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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

A No-Longer New Convert

In Religion on May 24, 2011 at 9:00 am

I’ve been a Muslim for going on two years now (it will be two years on September 20th). I haven’t been writing in this blog because I’ve been putting all my efforts into my feminist blog, Femagination, and my newer blog about being a Muslim convert, I, Muslimah.

But I’ve missed this blog, because I feel like I was more personal here than anywhere else. So I’m back with an update about where I am personally right now.

I’m still glad I’m a Muslim and I’m actually a lot more comfortable with it than I was for the first few months. I won’t lie to you; those days were hard. First of all, I felt so out of my element. So much of being a Muslim is cultural and I’m definitely not from that culture. I’m as WASPy as you can get, or at least I was until I became a Muslim. (WASP stands for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.) Now the only part that doesn’t fit is ‘Protestant.’ But I’m still white and Anglo-Saxon and have blue eyes and fair skin. In other words, I don’t look Middle Eastern which is where most non-Muslims think Muslims come from. (In actuality, only about 20% of Muslims are Arab.)

But the real difference between me and most born Muslims is that I’m not steeped in all the traditions and attitudes that come with being born into a Muslim culture. At first, everything felt strange to me. I’ve written in earlier posts about how I responded to all this “Muslim business.” Well, I’m still learning. I find out something new almost every day that I didn’t know about being a Muslim. Some of the things have been disturbing, others amusing, most of them enlightening.

But at first I was terribly hung up about all I didn’t know. I felt like I’d never learn how to be a “real” Muslim. And I was consumed with guilt about all the things I did know but didn’t follow.

For instance, I found it very difficult to say all my prayers every day. Each day that went by where I hadn’t prayed five times (or sometimes not at all) made me feel horrible. I was sure I was going to Hell and I was afraid to admit to anyone that I was having trouble with the prayers. Also, every time I found out something new that some Muslims think is mandatory, I would get discouraged by how difficult some of the things were.

I got so hung up about whether or not I was doing everything right, I lost my joy about being a Muslim. But even in my worst moments, I never regretted my decision to convert. I didn’t feel like Islam let me down but rather that I let Islam—and other Muslims—down.

After a few months I finally started to relax. It helped that I finally made it through the Qur’an. And I had many Muslim friends, both born and converted, to encourage me and teach me the most important things I needed to know. I began to understand that Allah knows our hearts, judges us by our intentions as well as our actions, and is always willing to forgive us and help us to start over. I will never be a perfect Muslim, partly because there is no such thing (Muhammad is the only one who came close) and partly because I’m human.

But most of all I learned about the importance of prayer. That’s the cornerstone of Islam. I still don’t always say all my prayers, but when I do, I am so blessed. I can’t believe how good it feels to be in God’s presence and have a conversation with Him. I’ve come to love the prayers themselves, even when I don’t understand every single word. I get off track a lot, but prayer always brings me back to Allah. And I praise Him for that.

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Seven Months As a Muslim

In Opinion, Religion on May 13, 2010 at 12:35 am

Things look a lot different now that I’ve been a Muslim for over seven months. I’m wearing the hijab for one thing; I started wearing it full time about a month ago. I’m actually surprised at how good it feels. I don’t feel strange at all. You know what my biggest worry is? How am I going to make it through the summer! I have to wear long sleeves and pants, dresses or long skirts besides the hijab and I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to stand it. My Libyan Muslim friends say that it’s not that bad, but they’re used to it. Oh, well, I’ll just pray a lot and hope for the best.

But how I dress is just an outward thing. That’s why I don’t think it’s critical to one’s faith. It might even stand in the way for some people, like if it makes you feel so self-conscious that you can’t concentrate on your relationship with God. One of the things I like the best about wearing the hijab is that other Muslims know right away that I’m one of them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people ask where I’m from as if they can’t believe that someone like me is Muslim. (I look stereotypically American: blue eyes and fair skin, light eyebrows–my hair is blonde.) When I say I’m from “here,” they ask if I’m Muslim and when I say yes, they get all excited. Mash’allah is something I hear a lot. (That’s what you say when something is good.)

