You’re probably not one of those Da Vinci Code heretics who believes Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene. But even if you’re quick to slap a scarlet H on the Gospel of Thomas or the idea that Jesus wasn’t really human, you might be affected by a subtle reboot of this heresy seeping through American evangelicalism. Unlike it’s older brother, Christian-gnosticism can be hard to see and a bit slippery to catch–a fact I know from firsthand experience. So here’s a quiz to take your temperature and see if you’ve been affected: 

10 Questions

Photo by Ben White on Unsplashedited

Quiz

  1. Does it feel like a stretch to think about worshipping through football, a slice of german chocolate cake, or–if you’re married–having sex? 
  2. Do you think it makes God happier when you read your Bible than when you pick up trash from the side of the road? 
  3. Do you feel like sex is dirty? Are you ashamed of your sex drive?
  4. Does it surprise you that there might be politics and commerce after the resurrection?
  5. Is your Christianity strong when it comes to lying and prayer, but light on gluttony and fasting? Continue Reading…

Sometimes mom said “no,” but that never stopped me from asking. If I didn’t smell chocolate chip cookies as soon as I opened our front door after school, I’d request a snack. Sometimes she made me wait for dinner, but not always, so every day I asked. I had a confidence in my mom that I often lack with God.

For years, I questioned the value of praying for a husband, since I knew singleness could be part of God sovereign plan. Sometimes I doubt whether he cares about things like a tight budget. I find it hard to ask him to heal my sister-in-law’s multiple sclerosis, since a “no” pushes me into the dark place of suffering.

Asdrubal luna 485688 unsplash

Photo by Asdrubal luna on Unsplash


I hear other Christians share similar obstacles. If God cares more about eternal things, like people dying and going to hell, they wonder whether he really cares about finding them a new job. If God is sovereign, he’ll do what he wants, so why bother asking for another child. If they ask God to heal their mom, but she still dies, they struggle with feeling abandoned by him Continue Reading…

A stranger’s fingers grip mine. The words reverberate from my throat and into my ears. Liturgy is new for me–but stepping into the same words every Sunday works like a garden hoe on my heart. After weeks and months of hands grasping mine as we pray together, “Our Father in heaven,” two realizations have churned up from this regular tilling of the Lord’s Prayer.

Even though I grew up in nonliturgical churches, like many Christians, I memorized the Lord’s prayer. I could say it in my sleep, and when I started attending my husband’s church last fall, the words tumbled out of my mouth, often on autopilot. 

IMG 6222

Photo by Diana Simumpande on Unsplash, edited

In the months since, I’ve stubbed my spiritual toes on two truths about the Lord’s prayer, so large I’m shocked I never saw them before. (I’ll stick to tackling the first one here). In both cases, my blindness stemmed, in part, from treating the Lord’s prayer like a newspaper clipping. I learned it out of context and never asked how the surrounding paragraphs should shape my understanding of what Jesus intended to teach with this string of phrases.

Continue Reading…

I love Jesus, but if God is handing out spiritual report cards, I’m probably getting an F when it comes to getting excited about Heaven.* The Apostle Paul—who tells us to imitate his faith—says, “I desire to depart and be with Christ” (Phil 1:23), but when I try to rev my enthusiasm for that place after death, my battery sputters.

Over the last five years at seminary, I had the chance to study the Bible as one big story, from the garden to the city. Revisiting the edges of God’s story gave me a new lens for understanding why I have a hard time getting excited about heaven. Here’s three of my top reasons:

I find it hard

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

1. Worship songs aren’t really my thing. 

After three repetitions of the chorus from “10,000 Reasons” at church, I’m ready to call a time-out and connect with the maroon cushions, not stay on my feet for another four songs. I’ve never been a good stander. And despite my laser focus when it comes to reading and writing, singing turns my mind into seven-year-old with ADD. Music time at church deteriorates into twenty minutes of hand-slapping my brain back to attention. 

Continue Reading…

I tried to peel myself off the alley as the Spanish words got louder, men’s voices, but my Columbia pants stuck to the dirt. My bones ached and bowels churned. Montezuma was mounting his revenge and it was one of the worst hours of my life.  

 

It was also one of the best days of my life, but you have to widen the edges of the story to see it. Zooming out, you’d see the alley I lay plastered in, tucked high up on a jungle mountain. You might see that–by a miracle of nature–later that day I’d steady my limbs and force them up ancient steps until I could look back over the green and grey city of Machu Picchu.  

 

Rawpixel com 330228 unsplash

Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

 

One day, but two different stories depending on how wide you set the frame. In a similar way, Christians can cut the edges off God’s story. Sometimes we zoom in so tight on the cross, sanctification, and getting to Heaven when we die, that we crop the storyline. The Great Commission looms so large in our minds, that we almost forget about the first commission, the one God gave us in the Garden of Eden.  

Continue Reading…

Pills or Prayer?

smgianotti@me.com  —  April 12, 2018

She slumped in her chair as I again suggested that she might be depressed. She teared up, but declined a prescription. Her husband, a leader in the church, believed depression came from spiritual issues, not medical ones. She couldn’t risk people finding out she took pills for depression.   

