Archive for the ‘Post-Charm Studies’ Category

Finally! The board game guide to escaping fundamentalism

March 9, 2015

map onlyI hope you love somewhat fake maps as much as I do.

I’m thrilled to introduce A Field Guide to Losing Your Religion … but Not Your Soul. It’s the 20-step plan you’ve been waiting for.

The topography of an un-conversion is wild, and I’m here to guide you through it. (With Dante! And Dickinson! And marshmallows! And Korean taco trucks!)

Completion may take several years, so why not start today?

Or, I’d love to see you over on my new site, which is


The appeal of ‘Dating Jesus’

December 19, 2009

Behold this three-part series that merrily suggests recent books to give this Christmas … or to add to your own reading list. The Charm Marm doesn’t approve of these ideas, but I do.

Not exactly love at first sight.

Combining endearing humor and impressive scholarship, journalist Susan Campbell preaches the gospel of independence in her memoir, Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl. Campbell details her church-heavy girlhood in Missouri as an irrepressible tomboy – she asked questions from the start and seemed to always know something wasn’t quite right when she was told that women were expected to remain silent in church. (It all sounds so obvious once you know better, but some of us believed what we were told at the time, so I’ve always admired those rebels in the back pew who never quite accepted that they were destined to be perpetually pliant.) Although she didn’t stick with church, her questions eventually led her to seminary, and Campbell weaves the work of philosophers, historians and feminist theologians into her story.

Recalling her early years, Campbell writes about witnessing door-to-door, playing baseball, taking her fashion cues from The Brady Bunch and singing hymns in four-part harmony. She writes about loving seminary classes many years later, especially when one of her professors says that many of the early Biblical texts subverted the hierarchy of the day. And yes, she writes about dating (and not dating) and dancing (and not dancing) and loving the real Jesus – the egalitarian one – despite what religion has to say about him.

She writes about believing in God but not joining a church; the feeling she describes of missing singing hymns but not quite wanting to be in the room where everyone’s singing them will be particularly poignant for anyone who grew up in a hard-core spiritual setting but now abstains from organized religion.

Campbell attends one Sunday with her brother, though, and describes another familiar feeling: Walking into a church, when so many churches these days preach a “lite” version of the Bible, knowing that you know more about what’s being taught than most of the people who actually attend.

“Although it is arrogant,” Campbell admits, “I realize that if we want to throw down and hold an impromptu Bible Bowl, he and I could beat any two of these people — clergy included — hands down.”

Apply with irony.

“Fundamentalism broke off in us, didn’t it?” Campbell’s brother asks her. She agrees – it broke off in her like a sword, she muses, and much of Dating Jesus is about Campbell healing that wound. As such, her book is a balm of its own.

And speaking of balm (oh, nice one!), if you’re giving this book as a gift, consider pairing it with every Christian Charm School drop-out’s favorite accessory: Looking Good for Jesus lip balm.

Read an excerpt
Visit her blog
Dating Jesus, $10.80
Looking Good for Jesus lip balm, $5.99

And speaking of balm (oh, nice one!), if you’re giving this book as a gift, consider pairing it with every Christian Charm School drop-out’s favorite make-up bag item: Looking Good for Jesus accoutrements.

A new breed of sacred activists

December 19, 2009

Behold this three-part series that merrily suggests recent books to give this Christmas … or to add to your own reading list. The Charm Marm doesn’t approve of these ideas, but I do.

Calling all mystics and activists ...

Famed Rumi translator and scholar Andrew Harvey has created what amounts to a guidebook for caring for your soul and the planet. In The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism, Harvey aims to fuse the worlds of activists and mystics to create a balanced, passionate way of experiencing and contributing to the world. Mystics, he explains, often become reflective to the point of withdrawing from the world, whereas activists sometimes burn out or become dogmatic. Harvey models a new type of citizen — a “sacred activist” who has the contemplative template of a mystic and the change-agent tendencies of an activist. This previously rare creature can roam the planet realistically tuned into to the world’s problems in a way that’s both inwardly nourishing and outwardly effective. The Hope is a manual for becoming such a person.

