"Wrestling with God" book with Barbara Falconer Newhall

Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith

"Any seeker of any faith will be blessed to read the words of this fine author and observer."

Publishers Weekly, starred review

Click to learn more about "Wrestling with God"

My Rocky Spiritual Journey

You don't have to be a big believer to find something interesting to read here . . . You'll find excerpts from the spiritual journeys of people I've met on the religion beat as well as reports of my own fraught encounters with religion and spirituality . . . as well as updates on my book, "Wrestling with God," to be published early 2015 by Patheos Press.

Does Islam Scare You? If So, Here’s Why

Ceiling and arched windows of a mosque in Instanbul, with hanging lights. Does Islam scare you? Photo by Barbara Newhall

Mosque in Instanbul. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Does Islam scare you? Does it feel like an aggressive religion is trying to take over the world, subjugate women, persecute the LGBT community, and cut off your hand if you’re caught stealing?

Well, you’ve got good reason to be scared — but not of Islam. Islam is a fine old wisdom tradition with millions of kind, reasonable, neighborly adherents in the US and around the world.

It’s the fundamentalist, anti-modern Wahhabi brand of Islam that is scaring you. [Read more…]

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Dying Jesus . . . Dying Churches?

The flogging of Jesus Christ, and crucifixion,  a painting at the Melk Abbey, Austria. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Just one of the many images of the dead and dying Jesus that I saw in Europe last month. Here, the crown of thorns and the mocking of Christ, a detail from the sixteenth-century Joerg Breu altar at Melk Abbey, Austria. Photo by Barbara Newhall

This stone imae of the crucifixion, of Jesus on the cross is on the outside of the University of Bamberg auditorium. Aula. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Stone image of the dying Jesus on the outside wall of the University of Bamberg auditorium. Even today, crucifixes are a common sight in public buildings in Austria and Bavaria. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Churches were at the top of my list of photo subjects as Jon and I set out last month for a three-week river trip across Europe. Stained glass windows, paintings, mosaics, murals — I knew those old buildings would be stuffed to their soaring arches with wonderful old art objects. And I planned to capture as much of that medieval and renaissance beauty as I could.

I saw a lot of Jesuses in those old European churches. But, sad to say, in church after church, Jesus was almost always . . . dying. Or dead. Or staggering under the weight of a cross.

True, there were plenty of images of the Baby Jesus: unblemished and adorable, but often (it seemed to me) no more than a stage prop to highlight the sanctity of Mary, [Read more…]

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Was That Old Testament God Just Trying to Keep Us in the Game?

Monopoly game board. Old testament God.

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

People like to grumble about the out-datedness of the Bible in general, and of the very male, very judgmental Old Testament God in particular. But that fiery, ancient God of Hebrew Scripture has at least one redeeming quality, one he shares with my son Peter.

When Peter was four or five years old, he spent an afternoon with a little friend who was developmentally disabled. Peter was ready to play that afternoon. That is to say, Peter was ready to play – with somebody.

I watched my son try strategy after strategy to engage the other little boy. Patiently, he set aside one superhero figure after another, one truck, one train, one pile of blocks until at last he had found something that held the other boy’s attention and allowed the two of them to interact genuinely as friends.

Peter Newhall engaged in a fierce tug of of war game. Like the Old Testament God. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Peter at age 8. He didn’t give up easily, like the Old Testament God. Photo by Barbara Newhall

A few years after that, Peter discovered Monopoly. He was good at the game and, if he was playing with me, Park Place and St. James Place soon fell under his purview, and my stack of bills quickly dwindled to a few tens and a couple fifties.

At this point, I’d be ready to quit and get back to the kitchen, but Peter wanted to keep on going. He wanted to play – with somebody.

To keep me in the game, my son would stake me to atrociously large loans. His generosity was beyond reason – but it kept the game alive until dinner time or bedtime finally intervened.

Redeeming That Old Testament God

The God of Genesis is a lot like Peter. Crusty and angry and judgmental though he was much of the time, he had one endearing quality: he wanted to interact with humans — with somebody.

In Genesis 9, for example, when human beings mess up, the Old Testament God sends a massive flood and gives creation a fresh start. He quickly recognizes, however, that these creatures of his are bound to mess up again. It won’t be long before humanity is reduced once more to the moral equivalent of a few tens and a couple fifties.

To keep creation in the game, God ties one hand behind his back: he promises never to use the flood punishment again.

That old God, like little Peter, didn’t give up easily.

More about Peter at “When Your Six-Year-Old Wants to Talk Money.”  More about God at “John Shelby Spong: Christianity (Some of It) Is Bunk”  More about my new book at WrestlingWithGodBook.com.

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At Orinda Books: The Author Talked — And So Did the Audience

Author Barbara Falconer Newhall and interviewee Sister Barbara Hazzard gave a book talk at Orinda Books in Orinda, California, May 16, 2015. Photo by Jon Newhall

Hesed Community founder Sister Barbara Hazzard, right, joined me for a book talk at Orinda Books yesterday. Photo by Jon Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Maybe it was the coffee we served. Maybe it was the chocolate chip cookies. Maybe it was something about the self-selected score of people who decided to spend their Saturday afternoon listening to the author read from Wrestling with God.

Or perhaps it had to do with the welcoming ambiance that owners Maria and Danny Roden have established for authors and readers in the months since they took [Read more…]

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Coleman Barks and Rumi — What a Few Lines of Poetry (and a Witch) Taught me

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Coleman Barks is a nice guy. And a southerner at that. He’s the amazing artist who’s been translating Rumi’s poetry for decades now. I’d always imagined Barks to be a stern scholarly type — till I emailed him for permission to use a few lines from his Rumi  [Read more…]

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