Or someone will say to me, “Salaam alaykum (peace be to you),” which is a standard greeting from one Muslim to another. I’m prepared for it when one of my Muslim friends says it, but when a stranger says it to me, I’m taken aback for a moment. I forget that I’m wearing the hijab, so I’m not expecting someone to recognize me as a Muslim. I had a young man apologize to me the other day because he was afraid that I wasn’t a Muslim after all, since I hesitated before replying, “Wa alaykum salaam (and peace be unto you).” I told him I’m just not used to it yet!

Sometimes I have trouble arranging my headscarf or I can’t find one to go with my outfit (or the other way around), but I’ve managed to collect about 20 hijabs so far, so I do okay. At first I was worried that I’d look awful, but I needn’t have worried. I look different but not worse. And sometimes I even think I look better. But that’s just a vanity thing. It shouldn’t matter what I look like, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t give it a thought. I am a woman after all. Becoming a Muslim doesn’t erase who you are.

Some people think that women who wear the hijab are more religious than those who don’t, but Muslims are quick to tell you that what matters is what’s inside, not outside. So how am I doing on the inside?

Well, I still think I made the right choice to embrace Islam. But it’s not an easy transition, at least not for me. I have trouble getting in all my prayers every day. I can’t read Arabic so I have to rely on pronunciation guides, which are hard to find. I get confused when I hear different opinions about what Muslims can and cannot do. I wasn’t prepared for there to be a difference of opinion. But I should have been; after all, Muslims are human. There are Muslims who are very strict about the “old” ways. And there are those who are more open to modern interpretations.

I can see both sides. After all, I wear the hijab, which is seen by some Muslims as mandatory. But I don’t think, for instance, that women should be closed off in a room or behind a barrier when they go to the mosque. A woman has as much right to hear and see the iman, the recitation of the prayers and the sermon as a man does, and depriving her of that right puts an obstacle in her path to Allah. That should be a sin (and possibly is, in God’s eyes).

Even though I often feel inadequate, I know that what God wants is for me to concentrate on Him, and all else will follow.

Thoughts About Islam

In Charity, Culture, Religion on November 20, 2009 at 12:23 pm

It’s been two months since I said my Shahada at the masjid on the last day of Ramadan. It was a pretty special, if hectic, day. I was so nervous. I’d never even been to a mosque before and everything except for my friends was strange. We were almost late for prayers and I ended up saying Shahada in the mosque office in front of my friends, the secretary and a man whose name I forget now. (He gave me a slip of paper with his name and phone number on it, but I don’t know where I put it!) Then we rushed upstairs while prayers were starting.

I’m not exactly unfamiliar with the experience of arriving late to church, but it’s a lot different from arriving late to prayers. Especially in the women’s room, I think. We just kind of joined right in. I didn’t know how to do my prayers at all at that point so I just followed my friends’ lead. Now I know the Fatihah and I’m working on the Tashahud. It’s a little hard right now to say my prayers because I broke my foot two weeks ago and I have to do them sitting down. I don’t like that much–it doesn’t feel right. But I’m trying to be patient.

I’m having trouble being patient about any of this, though. Now we’re in the holy days before the day of Arafat and this is all new to me, too. I don’t intend to slaughter a sheep but I will fast the day before. I don’t even know how to celebrate the Eid. I wish I could fix a meal and invite my kids to it. None of them has asked me anything about my new faith, not even if I can celebrate Christmas. (They do all know that I’m getting them presents.)

I just checked out a couple of sources about whether or not Muslims can celebrate Christmas. The general consensus seems to be that while we can’t celebrate it ourselves, we can be present for non-Muslim celebrations and even give gifts. Of course we’re to abstain from pork and alcohol. I find it convenient this year that Eid Al-Adha is on Thanksgiving (or the day after, I’m not sure which). It wouldn’t be if the kids and we were celebrating Thanksgiving on the actual holiday but we’re not, so I can fast that day.

I just donated $50 to the Mid-Ohio Foodbank in Connie’s name. I was prompted to do so because of the holy days we’re in right now. Hopefully my donation will bear great fruit (no pun intended). The web site said that each dollar donated is worth $8 of groceries. Good to know that I might be helping to buy $400 worth.

