Saturday, October 9, 2010

Barnes & Noble

Last night my husband and I went out for a date!! A date! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! (this may sound like an over-reaction...and probably normal for some folks...and some day I hope it is more normal for us....) But for now- it was just so so wonderful!!! We do fun things a lot as a family, but some times it is rare for us to get out. (lol I sound like I'm breaking out of jail!!!)

Anyway- I wanted a free- relatively free date for us. And great friends gave wonderful suggestions. We attempted to make the free concert at the Kennedy Center- (it would have been cool)but kids, traffic, parking [yes if we were smart we would have used metro] were difficult-(and the point wasn't the concert- but time together) if we were really smart we would have taken the metro.... but still we managed to find wonderful free parking by the basin across from the Jefferson Memorial. Other couples were also doing the same thing-- having picnics outside...We had bought pizza fixings so the kids and grandparents (Hallelujah for grandparents!!!) could have fun making pizza and I asked Kev to make one for us earlier and we could take it with us. (I planned this date- so he had no clue other than- make a pizza)

We had a very nice picnic-- there was one couple near us that was very passionate- and I had this moment (if you've not seen the movie "Date Night" do- it is very funny) where I thought---"hmm.... I hope they're not having an affair....or there's no way they're married..." they were like teenagers! In some ways I guess that's sad that this is what I assume (and of course we all know we shouldn't assume...) We did not display similar antics, but we did have a very very good time. In fact I laughed a lot and it felt like the longest time since we'd had a chance to just sit and share w/o being interrupted. Ahh Quality time!! It was so so renewing!

We finished up and walked hand in hand around the Washington Monument where other couples and families and runners were about. Some nice running guys stopped to take our picture for us and we had fun leaning against the monument and seeing our shadows cast by the lights.

We brought our chess board and thought it would be fun to play a game. I had placed a book on hold at Barnes & Noble and so off we ventured. (Seriously, How wild are we? :) Walking into Barnes & Noble without children is a whole different experience. You're not chasing and you don't have the words, "Put that back," "Stop pulling those books out," "No- we're not getting that" catapulting out of your lips. You actually peruse... and browse... and laugh at silly books like one we saw filled with Awkward Pictures (so hilarious- but not spending $12.50 on it!) It felt like an experiment in placing your finger on the pulse of culture.

We had a lot of fun reading and looking and then sat and each had a small (or I guess tall) cup of coffee (the one expense of our date). We came to the table with books we had found that looked interesting to us. I had ended in the Christianity section...
(hmmm Beth- maybe you should read something other than theology...)
And seriously- I do... really-- but I should do better- I am just drawn there.
But I also loved looking at the displays, etc. (that's the whole pulse of culture part)

What is on display? What are people reading? I think I can often and way too often become insulated in "church." I can even become insulated in my own denominational church - I went to a United Methodist college, was a United Methodist missionary, attended a United Methodist seminary and I am now a United Methodist pastor. I read a lot and I go to the LifeWay and Family Christian, and recently have been looking at some Lutheran resources for some family ministry stuff-- but still I am insulated in church.

I kind of have no hobbies (and I am working on this - picked up knitting again) outside of being mom, wife, pastor, cook, cleaner, etc... I do read and that is good- books, magazines, blogs, online newspapers... but I am rarely outside the scope of church stuff-- I seek to be out there more- to know and connect-not just to be a better pastor, but to be a better person- better Christian- who can connect with others and love them better...

I found several books some in Christianity and some just in the first displays you hit- that essentially are books that are propagating agnosticism or atheism.
I really don't get evangelical atheists or agnostics.
Its like spreading hopelessness. What is the point of your book? To make people not believe? To tear down their faith?
To build up humanity as the answer? (I seriously think of the Dr. Phil question- how's that working out for us?)

One of the books I looked at dealt with the problem of suffering-- and researched the issues of it and the biblical responses to it and breaks those responses down to show that they don't work and that God is not really involved (now this is what I can tell from reading the preface, skimming chapters, etc...)

This is that essential question of theodicy that we(all of us) are continually plagued with.
This author was and no longer is Christian, was a professor of theology and no longer is.
He, like me, found Kushner's book "Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People" not satisfying in answering the question.
For me, Kushner takes away a solid understanding of God's sovereignty and that just doesn't work. I'm not giving this authors' name or title of his book- because I haven't read it yet- I can't make assertions or judgments. I seriously skimmed and discussed part of it with Kevin.

