powerful.
I’m often challenged. I’m often stretched. This book did both, but it did something else as well. It “convicted” me. I don’t much care for that word in the religious sense, but I can’t think of a better way to put it. It made me more deeply consider the ramifications of some of my actions and attitudes. That’s pretty much always a good thing.
So, yes, this is a book about questions. It’s a book of questions. Mostly, it’s a book about the very act of questioning. We know that, according to the New Testament Gospels, Jesus very frequently answered a question with a question. He could have always given simple, straight-forward answers, but he knew that “words in tablets of stone” (the preferred method of Pharisees) was not the way to go. He knew the question itself, was sacred.
David Dark takes us on a wonderful journey as we sacredly question things that many would consider unquestionable.
In chapter one, we dive right into the thick of it with “Questioning God.”
We start with a fictional story of “a tiny town with a tight-knit community,” as we’re introduced to a patriarch, of sorts, named “Uncle Ben.” Everyone talks about how wonderful Uncle Ben is, but beyond their words, something is definitely off-kilter.
Of course, what we’re really questioning in this chapter is our perception of God, and how that affects everything in our lives. We see that “any God who is nervous, defensive, or angry in the face of questions is a false god.” “We mus resist, in word and deed, this God (Nobodaddy) who is no God at all.”
From questioning God, we move to questioning religion. We gain information from a variety of sources, including REM, C.S. Lewis, Michael Scott, and the children of South Park. Chapter two helps us understand that “when religion won’t tolerate questions, objections, or differences of opinion and all it can do is threaten excommunication, violence, and hellfire, it has an unfortunate habit of producing some of the most hateful people to ever walk the earth.”
Chapter three questions our offendedness.
Thomas Aquinas, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Stephen Colbert are some of the voices adding to this section.
I remember “back in the day” as they say, how we would frequently use verses from I Corinthians 8, and Romans 14 “against” each other. “You shouldn’t do that, because that offends me!” Talk about a misuse of scripture. Of course, we’d give a passing glance to the passages telling us NOT to be easily offended. But the focus was on controlling the behavior of others. “If you’re more opposed, for instance, to what we take to be ‘bad language’ and nude scenes and films about gay people than we are to people being blown up, starved to death, deprived of life-saving medicine, or tortured, our offendedness is out of whack. We have yet to understand the nature of real perversion.”
Questioning our passions in chapter 4, there’s talk of wasting our emotions, and how our affections can become “merely theoretical.” We look at what real perversion is, and how most of us engage in it. There’s a nice section on “Antichrist Television Blues,” that tackles “Christian” TV, and “the bad news that sells itself as the good news of escaping the weakness of the failure of your fellow humans by believing the right things and grabbing your copy of hell insurance.” And we get some advise on how to “discern the difference between the voice in my head and the voice of God.”
Chico Marx helps kick off “Questioning Media” in chapter 5. The author speaks of “manufactured realities,” and how, “fundamentally, you control the media.” Very interesting.
The sixth chapter has up questioning language. “Words fail to do justice to the irreducible complexity of whatever it is we think we’re talking about.” “There’s nothing that you can say that will mean the same thing once it’s repeated.”
Close on the heals of Questioning Language, is Questioning Interpretations. “I want to break through the mind-forged manacles that render us incapable of seeing truthfully for fear we might let in the wrong information.” If someone can’t admit that everything(?) they see, read, hear, etc. is automatically interpreted by them, there’s not much chance of having a real, fruitful conversation. “Jesus often refused what was in his time the reigning interpretation of scripture.”
Chapter 8: Questioning History. I’m amazed at how much our history was “sanitized” and “Americanized” when I went to school. I’ve heard it said that history is written by the winners. That, itself, helps explain much of the perspective in the Old Testament. In this chapter we read about, among other things, “Crimes against humanity undertaken in the name of Christ and Manifest Destiny.” It truly is overwhelming “to try to want to know what I don’t want to know,” rather than being “blissfully ignorant.” This, of course, isn’t just true of Christians. It’s true of the “Islamic, Buddhist, Native American, African or Confucian.”
