A horse of a different color

Throughout my life, the question of faith has somehow been tied up with factual evidence, historical accounts, and the power of both science and religion to facilitate wonder. Those who do not believe are always looking for proof. Those who do have faith are also looking to reinforce or explore that faith. Both sides are really looking for the same thing, though – meaning. Whether in science, religion, or philosophy the search always has been, and always will be, for meaning. For myself, I think that as long as that search is being actively pursued – as long as the faithful aren’t just sitting on their laurels watching everyone else, as long as the scientist is still striving to make that next discovery and the poet to distill that shadowy intangible – no one search will be invalid or wrong. It’s the questioning that counts, that makes life full.

Personally, that’s why I am typically delighted with the scientific discoveries made in relation to my faith. The Sea of Gallilee may have been full of ice floes and that’s what Jesus walked on? Delightful! New gospels and letters bringing into question the ideas that the early church’s Gospel left to us? Well then, let’s all get a little closer to the historical Christ, and in turn, to the one we feel in our hearts. If history unearths a new revelation or challenge for us, let’s meet the challenge.

Now it’s the turn of the Muslims to question the foundations of their faith a bit. And for a religion that holds the very image of its prophets (including Jesus) still sacred, it’s going to come as a blow. Still, there will be adaptations, modifications, and in time a lessening of the impact these foundations have. It is the nature of religions – at least the nature we have seen thus far. That’s why the Buddha is reincarnated – with each passing generation, the truth of his teaching, his path, dilutes further. You need a new shot of truth in the arm to keep progress going forward. I mean, look at how short-living some of the founding principles of current religions were – having to be Jewish to become Christian, or freeing all your slaves who were also Muslim. The things that were less politically desirable were discarded.

Now, the question comes when an individual must determine if these changes negatively or positively impacts the belief itself. Does my acceptance and tolerance of others make me more faithful, or damn me? Will the questioning of the Koran shatter the Islamic religion, or change it into something different, for better or worse?

Brio

One of the almost daily alarms that makes me question my faith are the forwards that people send out regarding religion. Maybe if you aren’t Christian, your Christian friends and relatives don’t send these to you, but for me it’s just another thing I need to check off and quickly delete. Occasionally a subject line will catch my eye and I’ll actually read the email. Most often I just delete them though, either with guilt or annoyance. I mean, really, are animated GIFs and bright colors going to make me more spiritual or faithful? Not likely. But occasionally there’s a sweet story in there that I enjoy reading, and I do feel guilty for ignoring that potential.

Still, the idea of multiple email forwards that promote or enliven your faith life is somehow disturbing in and of itself. It seems showy, almost like propaganda. It reminds me of Brio magazine, which one of my aunts kept me subscribed to for my pre-teen and teen years. For those of you who don’t know, Brio is a publication of Focus on the Family and is geared towards teen girls. It’s basically like most other teen and pre-teen magazines, with articles on a variety of topics, the difference being that it has a Christian bent. While there are some political and ethical questions surrounding the organization, in particular the founder, James Dobson’s, use of Focus on the Family as a platform, Brio itself is pretty much what it claims to be: a Christian teen girl’s magazine.

That being said, there are times when the magazine slides from promoting Christian morals and supporting teen girls in what we must admit is a growingly complex and confusing world to conservative conformism. I can remember my own first recognition of the slide while reading one of the music reviews near the end of the magazine. It must have been in the very early nineties, when my musical taste was still developing and the only real Christian artists were Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. There was a review of a ‘mainstream’ artist who I had never heard of, but was evidently a Christian and had just put out a new albums that was mostly faith-based songs. The thing that struck me was the reviewer’s portrayal of this artist as one readers should boycott because her other albums were not all about God or Jesus or Christianity.

I walk a fine line in my faith life. I’m a fairly liberal Christian, I live in a liberal city, and most of my friends are either agnostic or atheist. There are times when these leanings threaten both my faith and sense of self, and I wish for a community that would tell me the rules I’m supposed to be following rather than making my own decisions. There are times when the questions I have about my own life – what I’m supposed to do for a career, what God is calling me to do, what the world really needs from me, or what one small person can do in the face of all our troubles – overwhelm me and leave me feeling lost and helpless. There are times when the honest questions of outsiders towards my faith feels like an attack on me personally. But most of the time I feel privileged to make my own choices, to be able to enjoy non-Christian music and the company of atheists without endangering my beliefs, to appreciate and tolerate the thoughts of others without necessarily agreeing with them or taking them as my own.

