Well, this post created so many comments, it shut down my site so I’m pulling it for now until I can get things straightened out.
Added at 10 AM CST
Well, I find it interesting that one of the points mentioned in a recent online article (I quoted in this post that I have pulled) against religion specifically and Christianity in general was the suppression of independent thinking. In other words, if you follow a particular religion, you are forced to think a certain way and any dissent is punished and quashed. But, it seems that any independent thinking is inappropriate if it goes against the majority opinion.
Interesting that my post focused on the “church’s” failure to truly represent the teachings of Christ in this new century and I was attacked for thinking outside the box not by fellow Christians but by others! I guess in today’s American culture, you can only express an opinion if it matches the majority party line. Talk about a lack of tolerance! Who is intolerant?
I know that Christians are accused most of the time of being intolerant, judgmental, arrogant, and just plain mean but really! It seems that intolerance really means that if you express any opinion different from MINE then your are wrong! And, you are intolerant! But, who is being intolerant here?
Tolerance means being respectful of anyone who disagrees with you and giving equal respect to that person even if you disagree with them. But, our current culture uses “intolerance” to punish anyone who thinks differently from the party line, the status quo, the majority opinion even to the point of people losing jobs, undergoing “re-education”, etc.
I’m sorry but these actions sound an awful lot like the very thing Christians are being accused of doing through the centuries. So, we are no different today than then regardless of our worldview. My point I tried to make in today’s post was that man is the real culprit in all of this. We will use any system, any belief, any rationalization to justify our opinion and respect and tolerance be damned. And we do it in the name of tolerance!
Let’s face it. We are a mean, angry, dysfunctional society and the sooner we learn mutual respect, including anyone who demonstrates “independent thinking” or thinking contrary to the popular majority opinion the sooner we can move forward as a healthy society and not one bent on self destruction. And this applies to my fellow Christ followers as well as to the “nones”. For the Christians, go read 1 Peter 3 and focus on that admonition to “do so with gentleness and respect”. Remember, we are to love one another as Christ loved us. I don’t see a whole lot of love coming from us most of the time. I see a lot of hate and condemnation and this is the face of Christianity today’s culture sees and focuses on.
So, I will not be reposting my original post. If I do, I fear I may be censored, vilified, fired from my job, arrested for hate crime, or who knows what. If anyone out there really respects “independent thinking” then why not engage in civil discourse over these issues? We have enough hatred in our world as it is. Why can’t we just get along and agree to disagree on these issues?
Frankly, I was expecting a lot more pushback from my fellow church goers since I agreed with most of the criticism of the modern “church” in the article I had quoted in today’s post. But, I guess you will never know what I had to say. I’ve been told to shut up and go away and hide in a corner and keep my beliefs in private where they belong!
So, for now, I will. But, I will not stay silent forever!
“The Bible Says It! I Believe it! That Settles it!”
I grew up underneath this narrow umbrella as a Southern Baptist in a small town. My father was a bivocational music minister so I was at the church literally ever time the doors were open. I grew up immersed in the stories of the church.
But, there was an unspoken rule that permeated my every encounter with God and the Bible. Don’t question the Bible! Don’t think! Just accept everything by faith! My understanding of “faith” was basically blind belief. I was supposed to accept what the Bible says because it can’t be proven. No wonder my colleagues in science laugh at the Bible! It is nothing but a bunch of fairy tales. Might as well base your life on Grimm’s fairy tales or Walt Disney’s animated shorts from the 1930’s. True, there are some morals to be learned, but to think the stories were real? Come on!
Modern day Christians have no one to blame but ourselves. We built this castle of stupidity and now we defend it with great fervor and animation. Let me tell you a story.
It is 1925 and the town of Dayton, Tennessee has fallen on hard times. Economy is bad. Really bad. One of the town officials notices an ad in the paper placed by the ACLU. The ad offers to pay for any trial that challenges the “Butler Act” forbidding the teaching of evolution in high school. The official sees the opportunity to bring fame and fortune to Dayton. Problem is, they have to find a teacher who has violated the law and have that teacher arrested.