As we, in chapter 9, question governments we discuss faith, violence, civil disobedience, infinite justice, self-justification, war, bloodshed, illegals, enemy combatants, and power structures. Jesus, Leonard Cohen, Ziggy Marley, Ghandhi, Tolstoy, MLK, and U2 help us open our eyes to the realities of our “allegiance.” I really like the quote, “Iraqi Christians… publicly pray that American Christians might consider more deeply their understanding of the body of Christ.”
Finally, we question the future. We look at patriotism, Shakespeare, “No Country for Old Men,” Bono, and (obligatorily) the Biblical book of Revelation.
We come full-circle and again consider the one referred to early in the book as “Nobodaddy.” “The false god who authorized and underwrites environmental devastation, antipersonnel weapons, and cutthroat economies.
“The Sacredness of Questioning Everything” is packed solid, cover to cover, with valid and, dare I say, vital information. There’s a lot to think about here. Not in a scratch-your-head, stare-into-space, let me figure this out kind of way that a book by, oh… say Peter Rollins has. (A comparison like that is really an “apples to oranges” kind of thing anyway.) David Dark’s work here is more of a “stare-into-your-own-heart” thing. This book will help put you on a track deep into your own soul.
Buy The Book. Click HERE.
– People sometimes try to make the Bible seem like a book full of easy answers, but it isn’t. It’s a bunch of voices from the past that ask us a lot of questions.
– What the pundits call wishy-washiness, the Bible calls repentance.
– We’re mad to think we’ve got hold of truth like nobody else or that we want it more or that our relationship to the Almighty trumps everyone else’s.
– Proclaiming the kingdom of God does not include shouting down anyone who finds your proclamation unconvincing.
Buy The Book. Click HERE.
– When we think of a person primarily as a problem… we’re reducing them to the tiny sphere of our stunted attention span. There’s always more to a person than we know.”
– Of absolute truth, none of us are knowers. And we often aren’t especially good with the truth we do know.
– God is not made angry and insecure by an archaeological dig, a scientific discovery, an ancient manuscript, or a good film about homosexual cowboys.
– To label entire populations — or even sections of the globe — as “enemy” is bad theology, and no government that does so can claim to be operating in any mindful way “under” God.
– Your eschatology is what you’re waiting for and where you’re headed or think you’re headed. It cuts to the heart of politics, your religion, your sense of what matters.
– The word of the living God is never less than an ethical summons, a call to take care, to gather up and strengthen the life that remains, to reorder, redeem and remember.
Buy The Book. Click HERE.
[Following is a portion of a recent email I sent Barry McGuire, and
portions of his reply. My few interactions with him have been
I was part of the “Jesus People” crowd back in the 70’s and 80’s.
Over the last 5 to 10 years, I’ve become a very different person, spiritually.
My wife and I left “institutional religion” about 5 years ago. I was a co-Pastor, Elder, Worship leader, Sunday school teacher, ect., ect.
Now, when I look back, I can see, IMHO, how the Jesus movement seemed to eventually be co-opted by conservative, right-wing, Republican “christianity.” I’ve also noticed, as I never did then, that the “Christian” music industry, book industry, ect., also is pretty much controlled by the religious right. (I didn’t believe that the Christian left even existed.)
Anyway,now when I listen to some of the old songs by certain artists like yourself, I hear a more radical tone than I ever noticed back then.
I hear implications that we’re all connected. I hear concern for our planet, and actual love and relationship with those of other religions. All things I have come to believe in.
I’m at a very different place spiritually than I ever would have imagined even a decade ago. It’s a different place, but it’s the best and most honest place I’ve been in that regard.
Have you had any major shift in your spirituality since the Jesus People days? Were you just always more “left” (if I can use that term) than most of us realized?
Anyway, thanks for all the years of great entertaining and thought-provoking music.