I looked at several reviews of Brio before writing this post, and I am grateful to the spectrum of voices which wrote those reviews. Not because I necessarily agree with any of them, but because most people took the time to give honest feedback. I’ll select a few examples for you:

5.0 out of 5 stars Good Pick, May 28, 2003
By Anastasia (New York, U>S>A) – See all my reviews

Brio is a great magazine for Christian girls. The magazine has friendly staff that take questions in the mail or on the computer. There is good advice that is helpful to all girls: clothes, make-up, guys, school and much, much more. Beauty tips and music reviews are given also. The fashion articles give the best ways to be stylish and modest. At the end of every issue there is a Bible study to follow along with for that month; to help you learn Scripture and be a better Christian. The magazine is awesome!

3.0 out of 5 stars Basic but true., March 20, 2005
By Julie S. (Wytheville, VA) – See all my reviews

I had a subscription to Brio for ages when I was younger. It is wholesome and encourages girls to make the right choices in life based on the Bible. After a while, though, I realized that I kept hearing the same topics again and again, and they weren’t ones I had trouble with – topics like not having sex before marriage and listening to music that sends a good message and obeying your parents and why the Bible says that witchcraft is wrong. These are all wonderful topics, of course, but growing up in a Christian community, I’d heard them all before.

Bottom line, Brio is a good magazine, an alternative to secular teen-oriented magazines, but I would not recommend it to Christian girls who are looking for in-depth Bible studies and many spiritually helpful articles that go past the “basics”. I recommend it to younger Christians who may not have been given much Bible-based advice in their life and are trying to find whether or not they are leading their lives in a way that will please God.

1.0 out of 5 stars Not What I Expected, January 10, 2007
By Tawnya Sesi (Deep South) – See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)

I subscribed to this magazine (Brio) on behalf of my 13 year old step-daughter so that she would have an age-appropriate magazine that would foster a more Christian view of her world. The cover and first few pages were OK. Loved the “ad” about reconnecting with your mom because “You have more in common than your DNA.” Pictures and format were well done. The contents page looked inviting,too. Then to the nitty-gritty. The “Inbox,” which contains feedback from readers, got my attention first. In the middle of the page is a note from a 15 year old girl entitled, “God Talks to Me.” OK, well, he ‘speaks’ to all of us, but this was different. She states “God has told me that America is like the biblical Israel, and we’re going to be destroyed if we don’t turn from our sins. We’ve already been warned enough through 9/11 and Katrina.” Incredulously, there was absolutely no reply or note of any sort from the editors. That the staff would condone the idea that disasters befall people because they (or we) deserve them surprised me and is just not the message I want to impart to my child. But, instead of suggesting something that may actually be helpful to the writer, the editorial staff reinforced this view by their complicity. As I continued not so casually perusing the rest of the magazine, I found more off-kilter expressions of devotion in all of the articles that related to God and religion. The articles that were not religiously oriented were quite good (on hygiene, IQ, etc.), but were of the sort that one can find in any girl’s magazine. In the end, I cancelled my subscription. And, although I ordered this mag through Amazon.com, Brio’s “Specialty Department” told me that I could not get a refund because somehow I had subscribed through a “fundraiser,” and they (the publishers, Focus on the Family) did not have my money.
Well, in the end, LESSON LEARNED! There will not be any more Focus on the Family publications in this household.

1.0 out of 5 stars This is Christian???, November 30, 2005
By BosseSee all my reviews

A friend ordered me a subscription to Brio, and, frankly, it disgusted me. It talks about God in a hip, “funny” (yeah right) way that any Christian should think is slightly disrespectful and at least one article about guys is ALWAYS in the contents. I couldn’t believe this is considered a “Christian girl” magazine. When I get mine I throw it straight in the garbage, where it belongs.

When I see this, despite my disagreement with some comments, it gives me a little flush of hope for my faith. Yay, people actually making judgments for themselves! Yay, questions being raised about what a magazine tells you to believe! I think regardless of your faith, there’s a lesson to be learned here.