A Misfit Review

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I have been listening to the Drunk Ex-Pastors Podcast since episode #70 after Jay Bakker posted on his Facebook page he would be a guest on their show. I enjoyed the episode, I enjoyed listening to Christian Kingery and Jason Stellman talk, and, after listening to all their podcasts from episodes 1-69 to the current (at the time of this writing) #141, I enjoyed their friendship. The conversation style of the podcast is the same style Jason Stellman brings to his new book, Misfit Faith: Confessions of a Drunk Ex-Pastor. The book is religious, but is not written for religious people exclusively; in fact, the only religious aspect of this book is the author’s own spiritual journey from Evangelical Christian to Calvinism to a Presbyterian minister to a Catholic with a healthy dose of Agnosticism and demonized by some of his Protestant friends. Stellman’s book is for the people who believe, but have doubts and continue to falter in their spiritual practice; and the book is also for Agnostics and Atheists who have left behind the figure of the Judeo-Christian God to seek out what it means to be a decent human being. The book is not either/or, but both/and, and when people are honest about where they are, regardless of their religious or philosophical leanings, a both/and approach is a mature outlook allowing for the wiggle room to continue growing. Misfit Faith: Confessions of a Drunk Ex-Pastor is a both/and book with Jason Stellman as both Catholic and Agnostic, and makes room for the wayward Christian, the Agnostic, and the Atheist to join him in the conversation while enjoying a few drinks.

 

“As long as we understand our relationship with God in terms of lists and do’s and don’ts, we will be stuck in a place of childish suspended animation, frozen in prepubescence, when God wants us free from such shackles and impediments to mature to full-grown spirituality (90).”

 

Good and bad, black and white, right and wrong appear to be grounded in absolute truth, but they are vague titles that are as arbitrary as those who use them and presume a common standard that does not exist. Stellman illustrates how God relates to human beings and how human beings relate to God in his relationship with his kids, unpacking Star Wars. “Is Darth Vader a bad guy? Is Jabba the Hutt a bad guy?” In a child’s mind, these characters are bad because they do bad things and look terrifying, but fictional characters, as with people, are more complicated with varying nuances. Darth Vader was not completely evil. There was always good in his character, but that goodness was distorted by loss, grief, and self-preservation—Darth Vader did evil things, but was not evil. Children put everything in black and white boxes as well as grown-ups, because the world is filled with uncertainty, and stability—even an illusion of stability is preferable to feeling lost and alone. God is not so easily confined to concepts, but it is people who believe—or don’t believe—in God who are like that. If others do not conform to the image of doctrine, then the illusion is questioned and rendered irrelevant. Religion, in a sense, is immaterial for a mature mind, or, for instance, a mind that as grown to the point the inseam is too short. Stellman makes the case for a God who does not operate in such narrow definitions when he cites Colossians 2:16-17. The author of Colossians writes against man-made religion formed by people creating a check list to appease a God who cares more about people treating each other with kindness instead of keeping track of how many apples they’ve polished. Meeting the demands of insecure people pales in comparison to how we treat each other; and people do not need a religion “to do justice, and love mercy.” (Micah 6:8)

 

“Think about it. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Oh man, that Jesus! With the whole ‘love your neighbor,’ ‘feed the poor,’ turn the other cheek’ nonsense? I hate that guy!” No, no one hates that Jesus. If they hate anyone, it’s the fictional, flag-waving Jesus who bequeathed the Constitution to our Founding Fathers on tablets of stone from Mount Rushmore and then left to torture scientists, blow up abortion clinics, and found the NRA. That’s the Jesus they hate. And you know what? I hate him too, and the sooner my hostile classmate knows that, the better. After all, it’s often idols that create atheists (106).”

 

The simple categorizations created by a fundamentalist religion have constructed a thick wall dividing the anger and hatred to both sides equally. It’s easy to point at the fundamentalists, and say they are terrible for society. Their words, behavior, and legislation are soaked with the blood of those whom they oppress. Their sins are comparable to the elitism expressed by a progressive side who labels the fundamentalists as deplorable and refuses to see what motivates people to turn to a political candidate or a religious leader as a scared child turns to a blankey; likewise, the fundamentalist side refuses to listen to anyone who questions their worldview, dismissing well-earned critiques with ad hominem attacks and a refusal to critically think about their position. There are people from both camps, who do seek reconciliation and commonality by looking for things they have in common, but that is absurd due to the values on both sides; however, Stellman takes a different approach. Instead of looking for something in common with the other, he states, “I am something in common with everyone.” What he means is the common human experience we all have. God or no God, if people on the right cry out they are ignored, that should raise concern on the left. Likewise, when religious leaders and conservatives are mocked by the people they exclude, it is the religious leaders and conservatives who need to listen—privilege is no excuse to look the other way. People ignored are people marginalized, and where marginalized people exist so does injustice regardless of skin color, beliefs, or orientation.

 

“Rather than getting all butthurt and defensive whenever some imaginary Jesus gets mocked in the culture or the classroom, we would do better to relax, unclench, and join in the laughter (107).”

 

The division Stellman points out is perpetuated by a certain idea or image of Jesus—instead of the historical Jesus, or the Jesus of the Bible, there is the meat eating, environment destroying, misogynistic, racist, white American Jesus. That’s the Jesus people either reject or accept. People are too wounded to look beyond to the unknown Jesus—the God having a human experience. The Jesus who looked kindly upon society’s outcasts, but made time for the religious leaders like Nicodemus who sought him out with their questions is the Jesus most often ignored. The American Jesus is authoritarian, abusive, and, ironically, loathes anything worldly—he is the God who is weakened by questions from those whose faith sways with doubt, those who are unsure, and those who reject him outright. The God displayed by the Christ of faith is the God who has room for any questions and criticisms—unoffended by both. This God is wrapped in a static mystery and definition is impossible to the point that God can only be assumed, but never known. Atheism and theism have the potential to be two extremes of a fear based certainty while agnosticism is intellectual honesty; and I would go so far as to submit agnosticism is spiritual honesty. This is the strength of Stellman’s book: Atheism or theism, faith or doubt, belief or unbelief is rooted in an adolescent paradigm. In the Drunk Ex-Pastors, as well as this book, he says he is both Catholic and agnostic instead of taking a particular side.  This both/and argument is not an act of intellectual cowardice, but an authentic expression of where the author is in regards to his faith. Being a misfit is admitting you don’t know everything, and are ok with not knowing, ok with having a heart open to the mysteries of existence. This authenticity makes room at the table for anyone to sit down and have an honest conversation about religion, culture, and Bieber. Not a one of us has it all figured out, but our interactions with different perspectives can give us the necessary insight about who we are and where we are going. Misfit Faith is an invitation to take part in the same dialogue that Christian and Jason have every week on their podcast, and a reminder that we are not alone in our search for truth—whatever that may be.

Be sure to check out the Podcast at www.drunkexpastors.com/

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