The local high school biology teacher refuses. But a man by the name of John Scopes has been filling in as a substitute teacher and agrees to admit he taught evolution during one of his brief stents as substitute teacher. So, he is arrested while playing tennis and taken into custody.
Enter H. L. Mencken. This famous American writer and reporter worked for a paper in Baltimore and saw an opportunity to promote his ideas regarding the superstitious nature of religion. An avid follower of Friedrich Nietzsche, he was an avid non-believer. He asked the famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow to take on the case because of his low popularity after representing the kidnappers of the Lindberg baby. Mencken had a very narrow agenda. He wanted to prove that anyone who doubted evolution, and by inference, science in favor of a superstitious belief in God was “anti-intellectual”. Thus was born and reinforced the idea that all Christians are ignorant, superstitious, uneducated individuals. This stereotype has been perpetuated in the movies, television shows, books, and in the media. And, frankly, we haven’t done much to dispel this impression!
The New Testament concept of faith is based on the Greek word pistus. It’s meaning: to trust in something for which we have seen the evidence. Evidence! That means we have to think and analyze the evidence. Faith is NOT blind belief. Does the Bible imply that we should never think on these things? NO!
The heavens declare the glory of God. Therefore, LOOK, ANALYZE, MEDITATE on God’s creation! We see this command over and over in the Bible. We are told to “meditate” on the Word of God. That means to read, think about, and analyze God’s word in order to apply it to our lives. Jesus, in fact gave us the greatest command regarding the mind:
And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your MIND, and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 26:27
In fact, Jesus set the example of how to think and analyze the thoughts and actions of his enemies before responding with deeply thought out philosophical “arguments”.
I bring this up because I ran across and excellent post about Christian “anti-intellectualism” and I recommend the reader read and savor each quote:
So, go pick up your brain and take it with you everywhere you go and show the world that Christians can think and have the only worldview based on real events, real people, and sound history, science, and philosophy. That is the only way we can begin to change today’s culture!
In 2008 I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet my all time favorite writer, Ray Bradbury. If you have not read stories by this giant of science fiction and fantasy literature, then you have missed out on a life changing experience. Ray Bradbury passed away in 2012 and his loss was a tiny tremor in the tumult of this past year. For you see, as forward thinking and progressive as Mr. Bradbury was, he hesitated to embrace many forms of modern technology. He refused to fly. He would only travel by train or boat. He would not allow any of his works to be translated into electronic form. You will not find any of his stories as ebooks! Why? Go read Fahrenheit 451 and you might catch a glimmer of the reason. Stories, to Bradbury, belonged inside people! Story is Life!
As we enter 2013, I am depressed at the negative tone of many of my favorite blogs. Who can blame us? If you are a Christian, then 2012 was a year of blow after blow to the Christian lifestyle. And, I don’t need to spend time listing those developments here. Others have done it well. But, there is one concept I want to explore as we enter a new year.
In this past year, scientists have mounted a campaign against God. Not surprising. This happens with regularity. But, this past year the attack was imbedded in such books as “A Universe From Nothing” by Lawrence Krauss or Richard Dawkins’ atheist children’s book “The Magic of Reality”. And, that venerable icon of science for children, Bill Nye, the Science Guy attacked creationism in public and on internet based video. The year ended with the American Atheists’ huge billboard on Times Square asking people to “Dump the Myth”.
Back in the 1950‘s, Ray Bradbury wrote a series of short stories that resonate with today’s headlines. Now, remember, he was an advocate of science. He helped develop ideas for many of Walt Disney’s animated shorts about space travel. He was involved in the design of “Future World” at EPCOT. But, he had cautionary words for us about the danger of the supremacy of science as a philosophy. As a philosophy, this is known as scientism or materialism or naturalism. Nature is all that is. If we cannot sense it with our scientific machines, then it cannot exist. NOTHING in the supernatural realm can be even considered as possible.