Another book is from a fellow who shared how science and reason can offer us everything including morality- and how we only need ourselves and our minds and no God. UGH! (this is my first response--seriously utter disgust)--not for him, not for the author- and I mean that- but for this forsakeness of God. Who do you think gave you that mind and that ability to reason? I love my ability to reason and think and question and struggle- and I believe God gave it all to me! I love that John Wesley included reason in one of the things that is important to our faith- to understanding it and living it out. (Often called the Wesley Quadrilateral -Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience)

I hate suffering and I believe God does too.
God has never given up on me - even when Christ hung on the cross- and felt forsaken by all people and even cried aloud feeling forsaken by God- he still did not lose faith- he still forgave us- he never forsook us, he never gave up. He knew - he lived- he died- for our hope- for the truth that there is resurrection- there is new life- there is eternal life- there is hope- there is forgiveness- there is reconciliation- there is unending grace, mercy, and peace that passes understanding. I wrote in a sermon once that sin isn't God's problem - its ours... Suffering isn't a problem we can solve.... it is a reality that exists- not because God wants it, not always exclusively because our sin creates it, not because God is poking at and testing us... it just is.
I have no easy answers-- maybe I have no "good" answers- and maybe I have none that are "good enough" for folks. This truly is one of my fears I as a pastor- that I won't have good enough answers to help guide people and grow people in their faith. But its not about me- or my answers- Christ isn't Google... you can't find a link to answer everything- there will be no quick fix-- there will be "well that makes sense- okay - now that I have understood everything- sign me up!" No - there is only faith.

I think about Matthew's Gospel and how Jesus is tempted in the desert by the devil.

5Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6"If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written:
" 'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'[b]"

7Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

I think it is good for us to question- we question God, one another, the church- we challenge our faith- and that is not a bad thing. I once almost got thrown out of a church because I questioned so much! Seriously!
But sometimes I think we have to think about why do we question? Are searching for answers? And really- would any answer be satisfying? Do we want to tear down what another believes? Are we seeking to open ourselves and others up to more? Are we competing with God- do we think we know better?

I do not believe we can move further in our faith without doubt, questions, challenges- but I also believe we can't expect easy answers- or try to put God in a box- or give up when it doesn't work out for us...

I wondered with Kevin about these books- why do they write them? Do they seek to take away hope- do they know better- do they think that humanity is great and can do better? (again that Dr. Phil question) Does the author seek to rip faith away from believers? And Kevin wondered with me- should we not read this and these kind of books? Do they seek to take away faith and if so is this book evil- is it seeking to do evil?

I take seriously the vows of baptism and membership where I have stood and said that "I renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of my sin and that I accept the freedom and power God gives me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves." Is this one of those places? Do I resist this?

And yet- I think and fear and wonder if this is the onslaught of thought that barrages people- If I truly seek to guide, and uplift, and nurture people in their faith shouldn't I know and understand what is that they have to confront- or that is trying to confront them. (of course someone could use this reasoning and say- well I had to watch the porn or do the drugs or whatever so I could understand better...yada yada-- hear me clearly-- this is NOT what I'm saying) I just don't think I should be so insulated that I am comfortable with my "answers" but those answers bounce off those I'm trying to reach.

I am not afraid that these authors or anyone for that matter can take away my faith. I've been to seminary-(there was this joke in seminary that your first year they'd try to steal your Jesus and you'd get Him back your third year!) I never lost my Jesus. Many of these authors have been to seminary too and they are more studied than I am. Do they know better than me? No. I believe. I know. I reason. I feel. I experience. I suffer. I struggle and still I believe. I struggle more and I struggle again and still I believe. I believe more and I believe deeper and I believe wiser and I struggle more and I believe deeper and fuller and wiser. I share this belief with people throughout all the world and throughout all time that God is the God who lives and loves and cares and rules and that His Son Jesus Christ lived, and died, and rose again. He hung on a cross and suffered, he questioned and wondered about people- where were they-why did they do this- and about where God was- and He didn't give up- He didn't abandon us or God He forgave us and He knew that God did not leave him there to suffer and die. I believe in the Holy Spirit who lives and moves, and breathes and guides, and nurtures, and cares. I believe in the resurrection and in the hope of eternal life and in the life everlasting. I believe that no matter what happens God is with me. Some would call me naive or optimistic (and its not like I've not heard that before and believe me I've even been called way worse).

