Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Simply Christian

by N.T. Wright

I'm reading it.

I admit to skepticism right out of the gates. So many of my friends who were struggling with some of the stuff I've read, suddenly felt relieved, vindicated, able to return to old beliefs after reading Wright. Why that bugs me, I'm still sorting out. I think it's that I feel shushed or swept back to the fold with their ringing endorsements and confidently nodding heads. Sometimes their very vocal repudiations of the books/works that have been meaningful to me make me want to put hands on my hips and stick out my tongue, oh so maturely.

My little bruised ego.

Back when I was struggling hard with what seemed illogical to me in Christianity, there were plenty of people who took offense at my questions (especially my formulation of those questions) and felt that their cherished beliefs were being trampled under my high heeled feet. I admit that I was not always aware that I was being so direct and had to learn how to ask my questions without being incredulous of others.

But it's been years since I felt I could express what I really think, fully. In fact, truth be known, most of the people in my life have a misimpression of what I actually believe because they think they already know.

I try to express my truth here on this blog and in my column, but even then, I tread pretty lightly. I don't think I feel the same freedom to effuse about my journey that I did once. I'm tired of being misunderstood or judged or pitied.

What would I really like? I want my friends to think I'm sane, not that I've somehow become a "deceived one," or that I'm on that slippery slope to debauchery or flabby thinking (a much greater sin than your average alcoholism or crack addiction). I want them to think that my journey is not one they have to validate or criticize. I simply want to be known.

So when I think of Simply Christian, I have to fight a tendency in myself to find fault with Tom Wright's arguments, because my inner blackbelt wants to stand up for me in the face of those who'd haul me back to where I cannot go.

My goal is to read this book, to experience it, to let Wright speak to me (without me shouting him down).

I'm slowly crafting (in my head) an explanation for how my way of deconstructing makes sense to me. I need to do this because I get seriously annoyed (like the feeling I get when someone keeps bumping the table while I'm typing on the laptop... STOP IT!) when people feel they can save me with this one better way of reading X. Spare me. Know me.

All that said, I know experience, personal reasoning and limited access to great thinking can all make me stupid and so I'm willing to rethink... continually... much to the detriment of my sex life, I assure you.

So for now, I will read this book and stay quiet about it...

And thanks to one friend whose refreshing lack of agenda gives me someone off of whom I can bounce Wright's ideas without being misunderstood or shuttled back to orthodoxy like a good girl.


Bilbo said...

Hi Julie,

Just wanted to let you know that I think you are not only sane but I admire your brutal honesty and transperancy regarding your life, beliefs, hopes, dreams, and what makes you tick....and....if you are in fact on some kind of slippery slope I'll be waiting at the bottom to greet you....

julieunplugged said...

Thanks Bill. I'll be glad to see you down there.

I reread this post and it nears what I call my "whiny voice." Sometimes, though, a good whine is what I need to wake up and remember that I don't have to have approval to move forward.


Dave said...

I'm having a reading experience that is just a bit similar to your reading of Wright as I continue working through Shane Claiborne's "Irresistable Revolution." I will blog about it eventually. Claiborne is a street activist type, lives in a Christian commune called the Simple Way in inner-city Philadelphia, worked with Mother Teresa over in Calcutta and has a lot to say about how far off track conventional Christianity has gotten in its willingness to embrace consumerism, corporate and military power and self-centered individualism (which I have to plead guilty to that last one, just to be clear here.)

So while I dig his activist message and his willingness to back up issues and causes that I agree with (e.g. he opposed the Iraq war from the git-go) I'm also put off a bit by his naive literalism when it comes to Bible interpretation and application. I'm not able to tell if this is what he really thinks and believes, or if it's his rhetorical strategy to speak in absolutes, without much nuance, when it comes to anything touching on standardized Christian doctrine. I know he wants to appeal to a broad Christian audience that reads the Bible with that same surface literalism and doesn't want to be marginalized into "crazy leftist" or "cult" status.

