Unbiblical Devotions

Truth Set You FreeIt’s not much of a secret I’m skeptical of the way spiritual practices are emphasized in much of the modern day (American) church.  I’m not at issue with the practices themselves (necessarily), but I am not a fan of the way they are trumpeted as markers of true faith or a road to somehow “better” spirituality.  I don’t believe God mandates daily scripted devotions or quiet times or even prayer, and I certainly don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to “do” them.

I wrote a piece well over a year ago called Freedom From Devotions.  In the piece, I confessed that I had stopped doing devotions, and had found great grace and freedom in the process.  (You can read that piece for more background, and I suggest you do before you continue in this post).  I still don’t have a regular schedule of typical devotions… but I have realized the benefit of some atypical devotions.  I call them “unbiblical,” as in “not from the Bible.”  I don’t mean “unbiblical” as in opposed to the Bible, though I imagine many people would say my approach is opposed.  But there are ways that I feel deep, meaningful truth communicated to me that just doesn’t come from forcing myself to do something in a restricted fashion because someone else says I have to.  I’m weaving some of those truths throughout this piece, even though they come from some unusual sources: musicals and comedians.

“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.” -Jon Stewart

Part of the reason it is difficult for me to read the Bible is because of the way I learned to read it: as a literal, clear, absolute authority.  But it’s impossible to read it that way–you get yourself confused and caught in contradictions pretty quickly.  It’s an ancient document, so that’s kind of how it goes.  It somehow hits me more directly to hear a contemporary person comment on an essential piece of integrity (especially when that person has the unique perspective of a comedian, who has social license to say things in a way that others can’t or won’t).

…A man’s called a traitor – or liberator
A rich man’s a thief – or philanthropist
Is one a crusader – or ruthless invader?
It’s all in which label
Is able to persist
There are precious few at ease
With moral ambiguities
So we act as though they don’t exist…

…People make mistakes
Holding to their own
Thinking they’re alone
Honor their mistakes
Fight for their mistakes
Everybody makes
One another’s terrible mistakes…

The Bible actually has several examples of situations that are not clear-cut (read the Old Testament lately?), and really, the entire book is about the broken human condition.  But it’s hard to recognize that when your entire life the same stories have been presented to you as having an obvious right and wrong coupled with a definitive lesson for your own behavior.  Fiction (usually) doesn’t have an agenda, and so it offers less baggage-ridden access to realistic truths.  (It doesn’t hurt when it’s fiction put to song, either).

“I believe in pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps. I believe it is possible — I saw this guy do it once in Cirque du Soleil. It was magical.” -Stephen Colbert

“I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument. I call it the “No Fact Zone.’ “-Stephen Colbert

“I have complete faith in the continued absurdity of whatever’s going on.” -Jon Stewart

“If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.” -Jon Stewart

Sometimes I just need to hear someone else point out how ridiculous we can be when we are looking after our own interests instead of imagining what it would be like to be someone else.  It’s truly encouraging to me to know that other people see that, too.  The Bible is what gives me the belief that the second greatest commandment is to love another person as yourself… but contemporary comedy gives me the hope that I’m not the only one seeking to do that.

…So into the woods you go again
You have to every now and then
Into the woods, no telling when
Be ready for the journey
Into the woods, but not too fast
or what you wish, you lose at last
Into the woods, but mind the past
Into the woods, but mind the future
Into the woods, but not to stray…

These are words that help me face my day.  Do I still read my Bible sometimes?  Yes.  Do I still pray?  Yes.  But it’s in a natural way at times I naturally want to or need to.  And I also happen to remind myself of deep joys and pains and truths in other ways–ways that aren’t restricted by human rules.  After all…

…Into the woods–you have to grope,
But that’s the way you learn to cope
Into the woods to find there’s hope
Of getting through the journey…

Jon Stewart quotes are from: Jon Stewart quotes–departing Daily Show host’s best lines (from The Week, a UK Magazine)
Stephen Colbert quotes are from: Wikiquote: Stephen Colbert
All lyrics are from Into the Woods, with the exception the excerpt that begins with “A man’s called a traitor…”–that’s from Wicked.
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Recommended Reads: Loving Blackjack and Hating the Bible
Covenanted, Soul-Mated Relationships (of the non-romantic variety)

4 Responses to Unbiblical Devotions

  1. Karen Romanovich says:

    C.S. Lewis described Christianity, coming from his background in classic literature, as a “myth that is true.” There is something about story that helps us understand ourselves and make sense of the world around us. I love truth in words and stories, too 🙂

    There’s a book “Sacred Pathways” that describes how different people relate to God in different ways. It’s written by a pastor (Gary Thomas) who realized that the evangelical “quiet time” was just a narrow slice of the rich spiritual life of Christians throughout history. It was helpful to understand the parts of my life that are “spiritual” even if they don’t fit into the majority church culture.

    Blessings on you as you seek His face!

    • Emily Dause says:

      Thanks, Karen! I love the way Lewis and Tolkien believed in (and demonstrated!) the power of story. Thanks for the book recommendation. Sometime, I’d like to read Disquiet Time, a collection of essays that came out recently. The subtitle is “Rants and Reflections on the Good Book by the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels.” 🙂

  2. Andrea D says:

    Thank you for sharing this! I totally get feeling disenchanted about “daily devotions”. It was drilled into me at church and my Christian school. It is really defeating, when something that is more a measure of your discipline is regarded as a measure of your spirituality. I have just been looking for something to do as a “daily” Bible reading, and finding it really hard to find something that I would actually want to do. A lot of the devotional books seem so contrived, and that would just make me want to quit all over again. I don’t really want to just open my Bible and just read, I want like a guided thing…I do have a book called “Celtic Daily Prayer” which is a prayer book with readings etc, but it is a bit clunky for streamlined use. But it is a little more progressive and not as “religion-y” as other books. I don’t know…maybe I just need to look at it the way you do–through good music and comedy 🙂

    • Emily Dause says:

      I agree and identify with everything you said, Andrea. I tend to be–or at least used to be–a rather disciplined person, so “succeeding” in checking off a devotional box every day was a terrible strategy for me. I was earning something, but it wasn’t a closeness with God or even a better understanding of prayer or the Bible. I’ve used a few different devotional books, and have found them to be contrived and not much more than towing of the same old flat lines. The Common Book of Prayer has been helpful to me on occasion (although it’s kind of confusing and there are a crazy number of versions of it). Something else that’s been helpful is reading other literature about people of faith I respect (who also think for themselves)… like Richard Rohr‘s work or Philip Yancey’s Soul Survivor.

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