Archive for September, 2010
A friend of mine told me this story, quoted verbatim below, which he witnessed first hand at a family gathering. It was a conversation between an elderly aunt and her nephew, who is gay and out of the closet to the family (but apparently not to her).
Aunt Bernice: You’re getting older, aren’t you ready to settle down and get married?
Nephew (in annoyed and firm voice): Aunt Bernice, I’m gay!
Aunt Bernice: You need Jesus!!!
End of conversation. Dramatic silence fills the room while laughter is stifled…
Though this is an extreme example, I think the same dynamic affects a lot of conversations. It is not hard for me to imagine a response like that (though maybe not so blunt) to any number of expressed or perceived problems. This is not necessarily evangelizing on the Christian’s part, it could be said with the same conviction to another Christian.
One problem is the person dispensing the advice (“You need Jesus”) is assuming they have the right answer for the other person. Would it sound differently if it were, “You need Buddha/acupuncture/Prozac/gummi bears/a smack upside the head!”? Do you really know what someone else needs?
I wrote this post on a bad day (a while back). I had lost sleep the night before, was stressed about work, got angry with one of my children, and had frozen pizza for dinner. Basically, one of those days when I had a feeling deep down inside saying, “You shouldn’t have done that.” It was a day when I did not want to be told I needed Jesus.
When I feel really bad, I usually want a little compassion, I think that is true for everyone. Sure, there are times when we need a kick in the seat of the pants to get over a bad attitude. And there can be a danger of enabling bad attitudes by offering unqualified affirmation. But sometimes, maybe a bad day is just a bad day. And we don’t need Aunt Bernice to tell us otherwise.
“Most of us have never really been thirsty. We’ve never had to leave our houses and walk 5 miles to fetch water. We simply turn on the tap, and water comes out. Clean. Yet there are a billion people on the planet who don’t have clean water.”
Rachel Held Evans posted this week on a project she is a supporting, charity: water. This non-profit works to obtain clean water for people who don’t have it. If you have a moment, I recommend the video below, it’s about five minutes long. Or click here for a brief overview.
I am not an expert, but have long been interested in appropriate technologies for developing nations, and currently work in water and wastewater engineering (in one very developed nation). It seems to be an area where a little financial and logistical help can really go a long way.
From the charity: water website:
“They didn’t choose to be born into a village where the only source of water is a polluted swamp. And we didn’t choose to be born in a country where even the homeless have access to clean water and a toilet. We invite you to put yourself in their shoes. Follow them on their daily journey. Carry 80 pounds of water in yellow fuel cans. Dig with their children in sand for water. Line up at a well and wait 8 hours for a turn. Now, make a decision to help. We’re not offering grand solutions and billion dollar schemes, but instead, simple things that work. Things like freshwater wells, rainwater catchments and sand filters.”
These are some of my favorite books critiquing evangelical Christianity:
- Inspiration and Incarnation, Peter Enns
- God’s Word in Human Words, Kenton Sparks
- The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight
- Evolving in Monkey Town, Rachel Held Evans
These books share a common thread; they all critique conservative evangelical Christianity from within the framework of evangelical Christianity itself. Meaning the authors remain evangelicals themselves, which I think uniquely positions them to be heard better by Christian readers. Probably less threatening than someone on the outside with the message, “Your biblical framework is lacking!” (maybe Bart Ehrman?). And because they have held onto the parts of Christianity they feel are important or essential, they have something more to offer than only negative observations (as I tend to have).
I especially appreciate the intellectual honestly displayed by the authors in the way they ask difficult questions, rather than offering up soft balls they already have the answers too (Lee Strobel, et al?). They all describe a Christianity which depends less on a literal interpretation of the bible and allows for a higher degree of mystery in their faith. They also tend to hold to a less exclusivist form of Christianity; that is, they do not necessarily consider everyone who believes differently than them to be bound for Hell.
For me personally, the books also share a common thread where they all fall short; they fail to describe a Christianity which I find believable as ultimately true. My overall question when studying the bible became, “Is the bible true?” I certainly did not find it to be true in the conservative evangelical sense. And while the books offer alternatives to that conservative, literal reading of the bible, my general doubt about the factuality of the bible still seems to be an insurmountable problem for having Christian faith.
I do not think Christians have to consider discarding their faith before they can honestly examine and discuss it. And correspondingly, others should not have to earnestly attempt to believe the bible before they can honestly examine and discuss it. Too many books about Christianity (both for and against it) seem to be based on those premises. These authors provide great examples of showing sincere respect for those who believe differently than they do. By doing this, they promote dialog and intellectual discourse over diatribe and rhetoric, and find common ground rather than defined divisions.