And that’s one thing that I like about Islam. There are all these reminders of what you should be doing for others. That’s not to say that Christians or Jews aren’t also urged to give, but they don’t have as many specific goals. And human beings need goals. That’s just the way we are. And besides, when you do give or do something for others, it’s okay if you tell other people about it if you’re saying that you do it because Allah tells us to; it’s one of the pillars of Islam.

I don’t know why Christianity didn’t awaken my philanthropic impulses the way Islam has. Why it’s easier for me to set goals for myself as a Muslim than it was when I was a Christian. There isn’t a huge difference in the way that Muslims and Christians look at many things (or Jews either), but for some reason, the way Islam puts things speaks to me more clearly.

2009 Book List Progress Report

In Book Reviews, Opinion, Reading, Religion, Self Improvement, Writers on November 11, 2009 at 10:54 am

These are the books I have left on my 2009 Book List (out of 30):

  1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
  2. The Gathering, Anne Enright
  3. The Night Watch, Sara Waters
  4. Waiting, Ha Jin
  5. Against Interpretation, and other essays, Susan Sontag (nonfiction)
  6. The Given Day, Dennis Lehane
  7. A Beautiful Place to Die, Malla Nunn
  8. Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson (Young Adult)
  9. Water For Elephants, Sara Gruen
  10. The Hour I First Believed, Wally Lamb
  11. Eclipse, Richard North Patterson
  12. House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
  13. The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
  14. The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (Young Adult)
  15. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  16. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

I made it about half-way through my reading list and then got bogged down. I didn’t slack off, though: I read a whole lot of books besides these. I just can’t believe that it’s been a year since I made this list. (See my original post.) Right now I have #1 and #6 in my possession. I started #6, but it’s not a typical Dennis Lehane book (it’s a historical novel) and I had trouble getting into it, even though I normally like historical novels.

What have I been reading instead? For one thing I got off on a tangent about Islam (and if you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I recently became a convert, which takes care of one of the items on my 2009 Project List as well). But I’ve also been reading anything and everything that comes to my attention that sounds interesting. I’ve been keeping track of them in Goodreads, so if you want to see what I’ve read, check there.

These are the books I read on my original list:

  1. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, Ann Fadiman (nonfiction)
  2. Rereadings, edited by Ann Fadiman (nonfiction)
  3. Never Let Me Go, Katzuo Ishiguro
  4. The Crooked Inheritance, Marge Piercy (poems)
  5. Summit Avenue, Mary Sharratt
  6. The Terror, Dan Simmons
  7. In the Land of Invisible Women, Qanta Ahmed (nonfiction)
  8. A Life of One’s Own: A Guide to Better Living Through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf, Ilana Simons (nonfiction)
  9. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Elizabeth McCracken  (literary nonfiction)
  10. The Paper Anniversary, Joan Wickersham
  11. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
  12. The Tin Roof Blowdown, James Lee Burke
  13. Sloppy Firsts, Megan McCafferty
  14. Paris Trout, Pete Dexter

I really liked 1, 2, 3, 6, and 9.  I’m glad I read 12 and 14. I didn’t finish 4, 10 and 13. 7 is part of what encouraged me to look more into Islam. I would have liked 8 if I had been more familiar with Virginia Woolf’s work.

Not bad for a list of 14.

I won’t get 16 read by the end of the year. Particularly because I already have a stack of books on my shelf that I want to read first. They are:

  1. Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew B. Crawford (nonfiction)
  2. A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore
  3. Crow Planet, Lyanda Lynn Haupt (nonfiction)
  4. Big Machine, Victor LaValle
  5. Homer & Langley, E. L. Doctorow
  6. The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists, Khaled Abou El Fadl (nonfiction)

And those are just the ones I can see from the couch! I chose 1 and 4 because they’re on Publisher’s Weekly list of the ten best books of 2009. I intend to read as many of those ten books as I can and also focus more on contemporary female authors because there was such much controversy about the fact that there were none on the ten best list. I don’t read that many contemporary books–I have a tendency to not think of reading a book until it’s been around for a couple of years at least.

One thing I’m looking forward to is seeing the movie they made out of The Time Traveler’s Wife which I read last year. I heard it wasn’t that good, so I’ll probably wait until I can get it from the library. But I still want to see how well they transferred the book to the screen. It’s a complicated book; they had their work cut out for them. What made them pick this book to make a movie out of? I suspect it had something to do with the success of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I didn’t really care for (the movie, not the book/story).

