Concluding My Falsani Series

Source: Cathleen Falsani’s Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008).

The Cathleen Falsani book is due tomorrow, and I’ll be getting my exercise today by walking to the library to return it. Consequently, I want to finish up the series I began a long time ago on Cathleen Falsani’s Sin Boldly.

Part 6 was supposed to be about God speaking, but there are three other themes that I also want to discuss. And so here we go!

1. At the very beginning of her book, Falsani talks about learning about God’s grace as she watched the movie Bruce Almighty. She was having an especially bad day, and she stumbled on the movie as she flipped through her several HBO channels.

Bruce Almighty was a good movie for her situation, for it’s about a discontent reporter who learns to see others through God’s eyes. At the beginning, Bruce is not happy about his life (even though his girlfriend is Jennifer Aniston). He works at a news station, but he doesn’t do serious news. He does funny, inspirational, touchy-feely stories, which sometimes get cut for segments deemed more important. Bruce also has a crush on the female news anchor (not Jennifer Aniston, but the lady from JAG), who doesn’t give him the time of day. When Bruce doesn’t get the job as news anchor, he has a meltdown and is fired.

Eventually, God lets Bruce be God for a while. In the course of this experience, Bruce loses his girlfriend and gets run over (if my memory is correct). In heaven, God asks him what he wants, and Bruce responds that he wants Grace (his girlfriend, aka Jennifer Aniston) to find someone who sees her through God’s eyes (love). Bruce has moved beyond thinking only about himself.

Cathleen is moved to tears by God’s love, patience, and grace towards Bruce, a real malcontent. I could identify with this part of the book because TV, movies, and books are often a catharsis for me, and they give me something different to experience and think about as I plough through my discontentment.

That brings me to the second point:

2. Somewhere in the book, Falsani defines God speaking as God interrupting our thoughts, as he gets us to stop and think. Many of us are continually on the move, as we go with the flow with the inertia of our day-to-day thoughts. But God can interrupt that inertia and get us to think about the good and the beautiful. He can do so through books, movies, TV shows, people, and nature.

I like that perspective because it’s so open. It seems to assert that God is somehow involved in the lives of everyone, not just those who accept Christ as their personal Savior. And Acts 14 and 17 has passages that indicate such to be the case (although not everyone is saved). Falsani gets impatient with those who like to divide grace and make it so technical, with their labels of “common grace” (for everyone) and “special grace” (for the redeemed). In her mind, why can’t we just say that God shows people grace (undeserved favor), period?

Part of me likes what I learned about Friedrich Schleiermacher in college. For Schleiermacher, “God-consciousness” is recognizing that there’s a power greater than ourselves–that we are not autonomous and did not bring ourselves into being. My understanding is that Schleiermacher thought all sorts of things could bring us to a God-conscious state: literature, nature, the Bible, maybe even other religions. Schleiermacher’s definition of religion bypassed the problems posed by modernity, such as the attacks on biblical inerrancy by historical-criticism and evolution. For him, biblical inerrancy on history and science was not necessary to have a religious life, since religion wasn’t about that. Rather, it concerned us arriving at “God-consciousness.” If the Bible could encourage that through its stories, laws, poems, and prophecies, then it was doing its job.

One way I’ve changed over the past few years is that I’m more open to people drawing from different sources for their spirituality. Years ago at DePauw, I attended a forum of homeless people, and one of them remarked that he drew from all sorts of books (e.g., the Bible, the Tao) and went with what “worked” with him spiritually. That sounded to me like chaos! For me, one had to pick a book–preferably the Bible–and accept everything it said about God. Otherwise, that person was making God in his own image, and how could something he made up be reliable or trustworthy (as Tim Keller has pointed out)?

I still hold this view to a certain extent, but I saw that an eclectic approach to spirituality could work when I met an alcohol counselor. He said that he didn’t follow a specific religion but drew on a variety of sources. Two that he told me about were Nathaniel Branden’s book on self-esteem, and a tape series on anger and forgiveness. He called these sources “powerful.” He wasn’t necessarily accepting them as inerrant or authoritative, but he believed that they had a certain wisdom on how to approach life and live it successfully. I learned from him that having an eclectic approach to spirituality didn’t always have to mean total anarchy.

There are times when I feel as if my negative thoughts are “interrupted.” It occurs when I’m grumbling, and a thought enters my mind that’s actually constructive, or when I forget about my problems as I watch Lost or Desperate Housewives. I wish they could be interrupted more, to tell you the truth!

3. Cathleen writes about an elderly nun who admires Ingrid Bergman, notwithstanding her sexual scandal. I’m not sure why that stands out to me. Maybe it’s because it evokes for me a Reader’s Digest view on life–one that admires celebrities and looks for the good in them, even though they don’t always do the “right thing.” This sort of approach goes beyond the partisanship, cultural wars, and us vs. them mindset that pervades American life. I think of Reader’s Digest interviewing Julia Roberts about her family life. Reader’s Digest is very conservative, and Julia Roberts is far from being a Christian conservative Republican! Yet, they could see beyond that difference and interact with each other on a human level. Julia probably saw Reader’s Digest as an American institution, and Reader’s Digest viewed Julia as a part of America’s life and a mother who loves her kids. I’ve seen this sort of thing also among my relatives, many of whom are very conservative. Even they can still say something nice about Ted Kennedy or Al Gore!

4. Somewhere in the book, Cathleen talks about having writer’s block. In the course of her struggle, her mind turns to an episode of Friends, in which a character walks through the park in an eccentric manner. Cathleen decides not to worry about phrasing everything right and appeasing an audience, choosing instead to be herself and let the chips fall where they may.

That reminds me of the movie Little Women, with Katherine Hepburn. Jo writes mystery stories for publication, and a kindly middle-aged gentleman tells her that her work is bad. He encourages her not to write anything unless it comes straight from her heart.

Does this work in real life? Not always. Writing is a business, and people need to like someone’s work (or at least be affected by it) for the writer to be successful. Sometimes, that can lead to pandering to the least common denominator. At other times, as in Cathleen’s case, a person can write from the heart, touch a lot of people, and attain a great deal of success.

Good book!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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