Archives For Faith

He needed a refill of his Lomotil, the message said. Had he seen the gastroenterologist like I advised? No, but if I could just send some pills to the pharmacy, he’d appreciate it. I wanted my patient to feel better, but I knew that diarrhea can be a symptom of something much worse. Like the older gentleman who came in for loose stools and ended up with a twelve centimeter mass in his colon. My patient wanted a quick fix and–when it comes to sin–so do we. We want the discomfort go away without having to face an underlying diagnosis. But sin–like colon cancer–is easier to treat when we diagnose it accurately, and early. 

Jesus came so that we could enjoy life to the full (John 10:10), but sin drains the abundance out of our lives. If we want abundant life with God–and aren’t experiencing it–we might want to check if we’ve been complaint with God’s treatment plan for sin:

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Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash

1. Own the diagnosis

Something in humans dreads a diagnosis; we’d rather take a pill to make the diarrhea stop. If a hard day at work leaves us short fused and we snap at a family member, we might try to brush off the unease that creeps into our nervous system by grabbing an excuse about how much work drained us, offering a vague apology for being sorry if we hurt them, or distracting ourselves from the fact that we blew it by turning on Hulu.

But glossing over our failure is as effective as taking Lomotil for colon cancer. It might relieve our psychosocial angst, but the underlying tumor will just keep growing Continue Reading…

I sat at the oak desk answering questions that could take me to China. I breezed through the final query: Explain the gospel to me. Twenty years of Sunday school, church camps, and Christian college rushed to answer. After I finished, she said, “You explained forgiveness really well, but what about the resurrection and ascension?”

After my embarrassment drained off–I was the kid with the all right answer in Sunday School–I resolved to never forget the resurrection again. But when I thought about the gospel, it still seemed that all the action–forgiveness, substitution, promise of eternal life–really happened at the cross. 

Andrew preble 181949 unsplashPhoto by Andrew Preble on Unsplash


More than a decade passed before I realized how often Christians talk about eternal life without ever mentioning bodily resurrection. Or how we look to Good Friday as the day that changed history, rather than the following Sunday. Not that we ever stopped believing in the resurrection, we just sort of left it in the shadows. The cross took center stage in God’s solution to the problem of evil. 

But resurrection burns at the heart of the gospel. The metatarsal bones that Jesus stood on as he talked to Mary in the garden. The twitching biceps as he extended his wrists toward Thomas. The esophagus peristalsing fish down to his stomach by the Sea of Galilee. His brown skin rising into the clouds. All of these broadcast something new about God and his plans for creation. The resurrection expands the gospel beyond what the cross has to offer Continue Reading…

Last week, I posted “10 Questions to See If You’ve Accidentally Become a Christian-Gnostic.” If you missed it, you might want to check that out before reading this. 

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Gnosticism, that ancient belief that physical stuff is bad, has snuck back. While Evangelicals believe that Jesus had real hair follicles and sweat glands, rather than just appearing to be human, many of us still slip into gnostic thinking in other areas of our life–predominantly a sneaking suspicion that our bodies are bad. Or, at least, not as important than our spirits.

But if Christianity officially smacked-down Gnosticism in the fourth century, how has it managed to infiltrate our thinking without the alarms going off? As far as I can see, at least three factors make us susceptible to a soft version of gnosticism. 

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Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

1. Fallout from the Protestant Reformation

Zeal for the Bible drove the Protestant reformers to center their newfound churches around Scripture–literally. They moved the pulpit to center stage, abandoning the cruciform blueprints of cathedrals for more acoustic-friendly layouts where everyone could be sure to hear the preacher. Sola sciptura shaped their architecture.

In the reformers’ passion to recentralize Scipture, many jettisoned any forms of worship that seemed to distract from the Bible. Candles, incense, and icons got stripped away. Peaching, prayer, and singing dominated worship services. In a desire to elevate the teaching of Scripture, the reformers handed many of us a way of church that downplayed (or neglected altogether) more embodied forms of worship. Even communion–the central and very foodie sacrament–got relegated to a monthly add-on.

We Protestants downstream, especially of the low church variety, inherited this wariness of physicality in worship. And since the way we worship shapes the way we live, this skepticism of materiality easily spreads into other areas of our lives.  

2. An Evangelical spin on the Scientific Revolution

Even if we didn’t pith a frog in college Biology, the Scientific Revolution affects how we think. We want facts. We want proof. Rationalism shapes our Western consciousness, and also the church.

When fact-based reasoning became the default way of thinking, it didn’t leave much room left for mystery. Instead of seeing the Bible as a space where we encounter God, Christian rationalism reduces it to a doctrinal fact-book. Instead of a grand story told through multiple genres, each of which need to be digested differently, Christian rationalism flattens the Bible into a rule book for life.

Like a medical students cutting into a cadaver, Christian rationalism dissects the Bible, pulling verses apart to build systematic theologies. And while there’s a place for this type of technical handling, the factual knowledge rationalism gives us is incomplete. It lacks the imaginative knowing that comes from reading the Bible as literature. It falls short of encountering the God who speaks to us from beyond the ink. 

Within this Christian rationalism, following Jesus becomes popularly defined as believing the right things. Not about picking up our crosses. Faith gets reduced to a statement of faith–doctrines to be worked out in our minds and spirits, rather than our bodies.

3. The Bible’s tricky use of the word “flesh”

Then there’s the trouble with our bodies. They seem to lead us into sin–if it weren’t for our eyes, hormones, and genitia, we wouldn’t struggle with lust. Would we? 

On a surface level, body-blaming feels like an appropriate response to sin. Except sin isn’t just a body problem, it’s a human problem. Adam and Eve sinned, not because the fruit looked good, but because they reached for fulfillment and wisdom apart from the Creator. God made the fruit beautiful; feeling hunger and admiring its beauty weren’t sin. The will to disobey God in the face of their natural longings–that was the problem. 

But doesn’t the Apostle Paul’s condemn our flesh as bad? Yes and no. The New Testament uses two words that can be translated to flesh, soma and sarx, and Paul uses them in different ways. When he wants to refer to our salivary glands and small intestines–our skin-bound flesh–the apostle typically uses the term soma. He saves sarx for when he wants to refers to the part of us that is bent away from God–our spiritual dimension that pulls us toward sin.

So when Paul condemns the flesh, he’s not proposing that we try to free our spirits, as if our bodies drag them down bodies. He’s calling us to crucify the will, desires, and habits that shape us away from God, all while keeping his grip on our bodies and God’s promise to resurrect them. 

The Reformation, Scientific Revolution, and confusion over Paul’s use of soma and sarx opened the door for gnosticism to drift back in. But despite these drifts of thought, the Bible unapologetically presents a physical universe, including bodies, as indispensible to God’s plan for humanity. And if God holds the physical world in such high regard, when any thought pops up favoring spirits over bodies we need to sound the alarm. 

Question: How have you seen spirituality valued over physicality? 

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.

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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…

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…

Pills or Prayer?

smgianotti@me.com  —  April 12, 2018

This post first ran at Fathom Magazine on February 12, 2018. 


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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.” 


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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.

 

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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. 

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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. 

 

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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…