Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Where can we talk about this stuff??

The last three days I've been teaching some sessions out at Prairie Camp, south of Elkhart.  The topic was supposed to be apologetics, and in a sense that is some of what I did.  But I suspect that it is not entirely what they had expected.  Because it is usually my approach to challenge and provoke my audience rather confirm what they already believe.  So after an introductory session on Monday (co-taught with my friend Chad), on Tuesday the topic was truth.  And although I upheld the necessity for defending a notion of truth as a description of the way things are independently of what any of us think, I also claimed that it gets more complicated.  For instance we do make truth ourselves in the form of social realities -- say the rules of soccer -- and that there are some blurry lines between social realities and this supposed independently existing reality.  I tried to explain all this in smaller words using lots of examples, and for the most part the crowd was with me.  Then today I ventured into the dangerous swampland of science and religion as different sorts of explanations.  I assumed that most of them had been exposed to this only at the sound byte level, and I realized that I couldn't get pushing too hard or I'd lose them.  So we talked about interpretation of the Bible and gave lots of examples where scientific theories don't conflict with theological explanation, and I made an impassioned plea for us to take science seriously and not to indoctrinate our children that science is evil.  Everyone was a little bit more cautious today, but again ultimately seemed to track with me.

After the session there was a parade of people coming to talk one-on-one.  The first lady said her grandson was starting to read Buddhist literature and wondered what I would say to him.  The next person wondered if I thought the Camping guy who predicted the end of the world was a false prophet.  A couple of others came and made speeches to me about their pet theories of the hidden meanings of the Bible.  But there were also a couple of more meaningful conversations I had with people.  One woman told me about her son who graduated from my institution, but has gotten fed up with the institutionalized church because it is mostly about country club politics.  He's really interested in these deeper questions, but literally has no one to talk to about them.  It seems that most of our churches do not encourage questions and instead hand out pat answers to questions that aren't really being asked by thoughtful people.

Ouch.  Where can we talk about things that we wonder about?  Doubts that creep in?  Frustrations we have?   In my humble opinion, the church needs to cultivate such spaces.  For many people, if we just keep these bottled up inside, they will one day spill out in fully formed abandonment of faith.  

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