Saturday, September 23, 2006

Introduction --- Wresting With God

OK, here is the introduction to my material --- Comments, suggestions, PLEASE!

It all began with Dan Brown and his novel THE DA VINCI CODE. Well, that is not completely true. It really began, for me, as a child. I read the Bible, I went to church, but to be honest — some things just didn’t make sense. My parents, raised me in the church (my father is a retired minister), but, more importantly, they raised me with a sense that it was O.K. to ask questions. I didn’t have to "believe" everything at face value.

I was a history major in college. Maybe that is where the blame lies. In learning history, I learned that everything is seen through the lens of those who are telling the story. The history of an event, told from opposing sides, sounds sometimes like it is two different events — yet, they both told the truth. That lesson seeped over as I began to earnestly study the Bible and the history of the early Church.

Maybe Albert Schweitzer, the great doctor and missionary is too blame. As I studied his quest to find the historical Jesus, I realized that the only Jesus that we have is not a Jesus of history, but a Jesus of faith. That doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t live — I believe he did. But what we can know about the Jesus of history can never be isolated from the Jesus of faith.

While I have learned to live comfortably in that grey area of life, I know that many people struggle with this. I see this most profoundly in people who are what Bishop Spong calls "The Church Alumni". People who no longer can believe the doctrine of the church, yet are still looking for something. It is for them, and those who still toil in the church that I am writing this.

I want to share an e-mail I received from and 18 year old college student:

"I think it's a really good thing that you're working on a curriculum designed to help people deal with the questions and doubts that they should have about their faith. When I got old enough to realize how historically unreliable and intellectually fallible the Christian Bible is, I pretty much just gave it all up and was really angry because I felt like I had been lied to my whole life by teachers I thought I could trust at church. Kind of how a kid might feel when they finally figure out that Santa isn't real and that they were being systematically lied to.
As much as I wish I didn't, I still feel resentful.
It's really fascinating though, what an incredibly huge role religion plays in shaping the beliefs, views, and actions of huge groups of people all over the world. I am actually considering taking on a theology major because I think it would be a huge asset in my quest to better understand why the world works the way that it does. Right now I am taking a class called "Women In The Bible" and it is really very interesting, but I feel weird because the people in the class all believe in God and Jesus and stuff. I don't have anything against any person of any faith, but I guess I just feel like they probably look down on people like me. But I guess it's probably good for a little white suburban girl to start learning what it feels like to be in the minority for once.

It is to the Casey’s of this world that I am writing this. I believe religion matters. I believe faith matters. Maybe not how it is presented today, but I believe that it is only faith that can solve the worlds problems. Capitalism can’t because it just creates a world of haves and have nots. Socialism can’t because there is no motivation to achieve the greater good. Only faith offers that.

There is a great deal of excellent scholarship out there on the formation of the Bible and the early church. I claim no expertise. What I do claim, is that Christianity is still valid and important in the 21st Century.

The "Old" Christianity may be dead (or at least dying), but Christianity certainly is not. Jesus came to show us a way of life, and he died trying to teach us. My hope is that I will not simply de-construct the old, but will begin laying out a new understanding, a new glimpse of God through Jesus Christ.

I hope that you will join me on this journey as I wrestle with God. At times I will frustrate you, I times I will get you to rise out of your chair and tell me I’m wrong, and at times I will get you to say hallelujah. But more than anything I want to get you to think, to think about your faith — to think about what you do — and why you do it.


Anonymous said...

Greetings from Munster!

Hi Steve!!

I see you've really given "Wrestling With God" a lot of thought. I believe everyone has a different encounter with faith in their life - and each one is unique in its own way. Faith has never been a question in my life - but how to express that faith has been a problem.

Being brought up in a religious environment has a lot to do with your faith. I went to a Catholic grade school (being taught by nuns and priests who had given their life in the service of God greatly influenced me). They were great role models. My mother's sister was in the convent. The Catholic Church paid for my bachelor degree undergraduate studies with the understanding that I teach for 2 years in their system.

Having a near-death experience in early life strengthened my faith in God. "Falling in love" with God for saving my life, I decided to show my love by entering the convent - but repeated health concerns prevented me from expressing my love in that way. Sometimes the scientific realities of life surpass the spiritual.

So, my faith was never a question -but expressing it the way I wanted to was. Perhaps God has other plans for me!

Loved your Dad's pictures he sent you. Glad you are participating in some of the Jewish holy days! Kathy put your pictures on the bulletin board in church. Nancy said she likes her new job!


Mary Vis

Christina Writes 1 said...

Hey Steve,

My problems with Christianity lie with the complete hypocrisy expressed by those who claim to be "Christians." It simply seems quite obvious to me--and I admit that I am quite uneducated when it comes to the specifics of the Bible--that most churches/people practice exactly what Jesus taught against. I don't think Jesus would like our fancy churches. I don't think he'd like the internal back-patting that Christians give themselves for being so "good" and "right," I don't think he'd like the amazing amount of exclusion that Christian Churches practice. (Would "Christians" really welcome a bunch of smelly homeless folks in the Church service? Yeah, right.) The real Christians, to me, are quiet and anonymous. Tibetan priests as they meditate in the early morning. A biologist tagging an endangered butterfly. A single mother reading to her son in the ghetto at night. A Wiccan priestess appreciating the leaves swirling in the wind during the summer equinox. A little boy smiling to a 90-year-old woman as he walks down the street. An Islamic man carrying hard-earned food home to his family. These are the true expressions of Christianity, yet many of these things most Christians of today judge and reject. Tell me that makes sense...tell me Jesus is happy with that...

Steve Conger said...

Christina you are absolutly right. As Jimmy Buffet says "Religion is in the hands of crazy assed people." I hope that I am not one of them. I believe that Jesus came to show us a way, exactly what you talk about, but we have made in into our personal idol. I get so frustrated with Christianity, that sometimnes I say "NO MORE" but if I am not willing to help bring it back to the love and hope, the way that Jesus taught, who will help do that?

I really believe that Christianity offers an excellent way of connecting with God, not an exclusive way, but for me, the most excellent way. I want to help others connect with the REAL God, the one who creates and loves and hopes, that is hidden somewhere admid Christianity.

You are on the same quest, as you search for God through confession. Confession is important, not because the church has the keys to God, but because a clear mind (soul) always helps us in connecting with the ONE. But no priest has control over GOD, and no amount of hail mary's or holy father's makes us a better person --- only our actions make us better.

Christina Writes 1 said...

You got that right. I think all the "Hail Marys" and "Our Fathers" are just a way for folks to Pavlov themselves into some sort of spiritual connectedness that they may not be capable of achieving otherwise. Ritual is present in ALL cultures so our physical actions can tap into emotional places, including religion, ethnic identity, love, etc. Whatever sends someone to that "good" place is fine with me, as long as others don't try to force me into their ritual. I am not much of a "Hale Mary-er" at all, but it's interesting to watch the affect that it has on others. The danger, however, is when people confuse ritual with belief, because those two things are so NOT related. Practice might make appearances perfect, but it sure as hell doesn't make one's soul any more perfect. That comes from within and, in my opinion, is directly related to how much you love yourself. It's much easier to love others when you love yourself first. But I am rambling...