Sunday, March 27, 2005

Being a Thinking Christian, pt. 2

If you haven't seen it yet, go read the first part I wrote a couple of weeks ago.

I decided to go back and write the rest of this while watching Meet the Press tonight. (The link is to the rough transcript released earlier today).

The Rev. Jim Wallis said this: "There is theocracy. There is fundamentalism in all of our religions. The answer to bad religion is not secularism, it's better religion. So prophetic faith always is the corrective. I see it now around the country. A whole generation of faith-inspired activists, a new generation, are really starting a new civil rights movement on poverty, on the environment. They want a progressive faith. They want to put their faith--they have personal faith, but not private faith. God--in the Bible, it's a public God; cares about justice and peace and equity and fairness. And this prophetic faith drives movements, and that's the best way for religion to shape a democracy, not by competing religiosities in the public square, but a moral discourse on politics. All Americans want our politics to have a moral compass. I see it all the time going on around the country. We're have a wide, diverse conversation with lots of young people who want their faith to shape public discourse."

This is the faith I have found, the faith my husband and I have, I think, found together. It has changed us both, and I don't just mean in the warm, fuzzy "God saved me from X-horrible-thing-I-was doing" sort of conversion. It made us think, really think, about where we were and how we were responding to God's call. Let me back up a bit, to how we got there.

As I said before, I was impressed that Luther (and early Reformationists in general) had insisted on a thinking faith, a faith studied, meditated on, considered. And I slowly found myself doing just that--studying, considering, debating, even. After making my way through the Bible, especially with the context offered in a good study bible (there are lots of options out there--I just linked the one I was familiar with), I was a little more confident on what was in there, but I also wanted better insight on church history, since that also comes up often. And, as Robert A. Heinlein wrote, "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it." With two millennia to cover, I had no idea where to start, and my studies drifted off for a while.

Then I borrowed How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill from my mother-in-law. I enjoyed the writing style as well as the wealth of information on how the Irish "green martyrs" brought texts back to the mainland and helped re-establish the western world as we now know it. In my usual fashion, I scooped up his next two books, which were out by that point: The Gifts of the Jews and Desire of the Everlasting Hills. This last was the book that really changed things for us. Colin and I had read Gifts together, and we were very impressed. We then moved to Desire, and it made us rethink things. If you have not read this book, and you want an understanding of how Christianity started and who they were and what they were doing before the whole thing went corporate (namely, in the conversion of the Roman Empire via Constantine), READ THIS BOOK.

After reading DEH, Colin and I realized that part of why we were less than satisfied was that our church's vision of "mission" and "service" was at best knocking on doors and inviting people to church. I've personally never been a big fan of what we jokingly call "arm-twisting for Jesus." Mostly because I think, particularly in modern America, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone totally unfamiliar with the Story. (And that was several years ago, before The Passion kicked up the fires again.) People avoid churches not because they don't know they're there, not because they don't know about Jesus, but because they don't like what they see there. I can understand that. I've been that person.

Servanthood is the answer to hypocrisy. Showing, rather than telling. Slowly, we realized that we no longer wanted to be part of the church we were at (and by this point, I really felt "at" was a more appropriate description than "in"). We started looking at other churches in the area. Quakers, though interesting politically, were too unstructured for us. We both come from liturgical habits, and we like the format of church, the shared worship of music and liturgy, the prompting of a good minister. Neither of us can quite get along with Catholicism, and we weren't going to go halfway. If you're going to become Catholic, you ought to accept all of it, and neither of us can quite go the step of an infallible Papacy. (Not to mention that we're rather happy using birth control.) So we looked at what I call "first-generation" Reformed churches: Lutheran, Episcopal/Anglican, or Presbyterian. We'd already been at the only nearby Lutheran, and Colin was not sure he liked the direction the American Episcopal church was going. There's a Presbyterian church just a few blocks from our house, so I started looking into it.

I'm a nerd. I live online. So the first thing I reached for was not even the local phonebook. I went online and searched the phonebook there. Two Presbyterian churches in town: one Cumberland Presbyterian, one Presbyterian Church (USA). So I Googled. The Cumberland website was like the Our Gang clubhouse: for insiders only. The PC(USA) site actually gave a lot of information about what the church (nationally) believes, how it works and is organized, answering a lot of our first sorts of questions. So, we called the church and arranged to sit down and talk with the pastor. We decided we'd visit for a while, and were instantly welcomed by the congregation. After a few months, we went through an Inquirer's class, then transferred our membership to the church, making us officially the first new members brought to the church by the Internet.

When we had talked with Wally (and we talked a lot--he really relishes the intellectual challenges that we tend to put in front of him), he understood and supported a lot of our ideas. He was envisioning change for the church--not anything drastic or merely for the sake of change, but to reinvigorate the congregation and get them reaching out, rather than just looking inward. He also shared our want for space to tackle Christianity intellectually: to study and share our thoughts about meaning as well as finding work in the church.

Since we've started attending, one of the big changes has been the addition of a Wednesday night dinner/meeting where we study and discuss. It started when the church did the 40 Days of Purpose as a group last year for Lent, reading Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life (okay, I'm getting tired, I'm skipping the links now. Remind me and I'll post them in comments later). Then they did a study of Phillipians. Then another book...which is on the shelf in the bedroom, but my husband's already asleep.

We also started a young adult group (being for the post-high school, pre-middle-age group), and while it didn't particularly stick past the summer, we talked a lot about service among that group of people. Simultaneously, Colin & I were reading C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity (I did promise I would come back to him). Amazing stuff. Again, I highly recommend that anyone wanting to know about the basics of what Christians agree on should READ THIS BOOK. (Especially you, Alan.)

And we mentioned it to Wally. He had read it years ago, but our mention got him thinking about Lewis again. And as Lent approached, the session agreed with Wally to move away from the assigned lectionary again for a series of sermons linked to a common study by the church. He and they chose a video series of lectures by Dr. Earl Palmer (I'll link these, too, if I can find it) on Lewis' life and teachings as they relate to Christianity, to pair with a common reading of Mere Christianity and sermons relating to Lewis' discussions in the book. And when we showed up the first week, Wally came up to us and said "This is because of you guys. You inspired me."

It was a good feeling. And it was because we had wanted to know more, to think and meditate more on what our faith MEANS, what it requires of us. And I think it is things like this that are moving the people Rev. Wallis was talking about when I quoted him way up there earlier in the post.

G'night folks. Happy Easter. He is Risen!


e.j. miller said...

This post reminded me of Sheldon Vanaukken (sp?)'s book "A Severe Mercy" Not in its entirety, but after his wife and himself became Christians...the meetings they would have to discuss their faith, to really flesh it out and decide what it actually MEANT, not what it was supposed to mean.

I have been without a church for about two years now, and am coming from much the same place you spoke of. I found your site through the whole Laura K. Blank is a plagarist debacle, and I was inspired by your thoughts on the subject of true Christianity. I'd recommend the book, but take it with a grain of salt, as it was recommended to me by someone who turned out to be quite insane. :)

Thanks for being open and honest. I'd like to see more of what you're thinking/studying.

nope said...


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Melissa K. W.
To see my family view this page. My Family

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