In “The Martian Chronicles”, Bradbury created a character who had escaped to Mars and built a house of “Usher” to resurrect the creations of imagination. It seemed that on Earth such imaginative works had been outlawed. Look at this passage from “Usher II” in the Martian Chronicles:
They passed a law. Oh, it started very small. In 1999 it was a grain of sand. They began by controlling books, cartoons, and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group or another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of something, and a great majority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.
Every man, they said, must face reality. Must face the Here and Now! Everything that was not so must go. All the beautiful literary lies and flights of fancy must be shot in mid-air! So they lined them up against a library wall one Sunday morning thirty years ago, they lined them up in 2006; they lined them up, . . . and shot them down, and burned the paper castles and fairy frogs and old kings and the people who lived happily every after . . . and Once Upon a Time became No More!
In another story from that book, “The Million Year Picnic”, a family has escaped the self destruction of Earth and has made it to Mars to rebuild a new life. Here is what a father told his children about Earth:
Life on Earth never settled down to doing anything very good. Science ran too far ahead of us too quickly, and the people got lost in a mechanical wilderness, like children making over pretty things, gadgets, helicopters, rockets, emphasizing the wrong items, emphasizing machines instead of how to run the machines.Wars got bigger and bigger and finally killed Earth.
But, the most powerful story, and more than likely a precursor to “Fahrenheit 451” was “The Exiles” from “The Illustrated Man”. In this story, the authors of science fiction, horror and fantasy have found exile on Mars from a world in which their works have been burned and now, a rocket from Earth approaches. In this scene, Edgar Allen Poe is waiting for the rocket men to land so he can defeat them.
They won’t be prepared for us, at least. They haven’t the imagination. Those clean young rocket men with their antiseptic bloomers and fish-bowl helmets, with their new religion. About their necks, on gold chains, scalpels. Upon their heads, a diadem of microscopes. In their holy fingers, steaming incense urns which in reality are only germicidal ovens for steaming out superstition. The names of Poe; Bierce, Hawthorne, Blackwood — blasphemy to their clean lips.”
How did this happen and how did Poe come to reside on Mars?
On Earth, a century ago, in the year 2020 they outlawed our books. Oh, what a horrible thing — to destroy our literary creations that way! It summoned us out of — what? Death? The Beyond? . . . the only saving thing we could do was wait out the century here on Mars, hoping Earth might overweight itself with these scientists and their doubtings; but now they’re coming to clean us out . . . “
And, lest you think that Bradbury was not aware of the war on Christmas look at this scene of a wasted, near dead Santa Claus:
They took him, a skeleton thought, and clothed him in centuries of pink flesh and snow beard and red velvet suit and black boot, made him reindeers, tinsel, holly. And, after centuries of manufacturing him they drowned him in a vat of Lysol, you might say.
What must it be like on Earth? . . . Without Christmas? . . . nothing but snow and wind and the lonely, factual people.
Ah, the power of Story. I will address this in upcoming posts. For now, we must stop and revel in the sheer power of Story to transform humanity. Bradbury did it with these short tales. Bradbury cautioned us that if we allow our imagination to die, then we will die as a people. And, imagination is built upon the foundation of the possibility of the supernatural. Eliminate the supernatural, and you MUST eliminate imagination; burn it out of the brain; cauterize it from the human thought patterns; outlaw it from public and private expression.
Don’t miss this. Bradbury talked of it and he was on the side of science. Science is a tool! It is NOT a way of life. And, if we allow Science to become a way of life, we will see the death of imagination; the death of superstition; the death of the supernatural; the death of Story; the death of God! There is no other path.
Adolf Hitler built his world upon the foundation of naturalism. And, he tried to purge the world of superstition in the ovens of Auschwitz. We cannot forget this. We must remember that to kill Story is to kill what makes us humans. And, one Man used Story to change the world. These stories were called parables.
