Nicole Cliffe: How God Messed Up My Happy Atheist Life

Nicole CliffeNicole Cliffe tells the story of the work of God in her life that resulted in her moving from atheism to Christianity:

I became a Christian on July 7, 2015, after a very pleasant adult life of firm atheism. I’ve found myself telling “the story” when people ask me about it—slightly tweaked for my audience, of course. When talking to non-theists, I do a lot of shrugging and “Crazy, right? Nothing has changed, though!” When talking to other Christians, it’s more, “Obviously it’s been very beautiful, and I am utterly changed by it.” But the story has gotten a little away from me in the telling.

As an atheist since college, I had already mellowed a bit over the previous two or three years, in the course of running a popular feminist website that publishes thoughtful pieces about religion. Like many atheists (who are generally lovely moral people like my father, who would refuse to enter heaven and instead wait outside with his Miles Davis LPs), I started out snarky and defensive about religion, but eventually came to think it was probably nice for people of faith to have faith. I held to that, even though the idea of a benign deity who created and loved us was obviously nonsense, and all that awaited us beyond the grave was joyful oblivion.

I know that sounds depressing, but I found the idea of life ending after death mildly reassuring in its finality. I had started to meet more people of faith, having moved to Utah from Manhattan, and thought them frequently charming in their sweet delusion. I did not wish to believe. I had no untapped, unanswered yearnings. All was well in the state of Denmark. And then it wasn’t.

Read the rest in Christianity Today magazine here.

Everyone is Included

I want to post some good links to things others have said about the currently controversy about refugees from Syria. There is no particular mystery about my position: I am a Christian, and therefore I am under orders to do what I can to welcome the stranger, either by acting on my own or (more likely) working with others. I’m trying to counter what I see as the fear-based – and in some cases (I’m looking at you, Donald Trump) overtly racist – arguments that have flooded the internet lately.

American Nathan Empsall writes the excellent country/folk/Americana blog ‘Hard Times No More‘. His piece is entitled ‘Everyone is included when we sing “This land is your land”‘. Here’s an excerpt:

Part of “Americana” music is “America” – and all the values that that word claims to stand for. Values like love, justice, compassion, and hospitality. America should not and can not stand for hatred, bigotry, nationalism, or rejection. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” These are the values we have always sung about, and what we must keep singing. What do we want America to be is a question that all of us answer every minute of every day, and need to talk about in every space, even music blogs. So I write today as an American, as a Christian, and also, later in this post, as a music fan, so if you only came for the music, please press on (or scroll down).

Donald Trump said this week that Muslims in the U.S. “absolutely” have to register in a database, and that we need more than just databases to manage them. He did not argue with comparisons to Third Reich Germany requiring its Jewish citizens to wear identifying symbols and tattoos. His bigoted broadside against religious freedom comes on the heels of Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz’s comments that America should allow Christian refugees, but not Muslim refugees – never mind that Daesh/ISIS’s primary victims are its fellow Muslims.

Jesus calls me to love everyone. Everyone means everyone, but especially Muslims, my brothers and sisters in the God of Abraham. These brothers and sisters face far too much violence – abroad from ISIS, at home from bigotry – leaving them bleeding at the side of the road. Jesus says I need to love my neighbor, to think of everyone as my neighbor, and to help the person bleeding by the side of the road. He used a Samaritan as the example, because Jews in 30 AD looked at Samaritans the same way Trump, Cruz, and Bush look at Muslims today. But, Jesus said, that’s not what matters.

Read the rest here. Please do.

Malcolm is back

After a few months of slow blogging (we all go through that from time to time), it’s great to see that my blogging friend Malcolm French is back in the saddle, giving us food for thought every day (and I mean every day; he’s taken up daily blogging as a Lenten discipline this year). As he said of me in a recent post, our journeys have been different and we disagree from time to time, but I usually find good food for thought in what he has to say. I particularly enjoyed a recent post on ‘Experimenting with Prayer‘ as I’m currently doing some experimenting myself; after years of a fairly individualistic prayer life, I’m now into my second year of sharing my morning prayer time each day with Marci, and we’re both really enjoying it.

Malcolm is pretty passionate about some of the causes he believes in, including socialist politics (which I agree with) and the movement to stop the Anglican Covenant (which I’m less enthusiastic about). But he’s also pretty passionate about his ministry as parish priest of St. James the Apostle Anglican Church in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Malcolm’s blog is called Simple Massing Priest, and I’m glad to point some traffic in his direction.

