Former atheist warns against 'fast faith'
‘Intimacy with God is attainable, but it’s not accidental’
Former atheist Alicia Britt Chole believes our culture needs to move away from “fast faith”, which relies on surges of feelings, and embrace what she calls the “sacred slow” – an unhurried walk with God.
Recently in Australia as one of the speakers at Hope UC’s Worship conference in NSW (hosted by senior pastors Mark and Darlene Zschech), Chole spoke to Eternity about ditching modern culture’s obsession with “faster is better.”
The American speaker and writer urged Christians to take their feet off the pedals of life and pursue an intentional intimacy with God, something she describes as her “heartbeat.”
“Probably what I’m all about – with any moment I’ve been gifted – is to help others come into a sustainable nearness with Jesus that’s not based on events or emotions or scenery or the weather. Intimacy with God is attainable, but it’s not accidental,” she says.
Chole has a doctorate in leadership and the Christian practice of spiritual formation, as well as having written several books.
“Fast faith is the fruit of a culture that has mistaken faster for better.” – Alicia Britt Chole
Chole’s commitment to helping others develop intentional nearness with God led her to write her latest book, The Sacred Slow: A Holy Departure from Fast Faith.
Chole defines “fast faith” as “a restless spirituality that goes from surge to surge, event to event, experience to experience. Always looking for some kind of combination to help the feelings linger longer. Fast faith is the fruit of a culture that has mistaken faster for better and has mistaken experience for relationship.”
She says faster experiences don’t create better relationships and her book is an invitation to establish a steady practice of “attentiveness to God, that doesn’t go up and down with our emotions or other people’s opinions.”
“The problem is that they know that they’re dry within their souls.” – Alicia Britt Chole
The Sacred Slow is the culmination of 32 years of mentoring in “soul care” that she has done with her husband, Barry Jay. “We spend our days meeting with people from around the world through video conference, and we provide ‘soul care’ for them. They know what their leadership styles are, that’s not the problem,” says Chole.
“The problem is that they know that they’re dry within their souls. So we help them develop a healthy soul. It’s such a privilege.
“After 25 years of doing that, I spent the 26th year creating the content. And then spent the next five years field-testing the content. So what The Sacred Slow contains is what I would actually walk people through if they were to gift me with the opportunity to mentor them. So it’s got readings, reflections, and exercises.”
“Jesus and I will open his word, and we’ll meditate on it slowly.” – Alicia Britt Chole
Slowing down is a practice that Chole lives out in her day-to-day life with her husband and children. Early each morning, before the kids wake up, she makes a cup of tea and opens the Bible. “Jesus and I will open his word, and we’ll meditate on it slowly, just a couple of words, not huge passages. I’ll let them dissolve in my spirit like a great piece of chocolate, and we’ll journal together.”
Also directing a non-profit together, Chole and her husband “team parent, and team minister” (as she describes it). They share the load between “taxiing the kids” and mentoring every second day.
“It all comes to a halt on Friday at 6pm. We have family night where we eat gluten-free pizza and watch a movie.” On Saturday mornings she wakes up early to have breakfast with her mum, and the whole weekend is what she calls “a 48-hour sabbath from Friday night all the way through to Sunday night.”
Chole and her husband have three adopted children. “From the very beginning we felt a commitment to adopt children from all over the planet. We thought we would probably have one or two that grew in my womb, and we knew that we were called to adopt.”
But after a couple of years of trying to get pregnant, the Choles were told it was biologically impossible for Alicia to conceive. Chole says finding this out was hard, “but it wasn’t devastating because we had always felt that adoption was part of our path.”
“We made a commitment from the very beginning to never be each other’s first love – that’s Jesus’ place.” – Alicia Britt Chole
All three of their children have special needs. “Our eldest was diagnosed with autism before the age of two, and at that point you just don’t know whether it’s going to be moderate or whether it is going to move towards severe … So that changes a lot of things. We stopped travelling internationally. And we developed a life at home that would be very stable for him.
“As God granted us other children, our second – her birth mother was a cocaine addict, and when she found out she was pregnant, for the love of her baby girl, she got off everything and checked herself into rehab and did the very best she could.”
“We somehow lose the freedom to tell each other what we need.” – Alicia Britt Chole
The Choles say there’s a simple secret that has kept their marriage together for 27 years. “We made a commitment from the very beginning to never be each other’s first love – that’s Jesus’ place. And so we decided we would champion one another’s first love.”
She says it takes away a whole lot of pressure and stress when your spouse is championing your love for Jesus. For example, saying like “You look a little more stressed than normal. Let’s get you a prayer retreat. Or how about a massage? Babe, do you need a massage? Here’s some money do you need some new books. What do you need?”
Regular open communication is another hallmark of their marriage, she says. Every few weeks they sit down and ask each other, “what gift can I give you right now? What do you need?” This gives them the freedom to express the gift they need – whether it’s having the dishes done or quiet time. She believes that in relationships (not just marriages), “we somehow lose the freedom to tell each other what we need. Because perhaps we don’t feel it’s valued when it’s expressed. Or we feel it’s whining.
“But if you have an environment where Jesus is your first love, and you’ve got the freedom to say ‘I need this’ – and nobody’s going to shame you, or shut you down, or think you’re small, they’re going to value you. For us, it’s made a great marriage. “