O Me of Little Faith

This week, my friend Rachel Held Evans is hosting an online “Rally to Restore Unity” at her blog for a simple reason: she believes “we can disagree without calling each other heretics.”

I’m totally on-board with that, so today I join her gravy train of photographed rally signs and synchrobloggers by writing a guest post at her blog. It’s called “Crackheads, Simple Theology, and a Better Passion.”

In the post, I give some background about my brother and his inner-city ministry where we live. Brooks explains how angry it makes him when Christians argue about theology when we ought to get worked up about kids are hungry or being abused. Also, the post has a brief mention of his formerly schizophrenic, one-legged friend, Jesse. So there’s that.

Anyway, I hope you’ll go read it. And then I hope you’ll head over to the Rally’s Charity:Water page and do some good.


Miscellaneous thoughts upon the death of Osama bin Laden:

• I feel pride and a national sense of accomplishment, because finally, we got him. Good job, U.S. intelligence, U.S. military, and President Obama.

• I feel happy that justice has been done. Yes, it’s a human kind of justice — a guy who killed lots of people has himself been killed — but it’s the only kind of justice we’ve got and I think it’s OK to find some joy in it.

• While I can find joy in justice, I feel less happy about celebrating the death of a person. Even a person we all view as evil. Because the reason we view him as evil is the fact that he killed without guilt, and he found joy in the killing. Yes, I realize there’s a difference between killing innocents (from bin Laden’s side) and killing the guilty (from our side), but death is death and it’s hard for me to find happiness in it. “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice…” (Proverbs 24:17)

• Part of me is uncomfortable with the street reveling following the news. I understand the need for community and certainly can get behind the patriotism and relief that fuels it. But I also know how angry I got at the scenes of street celebrations in other countries following the terrorist acts. As my friend Matt wrote on his Facebook page, “Come on, America. This isn’t the first murderous terrorist we’ve killed. Act like you’ve been here before.” Might restraint be a better response?

• And another part of me is saying, “What if you’d lost someone in the 9/11 attacks? You have no idea how you’d respond, and you have no right to judge how anyone else responds in Washington or New York, so shut up.”

• (Except for the obviously drunk frat guys waving flags around. We can be annoyed at them.)

• I love that it was a team of Navy SEALS that did it. I love that it wasn’t a missile, but an on-the-ground, Jack-Bauer-style raid. I love that it was an event that had been in the planning stages for months.

• I love that President Obama has quietly been planning this event while detractors have still been hung up on stupid things like his U.S. citizenship. Had I been president, I wouldn’t have been able to keep from telling them to shut up because I was busy, you know, finding Osama bin Laden.

• I love that, when I told my kids about it this morning on the way to school, my daughter’s first question was “Did anybody else die? Other than him?” I told her that no Americans had been killed in the raid. “But what about the other people in the house?” Yes, they were killed, I told her. “They were bad guys?” Yes, I think so. But it makes me proud that her first thoughts were on who had died, and how many. Death is serious.

What are/were your thoughts?


I need your help. I’m working on a magazine article that will publish in June around Father’s Day. I’m looking for two kinds of advice related to fathers: Advice you received from your father and advice you have for fathers. So if you have a moment, drop in on the comments and answer the following questions:

1. Where do you live?

2. What’s the best advice you ever received from your father?

3. Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to fathers? (Can be directed at fathers of any age — new dads, fathers of grown children, grandfathers, etc.)


I expend a lot of ink in O Me of Little Faith discussing my problems with prayer. Some of my hang-ups are theological, some practical, some deeply personal. In particular, the theatricality of public prayer — my own and others — rubs me the wrong way. “The reason I keep my eyes closed when other people pray,” I wrote in chapter 5, “is so no one sees me rolling them.” Oh, snap. Kind of a dumb line, but it’s pretty true.

In the book, I write that my prayer life was saved by transitioning from the rambling prayers of my Southern Baptist tradition to the scripted prayers of more liturgical traditions. One prayer I find myself returning to over and over again is the ancient Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

It’s a prayer that comes from the Eastern Orthodox tradition, adapted from the plea of the humble tax collector in a parable Jesus told in Luke 18. For me, it’s a way for me to pray more, to pray honestly, to pray without getting ensnared by my stupid hang-ups.

The Jesus Prayer is also the subject of a new documentary and book called Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality. Written and directed by Norris J. Chumley, a fellow Beliefnet contributor and director of media for Columbia’s Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life, the film follows Chumley and priest-theologian Rev. Dr. John A. McGuckin as they tour isolated Orthodox monasteries in Greece, Egypt, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia interviewing monks and nuns about their prayer lives — specifically about the centrality of the “Jesus Prayer” in their religious practice.

I haven’t seen the documentary, though it’s airing on PBS this week in many markets. The publisher, HarperOne, sent me a free review copy of the book.

Part of Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer is a personal travelogue, chronicling Chumley and McGuckin’s trips to film these monasteries and their inhabitants. Chumley details the religious history of these places — like the monasteries of Mt. Athos, or St. Catherine’s Monsatery on Mt. Sinai — as well as describing the holy sites once the film crew gains entrance (an often difficult process). The rest of the book tells of the men and women who reside there, much of it by way of their thoughts and teachings about the Jesus Prayer.

I’m interested in the subject, from the prayer itself to the Orthodox branch of Christianity to the holy sites themselves. Some of these places I had already been introduced to in my study of the saints for Pocket Guide to Sainthood. Which is to say: I’m pretty much the ideal reader for this kind of book. I wanted to love it and get caught up in it, but that just wasn’t the case. It reads like, well, a book written as a tie-in to a documentary. A book written by a professional filmmaker. An afterthought.

With such a fascinating subject, a diverse travel itinerary, and visits to some of the weirdest and most inaccessible places on earth, you’d think a ridiculously compelling book would result. But that’s not the case. It’s reverent and devout, yes, but it’s also dry and dull and spiritual/mystical without a lot of questioning or examination.

A sample passage:

The point of the Jesus Prayer is to bring soul and body, mind and heart together, in constant remembrance of God in us. In the words of Father Teofil of Romania, its purpose is “to make a link between prayer and mind, between mind and heart, between the power that thinks and the power that loves. So the mind that descends its awareness into the heart is not an activity of the human being, it is a work of God. What we are doing is that we pray to God for the unity of our own being, the whole being.”

I don’t know…maybe it’s better as a documentary. Maybe the wise words of the monks and bishops are more inspiring on camera rather than in print. I hope so. While reading the book, I found myself intrigued by the subject matter but wishing it had been written by someone else, like Paul Theroux. That would have been a spiritual travelogue worth reading.