I feel that I accomplished my goal of reading more intentionally and not reading as much “junk.” I want to continue to work on that by finding out more about the authors I read and their other work, if any. I want to work on remembering what I read. What good is it to read if you don’t remember it? That’s like eating with no sense of taste. I’d like to put my reading in perspective with my life.

A New Muslim’s Baby Steps

In Religion, Self Improvement on November 2, 2009 at 2:57 pm

It’s easy to convert to Islam. All you have to do is say the statement of belief (the Shahada) in front of witnesses. It can be in  your own home, it can be only one witness. The only hard and fast requirement is that you bear witness that Allah is the one and only God and that Muhammad is His Messenger.

The hard part is what happens after that moment of conversion. At least it’s been hard for me. First of all, I had to start learning how to pray the five daily prayers. There is a definite ritual, both in word and action, and I’m only about halfway through the process. Because the prayers are traditionally in Arabic (the language of the Holy Qur’an), it’s a two-fold process for non-Arabic speakers. You have to learn how to pronounce the Arabic words and you have to learn what those words mean in your own language. It took me about a month to learn the Fatiheh, which is the first part of every prayer (and is also the first Surah, or chapter, of the Qur’an). But I still have to concentrate to recall the English meaning while I’m saying the Arabic words.

Because this isn’t exactly a smooth process, I’m trusting that I’m benefiting from the prayers even when I don’t understand every word I’m saying. God knows what I’m saying even if I don’t. And so does my soul. I believe that.

Two themes that come up a lot in the Qur’an, I’ve noticed, are patience and perseverance. I think it’s interesting that God mentions them so much because those are two characteristics that I badly need to develop. They are also interrelated; I’ve never been good at sticking to something because I get impatient and want to see results right away. Obviously I can’t do that with my prayers and my Arabic. That has wreaked havoc with my self-confidence. I’ve asked myself many times if I did the right thing. Is this just too hard? Is it too alien?

I’m lucky to have many friends who are eager to teach me the things I need to know. But that can be a curse as well as a blessing. These are life-long Muslims. The language, the customs, the beliefs, the scriptures are all second-nature to them. They’ve been very patient with me, but I feel so ignorant next to them, sometimes I want to give up.

But something keeps me going. And that something is the knowledge deep inside that I made the right decision when I decided to convert to Islam. I still feel the sense of peace and closeness to God that I felt when I first said Shahada.

Returning to Active Status

In Culture, Religion, Self Improvement on October 4, 2009 at 6:29 pm

I wrote in an earlier post that I was going through an existential crisis and I implied that the reason I haven’t been writing here is because I needed to resolve the crisis first. That is mainly true. I’ve also been having trouble writing posts in general, for any of my blogs, because I’ve been preoccupied with other activities.

I didn’t think that I’d be ready to announce what my crisis was for a while, because I thought it would take some time before I resolved it. As it turned out, though, things went pretty quickly and I’m now ready to reveal what has been keeping me from writing: I have become a Muslim.

There have been two parts to my struggle: one was deciding for myself what I believed and the other was telling others what I’ve decided. And obviously I had to tell family and close friends before I could blurt it out in one of my blogs.

I discussed it with my husband before I took the step. I don’t know what I would have done if he hadn’t been supportive, but I needn’t have worried: he’s been great. Then I told my daughters who were also accepting (if surprised). At that time I decided to say my profession of belief, or the Shahada, which is all you need to do to become a Muslim. I said it in the privacy of my own home, in front of a close Muslim friend and then finally in the mosque on the last day of Ramadan.

I had been observing Ramadan in my own way, which was to give up smoking. I haven’t smoked since August 22nd, and I don’t feel the urge to. I hadn’t had the nerve to fast, and didn’t feel that I had the right to anyway, since I wasn’t Muslim. After I made my Shahada the first time, which was about ten days before the end of Ramadan, I did attempt to fast, but I wasn’t very good at it. The Ramadan fast is a total fast (not even water) from dawn to dusk and I couldn’t do without some coffee in the morning to get me going. I wasn’t praying at that point, except for my own little baby prayers, but I still got up before dawn so that I could eat some breakfast before the fast officially started.

