It’s a very good Friday. I have an interview with a great blogger to share with you. Long before I knew who Jason Boyett was, I gave my wife his “Pocket Guide to Adulthood” for her birthday. Now I follow his blog like an obsessive schoolgirl, which sounds a little gross, but it’s justified.
Jason’s written a bunch of Pocket Guides, and his new book, “O Me of Little Faith” releases next month. Jason was good enough to answer all my questions about his struggles with doubt, lame church music, and hell, and I had a great time hearing what he had to say. Here’s Jason Boyett.
First of all, tell us about yourself, Jason.
I live in Amarillo, Texas, which is the city in the center of the Panhandle. There are a lot of people who pass through Amarillo on their way somewhere else. We have lots of hotels.
I’m married to Aimee, whom I’ve known since we were both around three years old. I’ve literally known her for most of my life, but have only been married to her for 15 years. We have two kids, a 9 year-old daughter and 7 year-old son. They are both awesome.
Your new book focuses on your struggles with doubt in your faith life. Which stumbling block have you struggled with the most over the years?
Until my last couple years of high school, my biggest doubts were about my salvation. I grew up in a very evangelistic church culture. Lots of traveling evangelists came through, and they were very good at getting people worked up about whether or not they really knew Jesus as their savior, and whether or not they were going to hell. I had friends, and even parents of friends, who got “saved” multiple times. I never had the guts to get re-saved, but I spent most of my adolescent and teen years worried that I wasn’t officially a child of God, in the born-again evangelical sense.
Then, once I got past the am-I-saved-or-not? doubts, I moved on to bigger and wilder doubts — the ones about whether or not God even exists. That’s where I’ve been for the last decade or so. The biggest stumbling block for me has been education. The more I learn about the Bible and the history of theology, the more I learn about science and the human brain, the more I learn about philosophy and psychology and sociology, the more I wonder whether religion is just something we’ve made up.
You’ve pointed out that your Christian background is southern Baptist. Have you found the Baptist church (or any church for that matter) to be a really good place to explore issues of doubt?
Um, no. Though of course there are pockets of grace and understanding everywhere, the Baptist church as a whole is not one that is comfortable with uncertainty. It is steadfastly conservative in politics, in theology, and in practice. Doubts are, by definition, not very conservative. But I’m part of a creative and merciful small-church community that has allowed me to play a significant role here despite my doubts and questions. I even get to preach on occasion. I talk a lot about grace.
I actually found my time in Christian college to be my lowest spiritual point in life because I couldn’t explore my issues with faith and doubt with open honesty.
The book chronicles an earlier time in your life when you were “spiritually scrawny.” Have you managed to pump yourself up in the years since then?
No, I haven’t “pumped up.” I’ve gotten past the salvation doubt of my childhood, but once I put it in the rearview mirror I simply moved on to the next kind of doubt. And it’s worse, to be honest. Do I pump myself up? I try. I pray a lot. I ask for faith. I study the Bible and enjoy discussions about difficult issues with friends. But the best way I’ve found to deal with doubt is to get out of my head and go out and do stuff. Serving people, volunteering at church, volunteering at my kids’ school, playing the drums for the worship band, leading a small group…all of these are actions of faith. I do them; I live as a Christian, even when the actions get ahead of the belief.
But anyway, we talk a lot about overcoming doubt. I honestly wonder, though, if it’s really something we should worry that much about defeating. Faith is not the opposite of doubt, but the companion of doubt. If we had complete and utter certainty, we wouldn’t need faith. Faith is what you need when you don’t have have concrete knowledge. So faith and doubt work together and exist side-by-side. You can’t have one without the other. Sometimes I feel as if I should overcome my doubt. But the fact is that we are finite creatures struggling to believe in and have a relationship with an infinite God. Well, that ought to give us the freedom to be okay with uncertainty.
That’s an incredible observation. I’d like to pretend I’m so pumped up because I’m a pastor now, but really, I’m not. I suspect a lot of people who are really spiritually pumped up are actually “juicing.”
So that kid on the cover of your new book pretty much rules. Did you get to pick that photo out of a montage of scrawny, nipple-bandaged kids?
I think the scrawny, nipple-bandaged kid on the cover does, in fact, rule. Love it. I didn’t get to pick out the photo, though I was shown the book cover and approved it almost immediately. In fact, I was so intrigued with the kid on the cover that I did some digging and found out not only who he was, but the back story about how that photograph got taken. You can read about it here.
I’m glad that kid was the only one, because a montage of shirtless, bandaged kids would be rather disturbing.
What’s one thing Christians want to talk about even less then doubt?
Greed and wealth. When I see Christians, including pastors, living extravagant lives of luxury, I always have to wonder how they justify it. It’s not wrong to make a lot of money, but to take that money and use it mostly for yourself requires ignoring a whole lot of what Jesus actually said. Look at our $60 million buildings. In the Kingdom of God, how do we justify having a Broadway-quality lighting set-up and stage show — so we can worship better — when there are so many other real needs in the world?
You’ve confessed on your blog that you are annoyed by many aspects of modern worship (i.e. the music). Is there a worship song that everyone sings that you absolutely refuse to participate in?
I play the drums for the worship team at our church, and have made it clear that I will not participate in the song, “Trading My Sorrows.” It began as a joke. I hate that song, but has gotten to the point where the only time they ever do it is when I am away. I do not mind this in the least.
Where do you think you go from here as a writer?
No idea. If I can continue to write books and get them published, I’ll be happy, I guess. Right now, writing books is sort of my side gig. It’s what I do late at night, after my kids go to bed. My day job is freelance writing in the form of corporate copywriting and marketing/advertising stuff, because that’s what really pays the bills.
You’ve talked before about your struggles with whether hell exists. If hell does exist, what would it look like to you?
My own personal hell would be a room with chalkboard floors and chalkboard walls, and I’d be wearing shoes made of fingernails and forced to dance perpetually to a soundtrack of speed-metal covers of Point of Grace songs, sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks with background vocals by Tom Waits.
I’d simply be a member of the studio audience on The George Lopez Show…with Kevin James as a guest.
Tell us about how you deal with doubt, and then pre-order Jason’s book now!