Faith Deconstructed

The Faith Deconstructed category offers a occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Becoming a Random Handyman: A Testimonial

As a kid, I thought Jesus had abandoned me. Left me to my poverty and to my insecurities and to my unrequited desires.

We were less than “Christmas-Easter” Christians; the faith of my elders — in our home — was more of the “Shut up while your Grandpa says Grace!” type.

Because we’d never really been introduced, we were strangers, Jesus and I. But I had an innate yearning to find Him and know Him.

I was on my paper route under overcast skies one day; I might have been 10. I stopped dragging my paper-laden wagon and looked to Heaven.

“God, if you’re real, send down a bolt of lightning over there!” I directed. I waited. Of course I waited. I’m not the boss of God, and as much as I believe that He, too, wanted to know me, it would never be on my terms like that.

Being a good person, I decided to give Him another chance. I wrote Him a letter. I took it to the backyard and buried it. I waited. Nothing happened. Again.

Of course nothing happened. I can’t remember what I wrote or what was supposed to happen. I don’t know why I thought that the wretched dirt of our urban garden was a supernatural post office (we didn’t know about owls back then). Kids have funny ideas anyway, but I had no basis of faith to compare my ideas to.

Fast forward a few years — to high school — to find a kid who was too open-minded for God, too good for God, too rotten for God and too smart for God. I did what, to a 16-year-old, felt like an “in-depth and thorough critical inquiry,” into the faith of my nation. But really, it was just superficial rock throwing at the edifice of Christianity:

“How can god be if he’d let the world be so rotten? Why do god’s people rape and pillage and kill in his name? And why is the bible any more legit than any other religious or scientific answer to who and what and why?” I supplied the questions, with a cynical sneer, and then I applied a 16-year-old’s answers. With the process done to my own satisfaction, I made up my mind: there would be no more proof tests, no more letters, no more questioning. I decided, and I got on with living.

Sometimes, meeting Jesus for the first time takes on the feel of a multilevel marketing pitch.

Though I gave up on Him, Jesus never gave up on me. Eventually, I got another chance to meet Him. Sometimes, meeting Jesus for the first time takes on the feel of a multilevel marketing pitch. A friend or acquaintance gets sucked in and gets excited, and she wants to build her network — at your expense. That’s kinda how it was with Tina, my college girlfriend, and I:

“Hey Jeff, get over here!” I want you to meet a great guy. His name’s Jesus! I’m in this great program with Him, and He wants you to get in on it, too!” You approach warily, afraid that by the end of the evening, you’ll have a new water softener, $1,500 less in your account, and a commitment to sell additional units to at least five other suckers in your circle of friends and family.

I remained skeptical, even after she introduced us. But I was into her, so I asked her questions. We went to movies and dinners, and I went with her to church. We debated our different takes on ancient history and interpretations of her faith experiences. But the more time that we spent time together — the three of us — the more I kinda liked having The Guy around.

As things between us — the two of us now — got more serious, they got a little eerie, too. In a good way, of course. As we got to know one another better, we discovered odd coincidences. Or signs. You decide:

– We each came from large families of similar make-up. She has four sisters and two brothers. I have four brothers and a sister

– My siblings and I have identical initials: JMB. Same with (Chris)Tina and her sisters: CLS

– Both our fathers were in the Korean War. And had no other service

There were other eerie commonalities not worth sharing, but beyond a dozen or so supernatural coinkydinks, there was plenty more to our deepening relationship to convince me that Tina and I were meant to be together. They didn’t convince me about Him, though. Not then, anyway.

In respect to the spark that started this fire, I never had that flash-bang-bolt-of-lightning, blinding-flash-of-the-obvious conversion. That Damascus Road experience. That 180-degree U-turn in life. That Holy Spirit fire.

Nope. I simply just found myself more open to faith and truth and history and reality every day. So unlike other testifying Christians, I don’t really know at what point I “became” a Christian; I have no birth certificate for the specific day that I was born again. All that I know is that when I dropped out of college early to head off to Air Force Basic Training, the new dog tags dangling around my neck were stamped:

Jeffrey M. Bishop
O Neg

In turn and in time, Tina and I were married, and we’ve grown our family, our love, and our relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ every day since.

Today, I’m proud to witness as a fearfully and wonderfully made Random Handyman, simply striving to follow after the Master Carpenter and to build well in His name with the tools and time that I’ve been given.

Copyright 2014


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

These Kinds of People Attend Church


Categorically, you’ll often find that it’s these kinds of people that attend church with you:

1) Atheists. Atheists usually attend church to make a mockery of it. If this is you, and if you manage to slip out before the offering is taken, then this might be the cheapest form of good entertainment available to you. At best to your purposes, you can find a poor excuse of a church that will confirm all of your biases and notions about Christianity and about Christians. At worst to your aims, you’ll learn something that will rock your worldview anew. You’ve been warned.

2) Seekers. This word describes people who have niggling doubts about their atheism/agnosticism, and who have started the formal process of clearing things up once and for all. Given that this process is usually prompted by the Holy Spirit, the conclusion is forgone. For you, dear soul, resistance is futile — at this point, whether you know it or not, you’re actually church shopping.

3) The Unchurched. This class of attendees can also be described as “Christmas-Easter” Christians. They believe, but they are habitually out of the habit of attending church. You’ll recognize them because even though they move furtively in and out of the building, dodging eyes and trying to pass through unnoticed, they nonetheless know almost everyone, and almost everyone knows them from their years of intermittent attendance. Accordingly, they must suffer exactly what they are trying to avoid: well-intentioned greetings and appeals that they attend more often and return next week.

4) (Just) Born Again. These are brand-new Christians, and they are on fire! There aren’t enough services in the week for these folks, who are looking to learn, serve and steep themselves in all things Jesus.

This is somewhat ironic, because contrary to popular wisdom, precious few souls are actually saved within the walls of a church. That work usually happens, with great mystery, elsewhere – in “the mission field;” by parachurch organizations; and in relationships at work, in social clubs and within families. Of course the people doing the saving outside of church are church people, but that’s not the point.

Once saved, the Holy Spirit stimulates a hunger in a soul: to learn, to worship, to fellowship and to serve – these are the things that the church is really good for; not saving people.

5) Backsliders. This Christianese lingo is an oldie but a goodie. Backsliders are the faithful who have sinned egregiously. They usually stay away from church while stained with the consequences of their sins, so they are often also a part of the Unchurched cohort. Like prodigal sons, they return when they are ready to repent, and usually take on a renewed rigor that makes them behave like Born Agains, again.

6) Seasoned Churchgoers. The “seeker-sensitive” church operates at a Christianity 101 level. Nonetheless, it somehow remains well-stocked with elder statesmen who manage to eke out some new wisdom from the 47th telling of the Jonah story or the 6th Head Pastor to unpack the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s certain that they receive spiritual sustenance elsewhere — probably metaphysically, as they’ve read through the Bible multiple times; have memorized enough verses to give blind Eli a run for his money; they know all the hymns by heart; and have served on every committee in the church (and have both started and shut down a couple-few as well). Nonetheless, for these, the church continues to hold great appeal: it is the entirety of one’s social circle for these “parishioners emeritus.” In the sunset of their lives, it is their time to serve; to give back; to invest in future generations of church members who will follow in their footsteps.

7) The Dead. Final stop between here and eternity. The faithful are ushered out the door by their spiritual leaders, surrounded by loved ones, along with the necro-curious — people mystified or enamored by death and its rituals — and frankly, also the theo-curious: people compelled by the proximity of death to them that they seek to better understand life — and options for eternal life — through church funeral services. Many a conversion has taken place amidst black crepe and sobs of loneliness and despair.

Copyright 2014


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

(We Are) The Body of Christ

Jesus opens robe to show the Body of Christ wear his torso would be

“I work out!”

Define the following Christianese term:

(The) Body (baw – dee):

a. Sadly, what was found in the woods to end the missing person search
b. What wasn’t found in Jesus’ tomb on the first Easter
c. What milk does good
d. Fellowship of Christians who comprise The Church
e.  A dish served at The Last Supper

Correct answers: d and e.

Correct answer: d. The term “the body” has a similar Christianese meaning as the secular term, which describes a group of members, e.g., “The entire school body will be released early Tuesday for a teacher in-service.” Indeed, it might be that The Body as originally used in the Bible is the etymological root of the commonplace term we use today. The Body is a metaphor used in the Bible to describe how the many people of The Church comprise the Body of Christ (with Christ as the Head). The metaphor is particularly useful in that, as Paul unpacks it in 1 Corinthians 12:15-27, he illustrates how each member of the body has specific roles based on how they’ve been endowed by the Creator; that each gift is necessary and valued; and that no gift — and thus no part of the body — is more valued more highly than any other.

Example in use:

“The body should be united in prayer for our nation and her leaders.”

Correct answer: e.  There is a second Christianese definition for “The Body” which for some in The Church is more literal than metaphorical; it refers to the bread that Jesus broke at the Last Supper, which, in Luke 22:19,  he ascribed, saying, “This is my Body given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me,” (New International Version).  There are many in The Church who understand that the Bread that they consume during Eucharist (Holy Communion) sacrament services is the literal Body of Christ.

Example in use:

“Strangely, my gluten intolerance didn’t affect me when I consumed the Body of Christ at Communion this morning!”

Copyright 2014


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.


Do Church People Baptize Their Dogs?

Dog splashing around in a swimming pool


Well, not really. But that IS a funny idea!

Our “infant” Sadie, a 5-month-old Brittany, took to the water with grace and good cheer, which is normally not the case when a human infant is dropped in the church dunk tank (or sprinkled) in front of a few hundred strangers!

Brittany dog in life vest on deck

Being her first time in the pool, it was a baptism, if in the secular, not spiritual sense.  Beyond a mere style statement, the life jacket is to preserve her mortal being, not her immortal soul.

Maybe if we’d blessed the water first?

Copyright 2014


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.


Rocks Alive!

Imagining God literally stopping a boulder from smashing a church

In the news recently is the story of a church that was almost bowled over by a large rock that was blasted loose and rolled down a hill toward the building.  Apparently, construction workers on an adjacent site sent the rock tumbling straight toward the church. Incredibly, the 20-ton rock stopped a mere foot away from the wall of the church, preventing certain destruction of the building.

The minister of the church, of course, credits God with saving his building – and with it, the church’s mission as a food pantry for hundreds in the local Saugus, Massachusetts, community. Reading the comments added to the article online, the trolls would have us believe that it was mere physics that stopped the rock. Which one is it?

Nevermind the attestations of faith from those on the video (“Holy sh!t” and “Oh my Lord!”), the theological answer puts the debate to rest immediately. Whether from the hand of God or not, He is always in control.  Our God is sovereign, He made the universe and everything in it. He also dictated the rules by which the universe operates, including gravity, momentum and conservation of energy. He is omniscient, which means he’s all-knowing, all the time. He’s omnipotent, which means he’s all powerful – to cause things, or in this case, to prevent things, according to His will.

Is ours a capricious god who deals with our fate and fortunes in a haphazard, willy-nilly fashion?  Does He prey upon people and cause them injury according to his whims, as the skeptics would suggest?  Not at all!  Rather, in the beginning God created a perfect, peaceful world, free of sin but with the potential for it because of the free will He endowed each of us with.  We all know how Adam regarded that gift (and lest any of us feign self-righteousness, not one among us would have acted differently!).  Fast forward a few millenia, and in today’s chaos-choked, fallen world, bad things happen too often, and often to the most innocent among us.

God didn’t make sin nor it’s consequences — his culpability stops at creating the conditions that allowed us to first choose to bring sin into His creation (the same conditions necessary to allow us to freely choose to worship Him as our Lord and Savior, as opposed to being helplessly compelled to do so).

“Sometimes rocks befall churches; sometimes they don’t.”

Nonetheless, we understand that God can derive the benefit of all things that happen, both good and bad, for his purposes, and can use them to bring Him glory. There was a larger rock slide in Oso, Washington, that swallowed up dozens of homes and buried an unknown large number of people in its muddy, mucky mess.  God didn’t cause this, but in His omnipotence, He let it happen.  Any of us with mortal consciousness will struggle to understand why, beyond simple physics of the situation: a cause (fallen world) and its effect (pain, suffering and strife).  Sometimes God intercedes, and sometimes he doesn’t.

On this side of eternity, we will rarely understand why sometimes bad befalls the good and why sometimes good befalls the bad. Sometimes rocks befall churches; sometimes they don’t.  In all things, God is sovereign and God is good!

“He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” — Matthew 5:45, New International Version

Copyright 2014


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

The Big C and the Little C Church

Graphic comparing "church" to "The Church" As a junior newspaper editor in the mid-1990s, I remember editing articles about war crimes trials taking place in Europe. I noticed that I was always having to edit out the word “The” from “The Hague.” Some dingbat journalist clearly was pranking all the hard-working editors in the world. And my boss was in on it, because for every “The” that I removed from “Hague,” he put one back! Soon enough, I figured out that the name of the place is in fact The Hague, which on consideration makes perfect sense. As does “The Wichita” and “The Scranton.”

So if you’re like me, you might think that the only difference between “The Church” and “church” is the first guy’s desire to get rid of extra Scrabble letters. Not so, as I’ve learned. Here’s how I understand the difference:

· The Church is the collective body, across eternal time, of all mankind’s followers of this Guy named Jesus, who earned for us the title Christ. The faithful followers, therefore, are Christ-ians.

· Church, as distinguished from The Church, is the building where church-going Christians get plugged in with each other in order to carry out their faith, as actors of the mission and vision of God.

To unpack it further, and at great risk of muddying what may now be coming clear: Christians are, by definition, elements of The Church. Even those supposed heathens who don’t bring their faith into their neighborhood building with any regularity. To take back an idea that the tech sector borrowed from Christianity: church is the brick-and-mortar outlet of faith, while The Church is in the cloud.

“To take back an idea that the tech sector borrowed from Christianity: church is the brick-and-mortar outlet of faith, while The Church is in the cloud.”

Like football and couch-naps, church happens on Sundays; also like football, it increasingly takes place on other days of the week than just Sunday. Soas to not compete with this other American religion, Christian churches are content with Wednesday and Saturday nights and Sunday mornings and evenings, thus preserving Sunday afternoons and Monday and Thursday nights for the gridiron faithful.

Unfortunately, lots of people have made value judgments about church — about what takes place there and about the types of people who make up the body. To the extent that these value judgments are flawed and negative, likely reflects a lack of first-hand experience in church — although you might be surprised at how many regulars also have a poor opinion.

Our churches, like Solyent Green, are made of people — normal people like you and, ahem, me.  People who are for the most part simply trying to know their Savior better, and to let His Spirit work through them.  As a stiff-necked people, too often we don’t let Him into us, nor into our buildings, but most of the time we’re doing our best.

When it works as planned — when Christians get together with the Holy Spirit in a big building to worship and celebrate — we/they create an otherworldly place: a mystical place with its own customs, music, hierarchies, roles, language and practices. Divinely guided and rooted in thousands of years of tradition and ritual, today’s church – even in its most modern, progressive forms – can present as both Holy and mystical, and wholly mystifying, to those who don’t have experience with church culture.

If you’re intrigued or even just mildly curious about where this all is going, stick around for a few more posts. Try to understand why so many of your friends and neighbors — the ones you thought were rotten and the ones you thought were normal — skip the snooze button or the links in order to spiff up and head to their local church for a couple hours each week. They might just be onto something. Something that you’d like to be a part of, too.

Copyright 2014


The Faith Deconstructed category offers an occasionally thoughtful, sometimes glib, always faithful look at today’s Christianity, from the perspective of a reformed skeptic.

Church Deconstructed

This “Church for Noobs” guide offers a glib look at today’s mainline church, covering the lifecycle of a Christian from the perspective of a reformed skeptic and now longtime church member.  At times biting and borderline irreverent, the musings aim to be spot-on accurate about both the virtues and the foibles of the modern church and of the “church life.”

For church outsiders, Church Deconstructed means to tear down the imposing edifice to reveal that inside church is a place for all.  For insiders, it’s necessary to remove or replace the crumbling stones that we’ve built into our structure.  Or, simply, Church Deconstructed.