It was time to write another installment, but I’d his something of a rut in my research. There’s a public elementary school across the street from the church where during certain seasons of the year I and several others spend our Tuesday afternoons running an after-school Bible club. Desperate for new material but only willing to invest minimal effort, someone suggested I pick out a 5th grade boy and ask him my questions. So I did. One of my favorite little urchins wears Jordans, never sits down, and never stops talking, so I told him to sit down and be quiet. I had some questions I wanted to ask.
For a time during college I dated a girl who was a Christian but her parents were not. Even then it was clear I was on track to a career in ministry though the path was quite unconventional, meandering through ropes courses, whitewater rapids, and sizable portions of Appalachia. This scenario on one occasion led my own mother to ask, “What do her parents think of what you…do?” Having already pondered this question I replied that while I believed they were by no means opposed to them, her parents definitely regarded my varied exploits with a heightened level of curiosity. “Don’t we all,” said my dear mother, her voice trailing off as she turned to look out the window.
I strode boldly into the wilderness once. Having just finished college and as close to an idealist as I’ve ever been, I figured on doing something significant in a place where many had tried ministry and failed. The Appalachian backcountry was my destination and I made my grand entrance one sultry May into a place where men do indeed scrape up fresh roadkill and make it into stew. It’s easy to see how that is a more convenient and cheaper avenue to a high protein diet than climbing into a tree stand with a loaded weapon and shivering for hours on end in wait of an opportunity which may never come. Still I’ve never tried the stew; only seen it. Culinary issues notwithstanding, the culture shock was real. Six months later lacking direction, out of funding, and tail firmly implanted between legs I slinked back to suburbia seeking the relative security of ministry in a local church. Years later, I’m discovering that to many the idea of security within a local church seems as foreign as roadkill stew.
For some it is simply too easy. “Anything that you do wrong will just be forgiven if you believe in God? That can’t be true.” Nonetheless there are those who desperately hope “God doesn’t pay back for past sins,” but lack any assurances. Others weigh apparent contradictions and conclude “we have to give science some credit too.” But one unanswered question seems most prevalent in the post-Christian worldview: “Why?”
Thus far those I have asked about their beliefs in regard to where the world came from, God, Jesus, and life after death have been “soft targets.” I told them as much. Their individual histories all include, in part, the local church. In some cases they include my local church. These people seem to believe me when I tell them I’m not interested in arguing or outing them…though I may anonymously quote them in a blog. I don’t presume to know where my post-Christian friends are looking for answers to their own questions, let alone mine. I’m not even sure some are looking at all. But it seems apparent they don’t consider the local church a wealth of helpful insight. After all, one said, “I believe you can be a good and helpful person without organized religion…or even being very spiritual.”
Yet there is still the nagging question, why be a good and helpful person? Why be anything at all? Why are we here? In fact, why did I feel compelled to drive off into the mountains years ago only to emerge prematurely, licking spiritual wounds still not completely healed years later? “What is the point?” Thus I am confronted, yet again, by a lamentable fact. Even in ministry my utmost pursuit is often indistinguishable from that of anyone else. In many respects I am less about the Kingdom of God and more about remedying my own personal insecurity.
An unfortunate side effect of insecurity is its tendency to make us talk louder and faster. If you believe like I do, in fact even if you don’t, do you suppose Adam and Eve calmly collected the choicest of fig leaves and carefully wove them together, all while peacefully discussing recipe ideas for forbidden fruit after realizing they were naked? Did Adam speak to God in even, measured tones as he blamed it all on his wife? I doubt it. Instead I imagine a flurry of breathless activity and shouting, not unlike the day in Appalachia when I stepped out of the shower and heard my neighbor’s kids knocking on my door…my bathroom door. Loud and fast conversation ensued in order to convince said urchins of the virtues of personal space, henceforth providing me with a greater sense of…security.
Conversations in the post-Christian wilderness, as opposed to in the hallway of my former double-wide, require a markedly different, less efficient approach. Thus as I sit across the table taking notes I have an image of myself strapped into a tree stand, shivering, with all my insecurities wanting to engage in “fast and loud” lectures about cheap grace, faith and science, or various other quandaries. After all if I could convince this poor person that I held the answers to his questions, then maybe I myself would be provided some greater measure of self-worth as well; some greater measure of…security.
But obviously I don’t really believe my security is the goal here. Otherwise I never would have left the office in the first place. So I sit, in my proverbial tree stand, carefully listening to and observing the rustling in the brush below. After all, I’m not actually trying to kill anything, nor am I in any danger of being killed myself…and no one is even remotely interested in scraping anything off the pavement. An adversarial frame of mind is what gets our insecure selves in trouble in the first place. Instead we’re just two guys talking. My hope is that if I sit patiently long enough the brush will eventually part and a target of opportunity will reveal itself when my friend is simply bothered by my questions enough that the Holy Spirit prompts him to ask, “What do you think?” I don’t know where post-Christians are looking for answers; only where they’re not. Presumably I could shout louder and faster from the relative security of the church, but that only seems to be frightening them further away. Thus I venture out, sit quietly in my tree stand, ask some questions, watch the leaves rustle, and pray for the opportunity to answer some questions as well.