Welcome to part two of my interview with “Sons and Doubters” co-hosts Aaron Hale and Luke Brawner. In part one, we talked a little bit about the podcast itself and what the duo hope to accomplish with it. But one of the great things about the podcast is listening to Aaron and Luke talk about their own struggles and questions, which season two jumps into with a little more intensity and tension. This part of the interview focuses on the way doing the podcast has changed their faith, and why this kind of discussion is necessary for Christianity and culture at large. Again, I’m extremely grateful to Aaron and Luke for taking the time to answer my questions and provide photos and images. Don’t forget, you can listen to “Sons and Doubters” at iTunes or wherever you download your podcasts.
Aaron, you started the show just coming out of a period of deconstruction, and were in a phase, as you called it, of “reconstruction”. Did doing season one influence your faith journey at all? Were you surprised with where you ended up?
AH: Man, season one came at the perfect time for me. When we recorded that first episode I was deep in the throes of my deconstruction. It was really helpful for me. I talk about this some in season two, but the road I have been on has been huge in helping me grow in my faith. I spent years avoiding so many questions and doubts. No one ever gave me the permission to go down that road. So, when I jumped into it all, there were times of deep loneliness and isolation. The conversation we are having on the show has been one that I’ve needed so much on this journey. That isolation can be debilitating. It’s so good to know you aren’t alone in it, and that there are lots of people in the same place as you. I mean, it’s the whole reason we started the show. The church isn’t, at least, known for being a place where those thoughts and discussions are safe. Where there is a lack of “going there,” we decided to be that for people who need to hear that they aren’t alone. I think when you are alone and faced with so much uncertainty, the most traveled road is that of unbelief. This show has given me the leg I needed to stand on to go deeper into the mystery and uncertainty, with a much deeper appreciation for it all. Not sure if that makes sense, but as you’ll hear more in season two, I am still in the process of figuring out how to articulate my place on that journey.
Luke, you mentioned that you work in a Reformed church. Did you ever have any episodes post where you kind of thought, “man, I hope someone at church doesn’t hear this” or were there any awkward conversations afterward?
LB: Every. Single. Episode. Thankfully I work alongside people who are mature enough to handle these types of conversations, and to listen with grace. It was especially anxiety-inducing in the beginning though, as we started the show within my first six months at the church. I had no idea how it would go over. I’ve received nothing but support though from the folks at the church who are listening. (Maybe the Church is a safer place to wrestle honestly with doubt than I’ve given her credit for…)
I feel like right now American Christianity is at a crucial point. There’s an election going on that’s causing people to ask “what does evangelical really mean,” and I think we’re seeing the results of what happens people blindly follow a political or even religious leader. Do you feel doubt and questioning have a role to play in where Christianity goes from here?
AH: I think it absolutely does. Obviously, I lean a certain way politically, but I will try and answer this question without any agenda. Ha.I think doubt can lead to a very healthy place of uncertainty. Both of those words have negative connotations, but I think uncertainty is an important place to live. Especially in fully understanding grace. I think absolute certainty leads to hardline idealism and fundamentalism. The gospel is way too big to be contained by any box we have tried to fit it in. I think seeing the polarizing candidates in this election is waking many people up to what has been the standard partisan view of Evangelicals. I believe (or at least hope) that seeing a party that Evangelicals have most widely sided with in past years embracing certain rhetoric that goes against what most would agree are the teachings of Christ will wake people up. In the past, I think people have mostly stuck with their parties in every election. This one has been very interesting to watch, as those walls are being broken down.
LB: Absolutely. Part of the problem with Western Christianity is that we tend to read Scripture (on the rare occasions that Western Christians read Scripture) through the lens of our own culture. We treat the Bible as though it were written in English, by Americans, for Americans in the 21st century. There is nothing American about the Bible. We have to learn how to think like Jews, Greeks and Romans thought 2000-6000+ years ago. We have to figure out how THEY understood Scripture. When we do that, we’ll have plenty of doubt and questions to work through, as our entire worldview will likely be flipped on it’s head. My hope is that THAT is where Christian culture is headed, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary.I have a hard time finding podcasts that offer good, honest discussion about Christianity. Many are either online sermons, “Ask Pastor So-and-So” or too snarky. But I also feel like podcasts like this are necessary, because these conversations are sadly not happening in churches. What is your hope with this podcast? What do you feel you can do through this that makes it unique?
AH: I think our hope is that people who are on the path of doubt will find a place, in our podcast, of safety and solace. So that those people will know that, not only are they not alone in this journey, but that this process is necessary for growth. It’s so important to hear stories of people who have been on this journey or are on it and are in the same place as you, to feel like you aren’t crazy. You know? This isn’t “dangerous.” You aren’t “lost.” This is an important journey to take for deepening your faith. Hopefully we can encourage people who are in the middle of it by giving them hope and a hand to hold onto while they wrestle with the mystery.
LB: I suppose my hope is that people within the proverbial walls of the Church will find both the freedom and the conviction to be more honest about where they are in their faith, and that doing so will lead them into a deeper belief in the parts of this that matter most. I hope, also, that those outside the Church will hear that we’re not all that different. We don’t actually think we have everything figured out, despite the story the Church may have been telling for a while.
Was there anything you wanted to do different in season 2? Can you tell me some of the guests/topics coming up?
AH: I think as our audience grows and we gain access to more and more perspectives, we are getting better at doing this whole podcast thing. Season two has been so much fun to do. We have some killer guests this time around, too. I don’t want to give too much away because I love being a little discreet and mysterious – I’m not very good at either of those things – but just know that we talk through a lot of different topics that I think many people will appreciate and gain perspective from over the course of the season.
LB: One thing we wanted to be different, and that I believe IS different with Season 2, is that we have a story to tell. There should be much more of a narrative through-line this season, rather than just a collection of people sharing their personal stories. Those personal stories are still there in every episode, but they aren’t the ONLY thing we have anymore.
How has doing this show changed you?
AH: Gosh, this is my favorite conversation to be a part of. The mystery is SO big and so beautiful. I just love it. This show has given me an excuse to go even deeper into it and to hear stories and perspectives from people I may have never heard from otherwise. It’s such an amazing thing to get to be a part of.
LB: I’ve had to learn to be a bit more intentional and articulate in discussing my beliefs. Discussing your personal faith in a public forum opens the door for LOTS of miscommunication, misinterpretation, etc. The words we say are all people can hear. They can’t hear the intentions behind those words or the context that inspired them. So they naturally apply their own context to the words they hear, which inevitably leads to miscommunication and confusion
Do you have a “dream guest” you’d like to have on?
AH: Rob Bell, for sure. And we got him! He will be on this season. I really can’t wait! He has been a hero of mine for so many years. Also, Richard Rohr would be a dream.
LB: I don’t know that I really have any dream guests. The Biebs maybe?
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