Earlier this month, NPR did a story on the phenomenon of Christians turning to podcasts to say things they can’t say in church. While that headline initially makes you think of swearing or crude humor, what’s actually talked about are doubts, different answers or approaches to the usual questions, theology, mysticism, and all the wonderful, messy things that make us human. And yeah, some swearing. Among the common staples like The Liturgists, Bad Christian, and The Robcast, the Drunk Ex-Pastors also got a shoutout.
Jason Stellman is the co-host of the Drunk Ex-Pastors podcast, and also the author of the recently released Misfit Faith, a book about his journey through protestant ministry to catholic layperson. Jason is raw, honest, and absolutely hilarious in this book that gives further voice to the growing discontent within Americanized Christianity, and a search for something deeper and more whole. The premise of Misfit Faith is that when we’re doing it wrong, making mistakes, stumbling after this Jesus, while at the same time doubting 3/4 of what he said, that’s actually the key to doing it right. This book is for the misfits, the vagabonds, the spiritual wayfarers who haven’t found a home, and since the podcasts above have regular listeners that number into the tens and hundreds of thousands, even millions in some months, that’s a lot of us. Go get you a copy (after you finish reading this, of course).
I was able to send Jason a handful of questions about his book and his work. Enjoy!
You were a protestant pastor and author, then left the ministry and converted to Catholicism. What drew you to the Catholic Church? Was there a period of deconstruction in between, or did it just seem like the next step in your journey?
Well it was a couple things. Aside from the aesthetic draw (which I had felt for years), it came down to the issues of Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. As to the first, I had come to see a lot of problems with the Reformation idea that the Bible alone is the believer’s source of saving revelation from God. While there’s a lot that could be said, suffice it to simply point out that the Bible’s Table of Contents is not itself a part of the Bible. The more you think about the ramifications of that fact, the more Sola Scriptura begins to unravel (at least for me).
As to the second issue, the more I re-read the NT the more difficult it became to find there the idea that sinners are justified by the imputation of an outside-of-us, alien righteousness. Instead, what I kept seeing over and over is a New Covenant according to which we are saved by means of the internal work of the Spirit pouring forth into our heart the love that is the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets.
Of course this is all very heady and doctrinal, which is how my journey started out. But what I describe in Misfit Faith is more the existential transformation that occurred afterwards—I got to a place internally where I actually began to love the Other, and I therefore no longer really cared if I could get him to agree with me or not.
In your new book, Misfit Faith, a recurring theme is the idea (a very catholic-flavored one, I believe) of how “grace perfects nature.” Can you give the waiting-for-my-beer-to-be-poured version of what you’re trying to convey here?
Sure. When I say “grace” I am talking about all the eternal, heavenly stuff, and when I say “nature” I mean all the earthly, human stuff. So “grace perfects nature” means that heaven’s relation to earth, and divinity’s influence on humanity, is not one where Heaven crushes earth or undoes it, but one where heaven elevates earth and divinity glorifies humanity.
This all stems, of course, from the Incarnation. Here divinity assumed humanity and exalted it, which is seen most clearly in the events of resurrection and ascension: Christ rose in a glorified human body and brought that glorified human nature with him to heaven where he forever is the God-Man.
On a practical level, this idea changes everything. We no longer need to be afraid of our own humanity or threatened by the products of human culture simply because they’re not “Christian.” We can embrace who we are, knowing that God has forever wed himself to our nature.
One of my favorite lines in the book is actually a subtitle: “…Taking Our First Step Into a Larger World.” I had a similar experience, when it feels like a whole new world, a new fantastic point of view (sorry). What was it that brought you to the edge of the smaller and the threshold of the larger?
Well for me the gateway was the Catholic emphasis on the Trinity and Incarnation of the Son (but others may find a different path). Once I walked through that door what I found was a Church that was much bigger on the inside than it appeared from without.
The result for me practically was a kind of existential application of the Church’s ecclesial self-understanding: If the Catholic Church sees herself NOT as the antidote to some prior problem but simply as the church that’s always been around and which always will be, then why should I as a Catholic obsess over people disagreeing with me or defining myself over against my opponents? I spent enough time worrying about what I’m not. Being Catholic has helped me concentrate on what I am.
And I have found it’s far more healthy to dwell on what we are for than on what we are against.
Reading Misfit Faith felt, in ways, like reading a modern, more irreverent Brennan Manning. Has his work been a source of inspiration to you at all?
Haha, thanks. I did read his book The Ragamuffin Gospel years ago, but to be honest Manning influenced me more by way of Rich Mullins and his album, A Liturgy, a Legacy, and a Ragamuffin Band.
The sense I got from these guys was that they’d reached points in their lives where it was either going to be grace or nothing. And at this stage in my own life I would have to concur. When you’re in your 20s you still have some plausible hope for earning a bunch of holiness points because you’ve not yet screwed things up too badly. But with a little more life under your belt and some mistakes in your rear-view mirror, well, let’s just say you get a bit more realistic and willing to admit that, as Chesterton said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
It’s OK to suck at something good, is what I’m saying. And ironically, when it comes to Christianity doing it wrong is sort of how you do it right.
What do you hope the readers of your book come away with?
Well I wrote it with those in mind who have had some form of evangelical background but who don’t identify that way anymore. If there is one thing I would love my readers to come away with it’s that there is more than one way do “do spirituality,” and that evangelicalism is only one option among many.
For what it’s worth, I have discovered that if God exists and is at all complex, then he can be understood from lots of different vantage points. My past background sort of taught me to think of him primarily as a Creator and Judge, and as you can imagine, this had an impact on the way I lived my life before God and others. But when I started seeing God through the lens of divine fatherhood, the result was a complete transformation of how I think and feel about pretty much everything.
You’re also the cohost of the Drunk Ex-Pastors podcast. Want to give a little plug for that here?
Yeah, absolutely! I have been hanging out regularly with my best friend since high school, Christian Kingery, for years and years (he used to be a pastor, and is now an agnostic). We drink and talk about everything from religion to culture, music to movies. A few years ago we just started recording our conversations, and Drunk Ex-Pastors was born. It’s basically an unscripted discussion that incorporates listeners’ calls, and also features a segment called “Dick Move, God” where we turn to some of the nice wholesome stories from the Old Testament for inspiration.
It’s crazy to see how our addressing some taboo issues within Christianity in an honest way has actually been a huge encouragement to the tens of thousands of people who listen to us every month!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just that I also offer personal mentoring, specializing in relationships and issues of spiritual crisis or confusion (been there!). So if anyone wants to learn more, visit jasonstellman.com.
Oh, and if there are groups that’d like to book me to speak, they can find out more on my website as well. Thanks!
Peace and Tenacity,