A ray of light, and a new book I’ll be writing on my blog

We’ve been going through some pretty rough stuff here lately. So I thought I’d share with you this email I got in today (right, actually, at a moment that I was feeling particularly low). Its subject line was, “A heartfelt thank you.”

Dear John,

I was raised in a very independent fundamental Bible-believing baptist home and church. My childhood was not pleasant, to say the least. But that is not why I’m writing you today.

When I left home for college, I thought for sure life would be better to me than it had been all those years trapped in my home. It was not. My faith took a real beating during that time. I had gotten through an abusive home, and I’d been waiting for God to show up and deliver me for a long long time. But he hadn’t shown up then, and he wasn’t showing up now.

While I was being tossed about by life, I started questioning aspects of my faith. So much so that I was afraid I might not actually be Christian! When I came to that realization I just froze. I stopped participating, questioning, and thinking about religion in any form. I was scared of what any realization at that point might mean for me. What if I didn’t really believe what I thought the Bible said? What if I was going to hell because I just couldn’t find peace in my faith? What if I decided the Church as I knew it was a giant, seething mass of ugliness I couldn’t tolerate? I was so afraid. Afraid of hell, afraid of my own doubts, afraid of finding a truth that was separate from any god.

Then I found your blog. And I realized that maybe real Christianity was more than I had been raised to believe. Maybe my heart shied away from Christianity because of how it had been presented to me. Maybe the preacher man was just as human as I am, and maybe he got it wrong. Maybe I didn’t have to despise the gays who could not change their sexual preferences. I didn’t have to despise the homeless man begging. I didn’t have to be pro-war, and anti-women.

Suddenly my mind and heart together realized that there was so much more Jesus was offering and demanding than what I had seen thus far. Maybe love really could be enough.

I am looking out in front of me and I see I am taking the first steps on a long road to study, to search out, to really find who Jesus is and what He wants us to be. Thank you for being that light in my darkness that gave me the courage to release my heart from the bonds of fear that have held me tied tight and silent for many years. Thank you for being the voice in my deafness that reminded me to breathe and to love.

I wanted to share this in the hopes that it might prove for you something of the ray of sunshine it did for me; such light is such a blessing when things are dim.

Also, this letter comes at a uniquely apropos time for me personally; it’s the signal flag I was waiting for to tell me it was time to say something I’ve been meaning to. About two weeks ago I became aware of a new, profound and (as it turns out) increasingly pressing need of mine to very clearly spell out everything that I think actually happened—cosmically, spiritually, personally, universally—when Jesus died on the cross.

In short, the time has come for me to write a book spelling out the entirety of my theology (he said, acutely aware of the repelling pretentiousness that always seems to accompany that word).

And I’ve decided to write that book, post-by-post, here on my blog. What else can I do? I can’t write the book and keep the blog going (not to mention also ghostwriting the full-size book for which I contracted when, three months ago, my wife Catherine became unemployed for about a month before becoming Director of Finance & Administration for 2-1-1 San Diego, where she is very happy indeed).

I’m not yet sure how or where I’ll keep the posts together on the blog, so that anyone who wants to can easily catch up on reading them all, but that an easy problem to solve. And the book won’t be the only thing I’ll be writing on the blog; I’ll continue to respond to those letters I’m moved to, and to comment on whatever current events catch my attention. But the book will definitely be the main thrust of the work I’ll be doing here until it’s finished.

I’ve written—gosh, sixteen books: nine ghostwritten, seven of my own. But I’ve certainly never written one intended to cover as much ground as will this one (though Penguins is awfully comprehensive; and though hardly a book I covered a lot of theological ground in the 16-pt. tenets of Unfundamentalist Christians). But I’ve sure never written a book … well, right out in public.

So this should be fun. In my work you guys have been awesome partners with me thus far. If anyone has ever had an ideal place to write a book about God, I’m thinking this blog is that place.

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  • Karen Miller

    What a great idea! I look forward to being a part of it. And thanks for sharing the letter you received. I think the letter writer’s feelings are shared by many people. You have been a beacon of light in my otherwise dark world.

  • Melody

    I’m very excited to see what new things you have to say and how it’s all going to come together. Looking forward to it, Join.

    To the writer:

    You are a courageous young woman, and I applaud you for having the awareness to question your childhood beliefs. It was years after undergrad that I began questioning my conservatism, and I wish I’d had that insight sooner. It’s tough being the black sheep of the family, but it really does get better. Good luck and God bless on your journey.

  • Donald Rappe

    Unfundamental theology does sound like a good idea. We unfundamentalists should always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

  • Allie

    Looking forward to it. Although the title makes me think of “Glee.”

  • Will you be rough-drafting here? Not rough-rough drafting, but, I mean, “Write a chapter, edit, ponder it, have the Missus scrutnize it on the wild guess I have that she’s a damn good editor,” THEN post it here for us to take our Internet red pens to, mwahahahaa? Or will it be more like “Here’s a chapter, you lucky folks get a preview?”