One thing I love about this book is the graceful way Harvey brings together so many elements of spirituality and shows how to put them into practice cohesively. He illustrates how to balance realism with hope, service with self-love, dedication with joy.

Along the way, he looks squarely in the face of the world’s problems, from corporate greed to cruelty to animals. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by these issues, but Harvey’s response is rewarding on internal and external levels, which is what makes it sustainable. “Find your heartbreak,” he suggests — get involved in the cause that most splits you open. “What I have discovered for and in myself,” he writes, “is that allowing yourself to experience the kind of cosmic heartbreak I am describing, as long as you are grounded in spiritual practice and trust in God, leads not to death but a far more abundant life…”

For fuel, he references the poetic insights of Rumi as well as his own visions. He writes about the importance of not only discipline and fortitude but also compassion and self-care. He describes how striking a balance of action and meditation radiates outward and inward, so that sacred activists will care for the world and will care for their own souls and bodies as well.

This self-care component was missing from the Christian Charm School curriculum, natch. A huge, brimstone-filled hole of steaming unworthiness sat in its place. Harvey’s way of fusing productivity and pleasure is something charm school drop-outs everywhere can appreciate.

Harvey introduces seven laws for sacred activism, five forms of service and ten things everyone can do right now. He gets down to business, describing specific meditation techniques and forming “networks of grace” on his website, to make his model immediate. Seems as if Harvey’s put it all together, so sacred activists in the making just need to push a few buttons and get rolling. As Rumi would say, that’s freakin’ fantastic. OK, fine – he might be more likely to say something like, “Moonlight floods the whole sky / From horizon to horizon / How much it can fill your room / Depends on its windows.” You get the idea.

Read excerpts
Visit Harvey’s site
The Hope, $11.53

Setting the record straight on Jesus

December 19, 2009

Behold this three-part series that merrily suggests recent books to give this Christmas … or to add to your own reading list. The Charm Marm doesn’t approve of these ideas, but I do.

Digging for truth (and finding it).

In The Jesus Sayings: The Quest for His Authentic Message, journalist and Pulitzer-Prize nominee Rex Weyler analyzes, synthesizes and all-around deputizes recent scholarship about the historic figure of Jesus and what the man actually said. Now that archeologists have uncovered so many early manuscripts and historians have unveiled the context that led to today’s Bible (such as “Constantine’s legacy of official doctrine and intimidation,” as Weyler points out), we can get closer to which teachings are authentic.

And why not? “We don’t do justice to Jesus or ourselves any service by accepting shoddy fourth-century scholarship, mistaken translations or politically biased rewrites as the real message of Jesus,” Weyler writes. As part of my Christian Charm School heritage, I grew up hearing about the Jesus Seminar – and, of course, being told that it was a heresy, an outrage, to challenge the inerrancy of the Bible. Weyler beautifully illustrates why there’s no reason to shy away from scholarship; even those who still take a literal view of scripture should be heartened to find such a compelling look at these issues.

The Charm Marm and many of her fellow fundamentalists seem to fear that this kind of analysis seeks to discredit Jesus somehow, but Weyler’s aim is to honor the tradition of Jesus’ followers by filtering out the bias and focusing on the essence of his teachings.

“Now, in the twenty-first century, we have the opportunity to give Jesus – the humble sage and healer – the cultural and historical respect he deserves,” continues Weyler. He details the way Jesus “absorbed the culture around him, distilled it and revitalized it,” tapping into the heart of his work. He “woke up from the cultural trance of his age and broke with the conventions and inertia of society,” Weyler explains.

One thing I love about this book is that Weyler brings together the work of so many historians and scholars. He references Rosemary Radford Ruther’s progress in feminist theology, for example, as well as Bart Ehrman, whose books describe both simple errors and intentional changes made with manuscripts in the decades during which men shaped the Bible.

Weyler’s book is highly readable and contains lists, a chronology and plenty of resources for those who want to dig deeper into the archeological and scholarly treasures we can so easily access now. Let’s hear it for the 21st century.

Read an excerpt
Visit Weyler’s site
The Jesus Sayings, $11.96