Wrestling With the Bible: Belief Is Seriously Overrated

Pentwater, Michigan. Photo 2007 Barbara Falconer Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

As I made plans for my mother’s memorial mass at the tiny St. Vincent Catholic Churchin Pentwater, Michigan, last summer, I asked my brothers and my mother’s grandchildren if they’d like to participate in the service.

There were the Prayers of the Faithful to be read, as well as two passages from scripture, and the bread and the wine to be carried to the altar.

My nephew, an evangelical, jumped at the chance to read from Romans. My son and daughter, who grew up in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Oakland and are now an agnostic (an apatheist to be more precise) and a beginner Buddhist respectively, agreed to take on Isaiah and the Prayers of the Faithful. Read More »

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GodsBigBlog: What Is It?

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

A reader asks, “What is GodsBigBlog?”

Good question.

GodsBigBlog is — the God Is Big Blog.

I’m a religion writer in the tradition of Huston Smith and the universalists. I’ve interviewed and observed hundreds of people with dozens of different, often conflicting, ideas, spiritual paths and experiences of Holy, and I have come to the conclusion that the Sacred, whatever It is, must be very large. If God is to encompass all those earnest people and all their – to me convincing – experiences of Holy, God must be very big, indeed.

Also, it seems to me that Whatever Is Going On Out/In Here is way beyond human understanding, which takes me back to — God Is Big.

When I launched my blog, someone else was using the URL God Is Big, so I had to come up with an alternative. I named this blog GodsBigBlog, which is URL-speak for God Is Big – or God’s Big.

There’s a pun there, and I like it. God’s Big Blog can also mean this is God’s Big Blog.

God’s blog, not mine. I just live here and go where it takes me.

So there you have it.


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Finding Holy: Why Meditate — When I Could Be Sweeping the Garage?

spent rhododendron blossoms turning brown. Photo by BF Newhall

Rhododendron blossom, almost ready for deadheading. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I’ve tried meditating only a few times – a very few times. I’m well read on the subject, however. Indeed, I’ve spent way more time reading about meditation than I’ve spent doing it.
Why would I want to just sit there observing my mind, I reason, when I could be outdoors pulling dead blossoms off the shamelessly prolific rhododendron in our front yard? Those blossoms snap off their stems with such a satisfying pop.

(I do nothing to make that plant bloom. Yet year after year it sucks up dirt and rainwater and blasts dozens of grandiose purple-blue blossoms into our tiny  front yard. Hardly anybody notices this plant or its outrageous flowers. It produces them anyway.)

So – why would I want to just sit there, meditating? Read More »

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God — Too Darned Good to Be True?

rock at joshua tree national monument. Photo by BF Newhall

Joshua Tree National Monument

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

For most of my adult life I wasn’t so sure about God. That such a thing could exist seemed far-fetched, too good to be true.

But now that I’m firmly located in the second half of my life – okay, okay, the third third
of my life (And no, I’m not calling it the last third of my life – I’m not ready to go there – yet) . . . now that I’ve moved along in my life, past the time when I have to make my mark on the world, produce those babies, get them raised to adulthood, achieve some success and glory as a writer, stash away some money for retirement . . . now that the gotta-do part of my life is behind me – I find that God’s existence is right there for all to see.

You can’t miss it. Read More »

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Wrestling with the Bible: A Leper I Admire

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Accepting a gift isn’t easy for me, whether the gift be one of love, friendship or healing. For me, pride gets in the way.

Like the King of Israel and the mighty warrior Naaman, I often find myself keeping friends, spouses, children, admirers (and God?) at arm’s length lest –

Lest what?

Lest the gift be too good to be true – as the king of Israel suspects when he is presented with ten talents of silver, six thousand sheckels of gold, and ten sets of garments.

What a treasure! But the king cannot trust this generous overture of friendship from the faraway king of Aram. He assumes the worst, that “he’s trying to pick a quarrel with me.” Read More »

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Wrestling With the Bible: God Is Not Nice

the helix nebula photo from NASA

The Helix Nebula, NASA photo

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I like to think of God as nice.

Nice as in helping out with some extra wine at a wedding when the host’s supply runs out. Nice as in “Suffer little children . . . to come unto me.” Nice as in forgiving everybody’s sins, Jacob’s, David’s, an adulteress’s, mine.

In the 2 Kings passage, a chariot and horses of fire descend to the earth as the prophet Elijah is taken up to heaven in a powerful whirlwind. It’s all the loyal Elisha, standing by his mentor till the end, can do to hold his ground and keep his eyes on the disappearing Elijah. Read More »

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Wrestling With the Bible: Is God Just Trying to Keep Us in the Game?

Peter at 6. Photo 1987 Barbara Falconer Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

God is a lot like my son Peter.