Keep it up!
Well, good for you my friend. I recently received an email asking me if I was still walking WITH Jesus and I had to tell the enquirer, that “No, I no longer walked WITH Christ, I now actually walk IN Christ.” All the difference in the world.
I can tell by your email that you are sinking deep unto deep. Recently a pastor in So Cal expressed that he’d heard that I’d gone off the deep end. My response was, “Praise God, yes, I’m tired of the wading pool. It’s deep unto deep for me.”
Someone asked my wife recently what church we went to. Her response was, “You’ve asked the wrong question…
She told that person, “We are the church, you and I are the living stones in the Body of Christ.” She went onto say that we belong to the church of Two or More. Wherever two or more are gathered in His name, there He is in our midst.
We could spend hours talking, at least I know I could. It’s been a long journey, but for me I’ve discovered that fundamental Christianity just doesn’t work. I’ve written a few blogs you might want to read on my personal www.barrymcguire.com website although it’s been a long time since I’ve read them myself, and I know my outlook on reality has changed since then. What we believe to be true today, with additional information, will change what we believe to be true tomorrow.
Just sink into your heart my friend, all the answers live there and ultimately it’s Christ WITHIN us that will prevail.
Blessings on you my friend, get stubborn in your surrender to reality,
[Bold and underscores added my me. – df]
Some other quotes from Mr. McGuire:
We have never known such peace, such assurance, we have never been filled with such expectancy, such hope, such knowing, that Christ IS living WITHIN every heart.
My world view changes from day to day. The truth of it is, we can know 99% about all there is to know, but the 1% we don’t know will totally change our understanding of the 99% that we did know……”His mercies are new every morning as our Spirit is renewed daily.” I’m not the same person today that I was yesterday, and I’ll not be the same person tomorrow that I am today.
Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we’re here we should dance.
Ghandi had the right idea. He was assassinated. Anwar Sadat was a man of peace. He was assassinated. Martin Luther King spoke of the brotherhood of man. He was assassinated. John Kennedy wanted to get us out of Vietnam. He was assassinated. Jesus Christ gave us a message of forgiveness and love. He was assassinated. Socrates apparently did all he could to get people to think for themselves and not let others tell them what to do. He was assassinated. That’s why I take an a-political stand in this world I find myself living in.
How dare I judge ANYONE that Christ gave His life to forgive! I don’t care if they’re gay [or] straight.
Well, I don’t know about Christ’s soon physical returning. People have been thinking He’s going to be coming back any minute for the last two thousand years. For me, and Mari, He’s already come back!
Our constant goal is to stay focused on this present moment, and to pour one hundred percent of our energy and attention into the demands and requirements of each moment we experience.
Here are just a few quotes from a GREAT article by Monte Wolverton in the latest issue of Plain Truth Magazine.
For the entire article, CLICK HERE.
“In spite of …Constantine [making] Christianity a state religion, there is no biblical instruction for Christians to force their will on those of other faiths — or to try to eradicate other faiths.”
– Monte Wolverton
“If we look at historical reality rather than pious verbiage, it’s obvious that America never really “belonged to God.” …There was nothing distinctively Christlike about the way America was “discovered,” conquered or governed in the early years.
“The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion…This means that Muslims, Hindus, atheists and Wiccans can vote, hold office and participate in government just as much as Christians can.”
– Monte Wolverton
“Religion is pouring gasoline on an already intense fire.”
– Monte Wolverton
Oh, and you might want to stop by John Shore’s blog and
It is stupid for conservatives to think that they are more moral or “biblical” (oh my gosh I hate that word) than liberals.
There is plenty of support for both worldviews in scripture.
There is plenty of support for MOST worldviews in scripture, actually, depending on your preferred exegetical approach. The bible is not as cohesive as either side would want to believe, and to derive one single systematic theology from it while maintaining any kind of intellectual integrity is nearly, if not entirely, impossible.
