The Doubting Christian’s Starter Pack

Are you drawn to the story of a God who lives and dies full of love for a rebellious creation…yet find yourself wondering how it could possibly be true?  Have you grown weary of rules that seem to cause slavery rather than freedom?  Are you skeptical about the usefulness of “good news” that doesn’t seem so good?  Do you worry that the religion you grew up with doesn’t apply to a more diverse population?

Welcome to the Doubting Christians Club!

In a desire to provide a strong foundation for its members, the Church has often promoted a rigorous belief system that seems to leave little room for doubt…which can make doubters feel like they either need to leave the Church or else hide their doubts.  I don’t believe either of these options is a good idea for the Doubting Christian – the first because you will miss out on the beauty you are drawn to, and the second because you will live a double life that will slowly isolate and destroy you.

Luckily, there are others out there just like you (myself, for instance)!  Listed below is the Doubting Christians Starter Pack that will stretch your mind, give you hope, and assure you that you are not alone.

71891781|  O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling by Jason Boyett  

This is the book that began my journey toward becoming comfortable with my doubt.    It was given to me, unasked for, by my pastor, which has earned him my undying respect.  In this book, Boyett gets honest about his doubts and comes to the conclusion that perhaps doubters are closer to God than those who never question their faith – after all, doubt is an inextricable part of a faith given to something unseen.

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“Courage, My Heart” – Almost My Tattoo

In Greek class last week, Elvira noticed my tattoo and said, “I love that line!  It’s from my favorite poem.”

“It’s actually from a children’s book.  What poem are you talking about?”

That night she sent me a link to Hermann Hesse’s Steps (originally in German).  She says it loses something in the translation, but I think this is SUCH a beautiful poem, and I’ve already practiced writing it out in cursive on multiple sheets of paper.  I love its message of hope and endurance and honesty and adventure.  Maybe I’ll put “Courage, my heart” on my other wrist.  No, I won’t, that is a TERRIBLE idea, but I definitely don’t mind if people think my tattoo is referencing this poem.

As every blossom fades
and all youth sinks into old age,
so every life’s design, each flower of wisdom,
attains its prime and cannot last forever.
The heart must submit itself courageously
to life’s call without a hint of grief,
A magic dwells in each beginning,
protecting us, telling us how to live.

High purposed we shall traverse realm on realm,
cleaving to none as to a home,
the world of spirit wishes not to fetter us
but raise us higher, step by step.
Scarce in some safe accustomed sphere of life
have we establish a house, then we grow lax;
only he who is ready to journey forth
can throw old habits off.

Maybe death’s hour too will send us out new-born
towards undreamed-lands,
maybe life’s call to us will never find an end
Courage my heart, take leave and fare thee well.

Nondum – Not Yet

In Dallas, my church’s small group spent one summer letting each member lead a discussion based upon their favorite psalm.  It was a great experience, both because I learned more about one of my favorite books in the Bible and because I learned about my fellow group members.  The psalm chosen, the way it was presented, how they taught–all helped me get to know my friends a little more.

One member of our group was a middle-aged man who chose two psalms and one poem, then had us create a triple Venn diagram to analyze their similarities and differences.  He’s a teacher.

All three were melancholy but hopeful, which is exactly my poetry aesthetic.  We talked about waiting, and being still, and how to trust God when it seems like there are no answers.  We read Psalm 130, Psalm 131, and Nondum by Gerard Hopkins.  It’s a bit lengthy, but I encourage you to read the whole thing, paying attention to the longing behind every word.

0001-5God, though to Thee our psalm we raise
No answering voice comes from the skies;
To Thee the trembling sinner prays
But no forgiving voice replies;
Our prayer seems lost in desert ways,
Our hymn in vast silence dies.

We see the glories of the earth
But not the hand that wrought them all:
Night to a myriad worlds gives birth,
Yet like a lighted empty hall
Where stands no host at door or hearth
Vacant creation’s lamps appal.

We guess; we clothe Thee, unseen King,
With attributes we deem are meet;
Each in his own imagining
Sets up a shadow in Thy seat;
Yet know not how our gifts to bring,
Where seek Thee with unsandalled feet.

And still th’unbroken silence broods
While ages and while aeons run,
As erst upon chaotic floods
The Spirit hovered ere the sun
Had called the seasons’ changeful moods
And life’s first germs from death had won.

And still th’abysses infinite
Surround the peak from which we gaze.
Deep calls to deep, and blackest night
Giddies the soul with blinding daze
That dares to cast its searching sight
On being’s dread and vacant maze.

And Thou art silent, whilst Thy world
Contends about its many creeds
And hosts confront with flags unfurled
And zeal is flushed and pity bleeds
And truth is heard, with tears impearled,
A moaning voice among the reeds.

My hand upon my lips I lay;
The breast’s desponding sob I quell;
I move along life’s tomb-decked way
And listen to the passing bell
Summoning men from speechless day
To death’s more silent, darker spell.

Oh! till Thou givest that sense beyond,
To shew Thee that Thou art, and near,
Let patience with her chastening wand
And lead me child-like by the hand
If still in darkness not in fear.

Speak! whisper to my watching heart
One word-as when a mother speaks
Soft, when she sees her infant start,
Till dimpled joy steals o’er its cheeks.
Then, to behold Thee as Thou art,
I’ll wait till morn eternal breaks.

I grew up arrogant, assuming I could know the entire truth of God.  Now that I am growing up, I find comfort in the mystery and agony, the “abysses infinite surround the peak from which [I] gaze.”  I long more and more, not for answers, but for the One who will lead me “if still in darkness not in fear.”

I’m grateful to my Dallas small group for many things, and this poem is definitely one of them.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

I used to be really into novels in verse (stories told through numerous short poems), but I haven’t read one in a while.  I’m so glad Brown Girl Dreaming reminded me of the art form.  It’s a great way to condense a long story (in this case, Woodson’s childhood) into bite-sized emotional pieces.

Woodson does a wonderful job of conveying her experiences both through the micro lens of her family as well as the macro lens of the changing racial cultures around her.  We get to see what it was like for a black girl to grow up in the North and the South during the Civil Rights generally, and we get to see her family support and tragedy specifically.

I loved this book.  Because of its format, it’s a quick read.  It’s heartwarming and heartbreaking, just like life.  Continue reading

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

My brother got me this book for Christmas with the inscription:  “For love, hearts, minds, adventure, wisdom.  Perhaps the most beautiful poems I’ve read this year, now, for you.”  How could I not get excited about it?

The poems about love, work, clothes, freedom, and death are framed by the story of a prophet offering his last words of wisdom before sailing for his homeland.  The set up feels Homeric, and the wisdom is some seriously good insight.  I was won over from the first themed poem on Love, in which he says:  Continue reading

Poisoned Apples by Christine Heppermann

Wow.  I never knew I needed a book that addressed the complexities of growing up female through the lens of poetry based on fairy tale tropes, but this book satisfied a deep part of me.  The topics are sometimes uncomfortably difficult, but then, so are stories of witches eating children.   The best way to advertise this amazing collection is to let it speak for itself–here is one of my favorite poems, “Blow Your House In.”

She used to be a house of bricks,
point guard on the JV team, walling out
defenders who could only huff and puff
and watch as the layups roll in.

She traded for a house of sticks,
kindling in Converse high-tops and a red Adidas tent.
At lunch she swirled a teeny spoon in yogurt
that never touched her lips and said
she’d decided to quit chasing a stupid ball.

Now she’s building herself out of straw
as light as the needle swimming in her bathroom scale.
The smaller the number, the closer to gold,
the tighter her face, afire with the zeal of a wolf
who has one house left to destroy.

Book Jacket poisoned-apples-cover

Once upon a time…you were a princess, or an orphan.  A wicked witch, fairy godmother, prom queen, valedictorian, team captain, Big Bad Wolf, Little Bo Peep.  But you are more than just a hero or a villain, cursed or charmed.  You are everything in between.  You are everything.

In fifty poems, Christine Heppermann places fairy tales side by side with the modern teenage girl.  Powerful and provocative, deadly funny and deadly serious, this collection is one to read, to share, to treasure, and to come back to again and again.

Release Date:  September 2014

Want another opinion?  Check out reviews by Teenreads and Elle.