    If you want a way to organize it, you can just go with tags, I guess. I mean, on my blog, if you want to read “that rough-draft of a story series about deer-people, zombies, a materialistic religion, vulture-people and weird animals appearing to the dead” you can search “Static-Lands Saga” because I use tagging.

  • *Grin*

  • I don’t think I mentioned a title. I mean, I didn’t.

  • No, I’ll pretty much just be writing it straight-through, on the blog, in the mornings, same as I usually do my usual posts.

  • Faith

    I have been thinking along these lines myself but I will be happy to let you do the work for me John! I came from a similar background that this letter writer did and got so I didn’t even LIKE Jesus – I had to get to know Jesus in a whole new way and now I love him again. Religion has put a lot of garbage into Christianity and God-ness. I’m all for taking that garbage right back out and getting back to what Jesus really said and did. I just wish you had already written this book since I have to do a paper for school on this very subject 🙂 Can you write it quickly? Looking forward to it …

  • Allie

    Oh – I thought “New Directions” was the title!

  • As one who’s faith has undergone a series of paradigm shifts, I look forward to seeing what unfolds. I too grew up with questions I didn’t dare ask, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that they needed to be.

  • Oh, yeah, it DOES read like that, doesn’t it? Yikes. Hmmm… but I don’t want to say the post is ONLY about the book, cuz it’s sooo not, what with that letter and all. Hmm. Gosh. I DO need to change that post title, though…. thanks for alert!

  • Yeah, I thought so, too. I was going to warn you about the title because, in Canada, New Directions is an ex-gay ministry.

  • vj

    John, this is SO exciting! Some of my most favorite posts have been the ones you have written about Jesus and His life, death and resurrection,and what they mean. More, please!

  • charles m

    with all respect to Donald, I have to say I rather dislike the notion of us being “unfundamentalist” I think we need to make a strong effort to reclaim “fundalmentalism” back from the jackals who brought us “the prosperity doctrine” and every other assault on the ideals of Jesus teaching love above all other things. We need a good appreciation of Jesus flaying the money changers in the temple.

    John, go kick f#$king ass with your book. We are there with you in whatever way you might need us.

  • Connie

    “Maybe love really could be enough.”

    That brought me to tears. I talk about you all the time, John, bc your words always touch me. I am no longer Christian, but my faith is strong. And the rift between me and organized Christianity heals a little bit more every day bc of wonderful people like you. 🙂

    Thank you, and I look forward to your book.

  • *à la moi…but it might be *de moi. French grammar FTW! Lol

  • charles m

    this might be a really lovely theme song for the work-


  • I was joking; the only French I know is “Jacques Cousteau.” And even that I can barely say without practically spraining a lip.

  • Yeah, that was the killer moment in this very touching letter. Thanks for all you’ve said here, Connie.

  • You know, I almost called “Unfundamentalist Christians” “The New Fundamentalists.” But there’s just too much visceral negativity attached to that word. I still like that title/name, though. Thank you, Charles, again, for your very kind and encouraging words.

  • charles m

    I hear you John- you can call it Code Pink Christians if you like, and I will be there with it….. thanks- and Godspeed on the endeavor!

  • charles m

    I should have added -back when Jesus was walking in the flesh, He and His disciples werent exactly the most popular kids on the block- I think most Americans have a really weird view of how radical Christianity is, and how it speaks against many of the cultural values we have seen become the fabric of the country, and “The Christian Church”……

  • Anne

    I’m quite jazzed about it. My Pastor is a big fan of Anne LaMott and quotes her frequently. I’m looking forward to the day when he quotes you, too.

  • Mary

    @Melody – The one who questions is always viewed as the “black sheep” of the family. ( in Fundamentalist families, that is) They just don’t seem to “fit in”. They are usually treated as a pain-in-the-ass. I know this because I was one…. probably still am. I don’t know why, but a very young age (like 5-6 years) I began to question my Fundamentalist parents “rules”. Just to question elicited dismay from them…. never mind the answer. Most of the questions they couldn’t answer satisfactorily; their standard answer was “because Christians don’t do ______”. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough for me. So at age 5-6 years I pretty much did what I wanted. I was forbidden to play with the large family down the street because THEY WERE CATHOLIC!! I played there anyways. I was forbidden to go to movies… I went anyway. I’ll NEVER forget the first movie I ever saw in a theater…. it was “Summer Magic”, a Disney film with Haley Mills. I really thought all kinds of awful things were going to happen in that theater, because of what I’d been told by my parents. Anyway, I didn’t mean to go on & on, but just wanted you to know that I identify with what you said in your response . It does get better…… until finally you are so secure in your own beliefs that you just don’t care what anyone else thinks!

  • Can I be your epistemological gadfly on this project? 🙂 Lots-o-luv!

  • I will be looking forward to reading your work John.