— [Small section of a comment by a wise facebook friend.]
You can feel Lincoln’s anguish as he describes the irony of soldiers from North and South killing one another.
“Both read the same Bible,” he said, “and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other.”
Nothing has changed. The culture war being waged at this very moment is a war between Americans who pray to the same God and invoke God’s aid against the other. The fundamentalist Christians pray daily that they will succeed in superimposing their liter biblical view of homosexuality on the nation.
I pray daily that they will fail.
President Lincoln fought that terrible civil war to make things equal for those who suffered inequality; to end bigotry, intolerance, and discrimination.
Have we learned nothing? Will it take another civil war to guarantee the civil rights of all Americans? It will unless we decide that fundamentalist Christianity is a real threat to this democracy and that the only way we can confront that threat without bloodshed, resolve our differences, and reconcile with our fundamentalist neighbors is to rediscover the power of relentless nonviolent resistance demonstrated in the the twentieth century by Gandhi in south African and India and by Martin Luther King, Jr., in America.
[Taken from “Religion Gone Bad” by Mel White. Book review coming later.]
Like the people of Israel who created a golden calf to represent God while Moses way away, fundamentalist Christians have built their own idols to represent God until Jesus returns. The religion of fundamentalism is idolatry.
The god [they call] to bless [their] antigay campaign is an idol that [they] have created from a string of unrelated biblical verses read literally to sanction their prejudice and consolidate their power.
We’ve seen this demigod before. The Roman Catholic Church called upon him to bless their bloody inquisitions and crusades. Fiery frontier preachers called upon him to bless their war against Native Americans. White Southern Christians called upon him to bless their efforts to preserve slavery and segregation. White Northern Christians called upon him to bless their efforts to prevent women’s suffrage and obstruct child labor laws.
These same fundamentalists who persecute my brothers and sisters wear bracelets that read “What Would Jesus Do?” If only they would take that question seriously.
A Christian understands who God is by looking closely at Jesus. Any lesser god is an idol, and anyone who worships that lesser god is an idolater in God’s eyes.
[Taken from “Religion Gone Bad” by Mel White.]
They said that if I questioned a 6,000-year-old earth, I would question whether other parts of Scripture should be read scientifically and historically.
They were right. I did.
They said that if I entertained the hope that those without access to the gospel might still be loved and saved by God, I would fall prey to the dangerous idea that God loves everyone, that there is nothing God won’t do to reconcile all things to Himself.
They were right. I have.
They said that if I looked for Jesus beyond the party line, I could end up voting for liberals.
They were right. I do (sometimes).
They said that if I listened to my gay and lesbian neighbors, if I made room for them in my church and in my life, I could let grace get out of hand.
They were right. It has.
They told me that this slippery slope would lead me away from God, that it would bring a swift end to my faith journey, that I’d be lost forever.
But with that one, they were wrong.
The Orthodox Heretic
and Other Impossible Tales
– Peter Rollins
This book is a perfect example of good things coming in small packages. It’s a tiny hardback, black-cover (without the sleeve) that reminds me of my marriage manual.
This a book of tales; a book of parables. Some are taken from the Bible. Some are not.
Each one is a relatively short read, followed by a commentary. There’s much wisdom here, as well as humor, suspense, and unexpected twists.
“In the parable, truth is not expressed via some detached logical discourse…
Parables subvert the desire to make faith simple and understandable.”
We look at “the true meaning of the phrase Word of God,” as Peter declares “it is impossible to affirm God’s Word apart from becoming that Word, apart from being the place where that Word becomes a living, breathing act.”
We view many of the parables of Jesus from slightly different perspectives, which can sometime render very different understandings.
Mr. Rollins believes, as do I, that we should not “treat the Bible as a type of textbook providing us with an ethical blueprint,” and that we must question “whether the Bible can be treated in this way without doing the teachings of Jesus a great injustice.”
The new insights on “turn the other cheek” were both eye-opening and, depressing. We look at the kind of people Jesus was speaking to, and contrast that to the kind of people he was speaking about. When we realize that “through the clothes we buy, the coffee we drink, the investments we make, and the cars that we drive,” we are often supporting slave labor and suffering, we can see ourselves not as the ones turning the other cheek, but rather, as the ones doing the slapping.
[That’s one reason my wife and I now only buy “fair-trade” coffee. I know it may not be possible (or feasible) to eliminate all avenues of our negative footprints, but if we at least do something, we can make a difference.]
There’s a simply wonderful tale of a kind, well-respected elderly priest, and a jealous, self-absorbed prince who’s hell-bent on exposing the priest as a “coldhearted liar who sells the people lies in order to live.” I had my wife, Kathy, read that one. She didn’t see the “twist” coming, either. It’s really good.
There’s also some fresh material on “the pearl of great price,” “the prodigal son,” “feeding the five-thousand,” and many others.
This anthology is, I think, perfect for short, meditative daily readings (or, as some prefer the term, “quiet-time.”). It’s really not a book you should even attempt to read in one or two sittings, although it would be easy to do so. At least half of the value of reading this book is the story-by-story personal reflection.
I didn’t know this was a collection of short stories when I ordered it. If memory serves me, I purchased this book on the recommendation of a Facebook friend. I do not recall which one. Whoever you are, “Thank You!” I loved “The Orthodox Heretic,” and will certainly be reading more writings of Peter Rollins.
Buy the book. Click HERE.
– The truth of faith is not articulated in offering reasons for suffering, but rather in drawing alongside those who suffer, standing with them, and standing up for them. This is pastoral care at its most luminous.
– Religious belief can itself be a barrier to living the life of faith.
Buy the book. Click HERE.
– There is a Biblical injunction to question authority, regardless of who or what that authority is, when we believe that authority is not defending the persecuted.
– Christ is found in our interaction with others.
– Every description of God testified to in the Judeo-Christian tradition falls short. Refuse to let any conception of God take the place of God.
– We must question the difference between the heresy of orthodoxy, in which we dogmatically claim to have the truth, and orthodox heresy, in which we humbly admit that we are in the dark but still endeavor to live in the way of Christ as best we can.
Buy the book. Click HERE.
[Here’s some funny/sad material from Frank Schaeffer.
I can relate to these forms of what mistakenly
passes for “prayer”.]
[My parents] would launch into a prayer that was earnest and full of theological content. The excuse for the prayer, for instance the information that someone was ill, would get briefly mentioned. Then a lot of solid theology would also be mixed in. It was clear they were praying at the person with them, not to God.
The prayers were often a not-so-subtle vehicle for sermons. Praying out loud was also a way of advancing one’s case, the advantage being that no one dared interrupt you or argue back.
Prayer was [also] a way to remind God no to let his attention wander or forget that we, and we only, really understood what he was suppose to be doing. So we prayed at him, too. Reading between the lines [you get this:]
“Dear Heavenly Father, in Your Word You say that when two or three are gathered together, You will be in the midst of them. Well, we’re gathered here, so do what we’re telling You to do because we have You over a barred and can quote Your own book back at you! We claim Your promises, and because You can’t break any of those since You wrote it all in the Bible, You’ll do what we say, and You’ll do it NOW! Amen!”
Theologically speaking, we believed in an absolutely powerful omnipotent and sovereign Lord. But in practice, our God had to be begged and encouraged to carry out the simplest tasks.
We lacked the faith to pray effectively and make God do stuff. So we prayed for the faith to make God give us faith to make him do stuff. But getting enough faith was the biggest problem, so we prayed for the faith we needed to pray for faith. But how much faith did it take to pray to have enough faith to pray for faith? And if God knew you wanted faith, why didn’t he just give it to you?
It was like spending all your time calling directory information for phone numbers that you aren’t allowed to call unless you can guess the number right without asking.
— Frank Schaeffer [from “Crazy For God“]