After I said my Shahada, it was explained to me that 1) all my sins from before were washed away; and 2) that Ramadan was a most auspicious time to make my decision. However, I recognize that celebrating Ramadan, in my feeble way, had a lot to do with my being ready to embrace Islam. The excitement level was so high and there was this hyper-awareness of the Islamic religion in the air, it was hard for me to not think about Islam. I tried to keep what I was feeling to the pages of my journal, but I finally had to talk it over with some of my Muslim friends. They answered a lot of my questions but didn’t try to push me one way or another.

I still have a lot of questions–I know nothing but the basics about the religion–and there’s a lot I have to get used to. Like praying five times a day. Deciding what to do about the headscarf  (I do wear it when I pray and at the mosque). Learning where to shop and how to cook halal (permitted) food. But those are all externals. What really matters is what’s going on in my heart.

And at least there I feel at peace.

My New View of God

In Culture, International, Opinion, Religion on June 6, 2009 at 11:42 am

After reading A History of God by Karen Armstrong (most of which was beyond me, I admit) I have come to the conclusion that it is sacriligeous for any of us to say that we have the last word on God. Why? Because God, by His very nature, is beyond our comprehension. It’s even sacriligeous for us to call Him “Him.” That’s one reason why I always capitalize pronouns that refer to God, to differentiate between Him and a human man. I would call Him “She” except that would be perpetuating the same misconception. And since I can’t quite handle calling God “It,” I use the male pronouns.

But the probable truth is, God is “It.” The “It.” Like most “its,” He is subject to misunderstandings and met with confusion. And humans don’t like to be in the dark about their gods. Any of our gods. We want to have total grasp of any and all subjects: biology, psychology, chemistry, physics, theology–the list is legion. And when we don’t–or can’t–have total understanding, we make things up to make ourselves feel better.

I wouldn’t say that I have lost my faith, because I still believe in God. I just think it is limiting to latch onto one interpretation of His nature, whether that be Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hindu, Druidism or whatever. I think some explanations have more merit than others, but it is hard for me to say–at this point in my life–that any one explanation is the only true or full explanation. How can God be captured like that?

If we were to be totally honest, isn’t it more accurate to say that “this is the way I experience God”? And since we are all products of our upbringing, history, culture and psychology, doesn’t it make sense that we are going to have different experiences? I believe that God exists, but I also think that people try to make Him fit into their version of reality. People who need a great deal of structure in their life are going to be more likely to identify with a specific set of doctrines, for instance. Or people who see God as an agent in history (or rather, the Agent in history) are going to experience Him in the context of their history.

Thus the Jews hold onto their conception of the Creator God and themselves as His chosen people. Christians have shaped their religion around the philosophies of the church fathers and have identified with a Triune God.  And Muslims see God as the last word in faith and history (according to Mohammad). Obviously I am oversimplifying here. And I’m leaving out the other belief and thought systems. But these are just examples.

I was raised as a Christian. Not only that, but as a Lutheran. I learned to identify with Martin Luther, the apostle Paul and Jesus Christ. (Not necessarily in that order.) It all made perfect sense to me. I was never beset with doubts about the Trinity or the resurrection of the body.  When I became an adult, I joined the Methodist church where I learned about John Wesley and the doctrine of works, not just faith, and the second blessing. Not long after that, I became a born-again Christian. I remained in the Methodist church, but identified with non-denominationals, probably because I felt constricted by the Methodist–and Lutheran–doctrines. I sensed that denominational differences had more to do with historical events and persons than with revelation.

Lately, I have been learning more about Islam and I realize that it, too, fits the culture out of which it grew. I don’t come out of that culture; hence, it seems foreign to me. At the same time, I recognize that Allah is as valid a concept as the God of Israel or the Triune God.  What, other than my background, keeps me from “trying on” another belief system? If I try to use reason and base my choice on comparisons among religions, I come away with the realization that they all have something to recommend them. But they also all have things that don’t make sense to me, or I don’t agree with, or I can’t see making such a big deal about. And I have to take that all into account. I can’t experience God without being who I am.