When Peter was four or five years old, he spent an afternoon with a little friend who was developmentally disabled. Peter was ready to play that afternoon. That is to say, Peter was ready to play – with somebody.

I watched my son try strategy after strategy to engage the other little boy. Patiently, he put aside one superhero figure after another, one truck, one train, one pile of blocks until at last he found something that held the other boy’s attention and allowed him to interact genuinely with Peter as his friend.

A few years later, Peter discovered Monopoly. Read More »

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Wrestling With the Bible: What’s My Cross?

Photo 2011 BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

What does it mean to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus? What does it mean to imitate Abram who said yes when God Almighty asked him to leave home and family and “walk before me, and be blameless”?

Are we supposed to quit our jobs and join the Peace Corps? Take monastic vows? Give all our money to Save the Children? Turn our guest rooms into homeless shelters?

That’s the feeling I get from Jesus’ stern words to his disciples and the crowd, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Read More »

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Wrestling With the Bible: Is God Inspecting My Thoughts?

Ferns growing wild near Lake Michigan

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

By the looks of this week’s scripture, God has high hopes and standards for the human race.

There are the Ten Commandments, of course. Our lives – spiritual and earthbound – will go a lot better if we love God heartily, banish our idols, keep the Sabbath, honor our elders, and eschew murder, theft, adultery, lies and covetous scheming. Read More »

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God Is Big: How Facebook Helped Jana Riess Grieve

A pinecone along Lake Michigan. Photo 2007 Barbara Falconer Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

A very touching story on Patheos by author Jana Riess about how Facebook helped her grieve.

Apparently, FB has a policy of shutting down a FB account if it hears that the owner has died — much to the distress of friends and family members who have grieved together on the deceased person’s FB site.

Your thoughts? Have you had this experience?


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Wanna Sing? Go to Church — or a Baseball Game

Children place flowers on a wooden cross. St. John's Episcopal Church, Oakland, CA. Photo by Barbara Falconer Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

The really nice thing about Easter is — you get to sing. Good and loud. And if you go to my church, you get to sing the Alleluia Chorus from “The Messiah,” which if you’re me, you learned as a kid in the Cecelian Choir at the First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham, Michigan.

I was a soprano then.

I think I’m tending toward alto these days, Read More »

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John Esposito on the Future of Islam

Detail of a painting by Salma Arastu, "Expansion of the Universe."
Detail of “Expansion of the Universe” by Muslim artist Salma Arastu of Berkeley, California — a contemporary interpretation of a passage from the Quran.

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

In the late 1990′s, Georgetown professor John L. Esposito was working on a book about the future of Islam. After 9/11 he put that book aside in favor of more pressing topics — “Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam” (2002) and “Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think” (2009) are just two.

Now, nearly a decade later, Esposito finally returns to his subject with the publication of “The Future of Islam”  Read More »

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A Progressive Protestant Reclaims Christianity

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I know way too many people whose impression of Christianity has been shaped either by media accounts of the (noisy) Religious Right or by books written the (equally noisy) New Atheists.

As the saying goes, where religion in America is concerned, the loudest noise is coming from the shallow end of the swimming pool.

So many of my otherwise well-informed friends seem to be  unaware of the vibrant progressive movement that is alive and well today in America’s Protestant churches.

Open James A. Forbes Jr.’s new book, Whose Gospel? for a brisk tour of the progressive Christian take on sexuality, gender, race, justice and war.

Whose Gospel? A Concise Guide to Progressive Protestantism, by James A. Forbes Jr., with a forward by Bill Moyers, The New Press, 2010, 176 pages, $23.95.

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GodsBigBlog: What’s a King?

Fall blooming chrysanthemums. PHoto by Barbara Falconer NewhallBy Barbara Falconer Newhall

That the last Sunday of the liturgical year celebrates the Feast of Christ the King tells me that, when all is said and done, we Christians believe Jesus Christ reigns over all that is.

And that would include the Jews, Muslims and Buddhists who live alongside us. What then do I say about Christ’s kingship to my non-Christian friends? That God has “put all things under his feet” — them included? (Eph 1:21,22)

Matthew limns a powerful Christ the King, who sits on a throne of glory before all the nations. But when Christ sorts the people before him it is not by nationality or religious belief, but by how they treated God’s forgotten: the hungry, the sick, the stranger, the prisoner. (Matt 25:31-46)

“Truly I tell you,” he says. “Just as you did it to one of the least of these . . . you did it to me.”

That’s a king?

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© 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 Barbara Falconer Newhall. and www.GodsBigBlog.com. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog's author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that full and clear credit is given to Barbara Falconer Newhall and www.GodBigBlog.com with appropriate and specifc direction to the original content. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA. The Psalms are from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Material originally published and copyrighted by the Oakland Tribune is posted here by permission. WordPress theme adapted from Thematic Theme Framework