Anyway, I get what you're saying about reading Wright. He has that snappy, tidy little British way of making his point that is thrilling when you agree with the underlying premises but smug and eyeroll-inducing when you don't.

My friend Mark is a big fan of his but Mark is also a great "non-proselytizer" who doesn't see the need to tsk tsk me along theological lines the way some of your acquaintances have.

I admire your candor here but also relate to the continual self-checking that we go through in blogging where we have to hold back or carefully choose our words because we don't know who will read this, what their reaction may be or how much hassle might get stirred up.

All in all, this is a post that I can deeply identify with! I've already written enough, I'll leave it here for now.

julieunplugged said...

Thanks Dave. I appreciate your ability to relate.

Most of my girlfriends that I've known for the past seven or so years are like your friend Mark. They are kind to me and we have reached a kind of copascetic relating that doesn't make me feel prosyletized. But I do have a few others that sort of get under my skin at times. I think I probably need to make better choices in how much I share and where I communicate. :)


Matt said...

Hey there, Julie. I hope you'll be willing to share your impressions of the book when you've finished reading it. I purchased a copy when Tom Wright was here lecturing at the National Cathedral earlier this year (you can actually go to the cathedral website and watch a recording of his lecture). I was glad to be there, but his lecturing style is much more academic and challenging to understand than the writing he displays in his newest book.

As someone who is also in the middle of a discernment to figure out where I'm going to be in one, two, or three (or however long it takes) years, I -- like Bilbo and Dave -- also appreciate your candor and honesty about what you choose to share about your faith journey. This road is always a difficult one, but the journey is more bearable, more educational, and more enjoyable when you're taking it with other pilgrims.

Feel free to bounce your ideas off me any time.....

OldMom said...

Ya' know, that kind of thinking ('What's the matter with you? What went wrong with your thinking?')just happens. . .everywhere. I recently resigned from a UU church to explore other options. My kids (and parents and sister and bil and etc. etc. . .) still belong. My dd is rigid with indignation about some of the comments she has overhead or had said to her face!
Luckily, she is a socially mature 16yo who is handling it well and the rest of my family is very supportive of me and my kids. But my kids have definately expressed an awareness that even those most openly committed to diversity and say,'go where your journey takes you. . .' are liable to finish that sentence with 'as long as the journey brings you to where *I* am."
OTOH, it *is* easier to shame a liberal about it ;-)


jim said...

Hi Julie,

I hope you will be willing to risk blogging about your experience and perhaps desconstruction of Wright's book.

It would be good to hear a view of it from outside the confines of orthodoxy.

Peace to you.

Anonymous said...


As one of your friends who try to squeeze you back into the mold on occasion, I want to make one "self-defense" comment. ;-)

Part of "arguing" you back into the "fold" is that it is a way for me to interact with my own thoughts. Selfish, I realize, but more effective than you might think. You know how much my views have shifted over the past 6 years, and dialog with you and others has had a huge impact on that.

I apologize if my wrestling with you has been painful. I think these days we do a fairly good job of dialoging and agreeing to disagree, but I hope I can continue to wrestle you--I learn so much. :-)

Love you,

Kansas Bob said...

How weird that the word 'Christian' is the new alias for narrowminded ... guess we have been fighting that one since Galileo. It is very difficult to discuss new ideas with Christians because many of them are so insecure - they may know what they believe but so often do not know why they believe.

Julie, I find your writing to be both challenging and inspirational. Your musings have been formulated in the furnace of heartfelt devotion to the Lord, failed ideologies, rethinkings of broken dogmas and a perseverant heart. One would have to be a fool not to listen to what you share with us here and in your column.

I am interested in your thoughts on the Wright book and look forward to your critique of it.

Blessings, Bob

julieunplugged said...

Hi you all.

Carrie, I hope you saw where I said that many of my longterm online friends have navigated these waters with me pretty well of late. :)

Bob, I like what you said. In fact, your comment prompted some of my response in today's UPI column (which will be posted later).

In reading Simply Christian, I realized a few things about myself.