“Religulous”

In Culture, Opinion, Religion, Self Improvement on May 16, 2009 at 6:41 am

My husband and I watched Bill Maher’s movie “Religulous” the other night. I had a pretty good idea what itwould be like: Maher drilling holes in the beliefs of religious people. I know his style from his stand-up comedy. You could say that he’s the epitome of irreligious. He’s also pretty darn irreverent. Some of his act is just that: an act. But I got the impression that he was serious when he argued with and at times ridiculed the people he was interviewing.

He was asked by a couple of people in the film: “What if you’re wrong (about not believing in God)?” One time he answered, “Well, that’s a pretty lame reason to believe in God.” (I’m paraphrasing; I don’t remember what was said word for word.) Another time he asked back: “What if you’re wrong?” I don’t think he thought that through. If a Christian is wrong, it’s not like he is going to have something bad happen to him. He’ll just die and that’s it. But if an unbeliever is wrong (about the afterlife), he’s going to be mighty unhappy about the outcome.

I agree with Maher that that’s not the most ideal reason to believe in God. That’s not true faith anyway; that’s just fear. I suppose that’s not the worst reason to believe in God: because you’re afraid of Him. But as a Christian, I don’t believe that’s what God intended. He wants us to do what we do out of gratitude and love. I’m not going to get preachy here. I have my own doubts. And in that I agree with Mayer: having doubts is a sign of maturity.

If we believe out of fear, or habit, or only because we were raised in a particular faith, our belief system will be weak. It’s only when we have thoroughly examined God, our church’s doctrine and our own beliefs that we can consider ourselves grown-up. Anything less is for babies. That doesn’t mean that we won’t be immature sometimes, especially when we’re first starting out. But hopefully, we will allow room in our souls for honest inquiry.

The Islamist

In Book Reviews, Reading, Religion on March 19, 2009 at 11:43 am

The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left by Ed Husain

My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an excellent book for anyone confused about the rise of Islamism, or radical Islam. As we follow the journey taken by the author from moderate but uninvolved Muslim to Muslim anarchist to thoughtful Muslim in a post-9/11 world, we see some of the different threads of political and religious beliefs that have led to the various factions in the Arab world today. This is not an exhaustive study by any means, but it comes across as well-informed and heartfelt.

The author, Ed Husain, is a British Muslim and he has a lot to say about the Islamic community in Britain and how it has evolved into the forms that it takes today. He also describes his experiences in Syria and Saudi Arabia where he went to learn Arabic and to teach English through the British Council. He writes about the concept of “jihad”: its original significance and its distortion among modern Islamic fanatics. And he shares his personal faith-walk.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the history and the modern face of Islam.

View all my reviews.

The Emergent Church

In Religion on March 17, 2009 at 3:37 pm

I recently went to church at Crossroads Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. I had never been to a church like this before, although I’d heard about them. Cornerstone calls itself an “interdenominational” church. It has a website that is very informative and includes downloadable sermons and music. Take a look–I think you’ll be intrigued.

How did I personally respond to this experience? I liked it. It appealed to the side of me that has tired of old-hat worship services with out-dated hymns, strident organ music and worn-out liturgies. I loved how easy it was to go to church in jeans, grab a cup of coffee and find a seat in the dark auditorium (complete with cup-holders) where I could sing and pray in relative anonymity. I was impressed by the professionalism of the presentations: filmed interviews with church members spread out on the huge screens at the front of the auditorium and the original music and catchy lyrics performed by–of all things–a band! The minister himself was both dynamic and down-to-earth, sharing his innermost thoughts and personal stories and relating them to the life of Jesus as expressed in the Bible. I was relieved that his message didn’t include the claim that God will richly bless those who give  liberally, like some ministers and televangelists do. (Read a critique of “Seed Faith Giving” here.) I was also relieved to hear a strong emphasis on small groups for personal sharing and growth.

I’m not ready to give up on stained glass windows and my favorite hymns–or all liturgy, for that matter. But I can see why this new kind of church is popular–and it is: many of these churches draw worshippers in the thousands. (It took us 15 minutes to get out of the parking lot after the Saturday night service–I can’t imagine what it’s like on Sundays!)

Some people call churches like these, the emergent, or emerging, church. Here is a PBS video about this phenomenon: