I was listening to a podcast the other day with poet Christian Liman. Liman had a southern baptist upbringing. In his late teens / early twenties he left the faith altogether for a form of agnosticism. In his late thirties, he returned back to it. Not back to a doctrine / rule based faith.
But something new. Something fresh. Something open.
He had a quote in the show that went something a bit like this,
“I’m convinced that the same God who calls me to sing of God in one moment calls me to sing of godlessness in another. I’m of the belief that God calls some people to unbelief so faith can take new forms.”
Last year I was able to get to know the singer / songwriter Bryan John Appleby. I brought him to Whitworth in the Fall for a show and then he came back to play a backyard house show in the Spring. Both times he crashed at my place and him, a few buddies, and I stayed up late drinking beers and chatting about all the big questions metaphysical questions of the world.
Bryan’s music, especially his early stuff, wrestled a lot with unbelief. He grew up a Christian but felt like he needed to leave that framework behind. His art was what allowed him to put into words why and also gave him a release point.
One of the nights we were kicking it in the backyard, I asked Bryan about a song called The Silent Shepherd. He grinned. He told me that that song was the place him and I had both been in our lives. The place where we were frustrated and agitated about our lack of faith or buy-in to the “Sunday school” esque God. The place of feeling like you’ve grown beyond the dominant consciousness of your faith and don’t know if there’s room for you in it anymore.
“Mike, that was the point I left the faith I had been raised with and the point you discovered some more open / mystic version of that same faith. We both reacted the same, but ended up in different camps.”
It was beautiful to think about.
But after listening to Wiman’s interview, I don’t think Bryan and I are in different camps at all. I think Bryan was called to sing of godlessness. And because of that, he’s helped me - and many others I’m sure - keep soldiering ahead. He has caused rethinking. The acceptance of doubt. And the recognition that the old way of thinking about God has to keep expanding.