I don't believe because its easy and I don't believe because I now have all the answers and life is easy and I don't believe because I think it makes sense in a logical way and that I no longer have questions and all the answers are here and its all figured out. I believe because I know God is God who loves me and lives in me and is for me and with me. I know Christ seeks me out, saves me, forgives me, and redeems me, and I know the Holy Spirit enfolds me, equips me, guides me, uplifts me- how do I know? How do I know? Really Beth- Tell me how do you know?

There's a great hymn that says, "You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!" that may sound cheesy to some folks- or again naive and optimistic- but it is truth. When I doubt Christ catches me when I fear He holds me- when I'm pissed off he still holds me. God is more patient than anyone we can ever imagine- we're like two year olds' (or even harder- three year olds' having a tantrum) God can wait us out and is still there! God doesn't leave.

Yes- there is famine and destruction, and horrible horrible things--real things- not just theoretical bad stuff- but really bad stuff- many of my parishioners have seen things I could never imagine, many of the people who walk in to the church each day or who I encounter and millions of people who I don't encounter are living on the hinges of life, they are without food, clothing, shelter, medicine, and sometimes worst of all without hope. Where is God? all the people clamor-- they want a target to blame. Where and how are we? Where and how and when are we accepting the freedom and power Christ gives us? Do we live and believe and do something?

Why do I believe- is it just because I believe I am being saved from hell? Yes and no-- Yes I do believe I am saved from hell- I am saved from from fear, and pain, isolation, and ultimate suffering Yes I believe that. But my belief doesn't begin and certainly doesn't end there or even languish there very long-- I believe I am saved for- saved for a life of service in and through and for Christ and His world.
I am saved for you and you are saved for me- so that we may love.
So that we love God and one another and love the world.
A very insightful preacher once said to me, "What brings you to faith keeps you in faith?" Do you come out of fear? Do you come for easy answers (and when I say easy answers I don't mean just pat answers- in some ways I think any "answer" to the problem of evil and suffering would be insufficient...) if you need this for faith and to stay in faith.... how will you stay in faith? What answer is enough?
Do you come to faith because you are drawn by God's grace that has been always and ever with you (prevenient) that forgives and restores and justifies you and that carries, lifts, and transforms you in a life leading to perfection (perfect in love Matthew 5:48)Do you have a faith that holds you even when answers can't?

Believe and don't stop believing- question and challenge- and read and explore- but don't be shamed, or made to feel stupid, naive, uneducated- we can lose everything in this world- everything- but we cannot lose God---

And you thought I was just writing about Barnes & Noble!

Romans 1: 16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes

1 comment:

GrumpCurmudgeon said...

Enjoyed this--a good read.

I think you actually haven't hit on the reason there are so many evangelical atheists/agnostics (great terms) these days. They're afraid of Christians--and, in my opinion, for rather legitimate reasons.

You have folks like the good Rev. John MacArthur who said that environmental responsibility was a bunch of hooey because "earth is a disposable planet." You have folks who wield faith like a sword a little too literally, sending our troops off to battle and essentially calling it a battle with another religion.

These atheists look at all the wars that we have waged and how religion has been tied up in many of them. They look at the way religion has treated science (and how many Christians continue to treat science): they deny it, ignore it, fight it, and don't want it taught to the general population.

The atheists see that we have some huge problems in the world, and they fear that religious people have unhelpful reactions. They fear that our faith causes us to throw up our hands and say that God will handle it... they fear that our faith gives us the certainty that we are right and everyone else is wrong... and they fear that our faith is something we'd like to see encoded in civil law, like limiting GLBT rights, etc.

Now that I think about it, I'm not quite hitting it, either. It was fear for quite some time, probably since the Moral Majority gained power in 1980. And some thirty years later, especially after George W. Bush, the fear has turned into anger.

The atheists are angry because they believe that Christians are holding us back from tackling the problems like global warming that face the planet. They believe that this is all there is, and they're sharing a planet with religious kooks who use their misguided beliefs to ignore the responsibilities they have as earth-citizens.

This is actually a long-standing problem, no? Augustine certainly felt the need to address the question of whether a Christian can be a good citizen, and parts of Romans also touch on it.

Finally, I think that atheists believe that religion can dull our sense of injustice. If people are being told that their suffering will earn them rewards in the hereafter, they are far less likely to try to change the current conditions of injustice.

So it's not "Gosh, we hate faith and we will set out to destroy it! Bwa haa haa!" It's more like "These Christians are mucking things up something fierce, and we need to combat their superstitions with reason. Only then can we address the global problems we face."

Really enjoyed reading this--I hang with plenty of atheists (as a secular Ph.D. student), so I think I can give them a solid representation here.

--Shannon Montgomery