 

This is often the case when I see patients for mental health issues. I find that they want to condense their problem into something bite-sized. As a health care provider, I’m tempted to do the same. A diagnosis feels more manageable if we can isolate and label the problem. So we zero in on biochemistry. “Just give me a pill, doc.” Or we focus exclusively on spirituality. “If I had more faith, I could get past my anxiety.” Or we allow our social history to consume us. “I’m damaged goods—life will never get any better.” 

 

Sharon mccutcheon 530237 unsplash

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

 

Other times, we do the opposite, ignoring or smothering dimensions of our lives that contribute to our diagnoses. We ignore the impact of relationships. “I can’t deal with those memories—they hurts too much.” Or we neglect the physical, recreational, or emotional aspects of our lives. “I’m too busy to exercise . . . find a hobby . . . spend time making friends.” But wherever we neglect part of our humanity in our struggle with mental health, we curtail God’s healing in our lives.

Continue Reading…

Dead Saturday

smgianotti@me.com  —  March 31, 2018

 

I have a hard time with Holy Saturday. A Good Friday service promises to weigh me down with my sin, the wetness of Jesus’ blood, and the distress in his voice as he cries into the darkness, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” And I can wake up Easter Sunday knowing that the planters filled with lilies, church goers shouting “He is risen indeed,” and a steaming plate of ham will draw me into a celebration of resurrection. But Saturday slips quietly in between and I’m tempted to wake up to the world as I know it, the world as normal.

 

Erico marcelino 235177 unsplash

 

But the silence of Saturday ripples with paradox and grief. If we take the time to venture in, we can see the chaos our sin creates and feel, if just for a moment, a heaviness that makes us long for Resurrection Sundayboth Jesus’ and our own Continue Reading…

* This article first appeared on Patheos on November 9, 2016.  

“This isn’t middle school anymore,” one of my ninth grade teachers used to say whenever someone complained about homework, “it’s not a bunch of warm fuzzies.” Neither is forgiveness, and for many of us the holidays can feel more like forgiveness boot camp than walking in a winter wonderland. 

Photo 1478905094053 75043450c873 

As our families disappoint once us again, old hurts flare up, and holiday shopping ends in shouting matches, forgiveness can like an assault to our humanity. Could God really ask us to stoop that low, to forgive that person Continue Reading…

Last week I posted about the imaginary critics and how, thanks to them, I found myself shelling out my hard earned cash for a subscription to Eharmony.com. And it was all true, but it was only part of the story. God, as he likes to do, had his hand in the mix too. Thankfully, while I was spiting the world and spending my money to prove the imaginary critics wrong, God wasn’t critiquing my lack of faith or my failure to ask his opinion before I signed-up for online dating again. Instead, he was concocting a new dose of grace.  

 

About a month into my Eharmony subscription I met a man who has turned out to be one of the best things to ever happen to me. A man who, when reading my article on the imaginary critics, pointed out how I failed to mention the end of the story, the part about meeting the love of my life.

 

This is one of the challenges of being a writer. You pick out one aspect of life and hold it under the microscope to get a really good look at it, to try to crack it open and see why exactly you let things like imaginary critics influence you. You can’t always tell the whole story, it would distract from the point you’re trying to make. I told this to my man, Jay-Michael from Colorado, but I’m not sure I convinced him. 

 

IMG 3651

 

Over this past week, though, it did seemed like I ought to tell you the other half of the story, if only for practical reasons. Since meeting Jay-Michael, the days have unravelled into a wonderful mess of months in which I find that having a love life is rather unproductive. My perfectly manicured schedule, with just enough time to see a day’s worth of patients at the office, finish my eschatology homework, and go for a run, has gotten all hob-jobbled by late night conversations, daydreaming, and spending more time than I like to admit looking at pictures of our last weekend together Continue Reading…

Several months ago I signed up for eHarmony to prove to all the imaginary critics in my life that I was doing my part to get married. You know, all those people out there who mutter under their breath about how I’d be married if I just tried harder. By the time I’d typed in my credit card number, I’d practically composed an entire speech about how I’d spent my twenties trying to get married and I wasn’t about to waste my thirties doing the same, especially if God intended to keep me single. This didn’t strike me as odd—spending my hard earned wages on internet dating just to prove some theoretical faultfinders wrong—until I heard my niece wailing about the Play-do in her tights. That’s when I realized it was time to fire the imaginary critics.

 

Photo 1472586662442 3eec04b9dbda 

I was FaceTiming my sister-in-law when my five year old niece found Play-do smashed into her tights. As her mom told her to pack up the dough so they could get to church on time, my niece began to whimper about needing her tights washed. Her mom said there wasn’t time and that no one would notice, but my niece began to wail that they would. Who? The mean people. Those all-seeing, all-knowing, invisible judges who zero in on bits of Play-do smashed into tights, who whisper disparagingly about single women who aren’t trying hard enough. It’s time to pull a Donald Trump on them and let them know for once and for all that they’re fired Continue Reading…