What the Affordable Care Act means to one American

I don’t feel qualified to wade into the American health care debate. I know many Americans feel like it’s an economic disaster, and others think that it doesn’t go far enough. But the question of how lower income Americans actually manage to afford health insurance is one that often seems to get ignored.

A regular reader and occasional commenter on this blog, who is a full time musician and a lay employee on the staff of an Episcopal church, yesterday published a post about the impact the Affordable Care Act (AKA ‘Obamacare’) will have on him. I urge my readers to go over to Andrew’s blog and read what he has to say. Note that, as he says in the post, he is not especially a fan of President Obama.

Before Matins this morning, I turned on the computer and went to the official site for the Affordable Care Act.

When I saw their splashpage with the big title: “The Health Insurance Marketplace is Open!” I shed some tears. It has been a long time coming…

…Our diocese offers three medical insurance plans, and it is mandated by canon law that the local parish must pay the full cost of participation in these plans for the clergy. As it currently stands (2013), I may enroll in the insurance plan should I wish to do so. The cost for single-person coverage is about $9,000 a year; should I wish for my wife to also have insurance, the total cost would be slightly north of $20,000. The congregation would pay zero; it would all come out of my pocket — which is not sufficiently deep for numbers like this.

Thus, my wife and I purchased individual coverage from the state Blue Cross/Blue Shield affiliate. We are on the cheapest plan they offer, which has such a limited list of coverages that it does not cover what the ACA calls “essential health services.” We are both in excellent health, but have had “pre-existing conditions” ruled out — for me, there was no coverage for anything related to the eyes, because I am sufficiently nearsighted to be at high risk for retinal detachment. The deductible for this policy is $11,000 a year — that much has to be spent in medical bills before the plan pays so much as a penny. The premium is about $500 a month, covering the two of us; this premium has approximately tripled during the twelve years that we have had the policy. This is a “high deductible health savings plan” and is accompanied by a Health Savings Account, to which we can make tax-free contributions, and we have done so every year, right up to the maximum allowed. This money sits in a HSA earning about 0.5% interest with a $25 annual fee eating away at it.

In my opinion, this is not a satisfactory arrangement. But it is the best we can do, balancing affordability with at least a minimum of insurance — for, if you are uninsured in America, you are one accident or illness away from bankruptcy.

Correction: you WERE one accident away from bankruptcy. Today, that all changed.

Read the rest here. Do.

Two Cheers for Radicals

TimeThe older I get as a Christian, the more convinced I become that real New Testament Christianity is way more radical than my denomination is comfortable with! Hey, it’s way more radical than I’m comfortable with! As I read and ponder the teaching of Jesus on the sort of life that points to the reign of God in the world, I find myself pulled in two directions. One part of my finds it tremendously attractive and compelling, but the other side of my brain (the lazy and comfortable side) is scared out of my socks. “Do I have the guts to live this life? To sell my possessions and give to the poor? to refrain from storing up for myself treasures on earth? To love my enemies, turn the other cheek, and forgive people seventy times seven? To let go of the trappings of ecclesiastical privilege and simply live as an ordinary Christian amongst my sisters and brothers? To seek first God’s kingdom and trust God to provide for my needs? To make new disciples for Jesus in an age where all religious opinions are seen as being equally valid?”

Frankly, often the answer is ‘no’; I’m too much of a coward to take Jesus at his word and do what he says. But I’m not proud of the fact. So I needed to hear the challenge in Philip Yancey’s new post, ‘Two Cheers for Radicals’. Here’s an excerpt from the end of the post:

Here’s what I like best about radicals: most of them don’t see themselves as radicals at all. They see themselves as simple pilgrims following Jesus, for in a mere three years of active work Jesus the original radical changed the world forever.  Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Partners in Americus, Georgia—a community that had a profound impact on President Jimmy Carter as well as Don Mosley and Millard Fuller—discounted his radicalism, insisting it was ordinary faith:

“So long as the word remains a theory to us and is not incarnated by our actions and translated by our deeds into a living experience, it is not faith. It may not be theology, but it is not faith. Faith is a combination of both conviction and action. It cannot be either by itself…. Faith is a life inscorn of the consequences.”

Radicalism has its dangers, of course, and negative examples abound on both sides of the political spectrum. Most of us seek some kind of balance or golden mean. On the other hand, without radicals to prick our consciences now and then, would anything ever change? And God knows this world needs change.

Read the rest here.