So, this coming Sunday, January 5th, I will be signing copies of my three books at our local LifeWay in Shreveport, Louisiana from noon to 2 PM. Of course, I would like for you to come. I will be giving away tee shirts. But, here is my request. Go to a book store. Any book store this coming Saturday. Go and find a book that fuels your imagination. There are wonderful books for all ages and for men and women in the realm of Christian fiction at a LifeWay and if you come to my LifeWay, I can point you to many good Stories.
Go out this Saturday and let’s show the world that as followers of Christ, we recognize the importance the power of Story. This Saturday, wherever you are, go into a book store and buy a book and when you check out, look the person behind the counter in the eye and say, “Story Is Life”!
Doctor McCoy made this profound statement to his friend, the logical Vulcan, Mr. Spock during the original Star Trek episode. I have always had a hard time understanding philosophy. And so, this statement made me sit up and take notice:
“Christianity is not a religion. It’s a philosophy!”
I was somewhat surprised to hear Bill O’Reilly make this statement Wednesday night in his conversation with an atheist. The atheist, as expected, protested vigorously that Christianity IS a religion. Bill countered with a valid argument. Being a part of Catholicism or being a Methodist is “religion” based on the “philosophy” of Christianity.
So, which is it? Is Christianity a religion or a philosophy? Here are 5 definitions of the word “philosophy”:
Examination of basic concepts: the branch of knowledge or academic study devoted to the systematic examination of basic concepts such as truth, existence, reality, causality, and freedom.
School of thought: a particular system of thought or doctrine.
Guiding or underlying principles: a set of basic principles or concepts underlying a particular sphere of knowledge.
Set of beliefs or aims: a precept, or set of precepts, beliefs, principles, or aims, underlying somebody’s practice or conduct.
Calm resignation: restraint, resignation, or calmness and rationality in somebody’s behavior or response to events.
Look at the fourth definition. Maybe Bill has a point. Christianity is a set of beliefs or aims underlying the practice or conduct of a person who follows the teaching of Jesus Christ. Ravi Zacharias, well known speaker and apologist makes the statements:
Religion begins with man. Theology beings with God.
Ah, here is a valid point. Religion is man’s attempt to organize the philosophy of Christianity into a system of everyday “practice”. Religion defines the “rules and regulations” of the “practice” of Christianity as an outward manifestation of its tenets and beliefs. Religion, then, is a way of living out or bringing the inward belief system of Christianity into everyday practice.
And, here is the problem. By inserting “man” into the process; by putting “man” in between the teachings of Christ and the everyday human behaviors based on those beliefs, there will be an inevitable watering down, and sometimes down right perversion of those tenets and beliefs. Man is an imperfect creature and based on our history, we can really screw up even the most perfect system of beliefs.
And, in defense of Bill’s atheist guest, complaints about “religion” can be valid. It is the ABUSE of Christianity, as well as other “philosophies” down through the ages that have led to charges that those “religions” are dangerous. The new atheists claim that all “religion” is inherently dangerous and should be outlawed. They claim that teaching children “religious” concepts is equal to child abuse. There may be some valid points here. After all, if a child is taught to hate anyone thinking differently from them and tells them it is glorious to strap a bomb to their chest and kill dozens of people, then I would whole heartily agree that “religious teachings” can be dangerous when they veer away from the underlying pure “philosophy” of that man made religion.
However, the potential danger of religion does not take away from the peaceful “philosophy” of Christianity. After all, Jesus of Nazareth never asked his disciples to kill or maim or hate or carry out revenge. He rebuked Peter when the man cut off a guard’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane.
I would like for us to consider the possibility Christianity may be the most valid thought system and belief system in the history of humanity. I would like to explore the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Over the next few days, as we near the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I would like to look at the “philosophy” Jesus taught to his followers. Was it dangerous? Was it controversial? Is it dangerous today? Should Christianity as a philosophy be labeled as dangerous by today’s culture? Are we justified in outlawing any expression of the celebration of “Christmas” at this time of year?
Come back in the next few days as I explore the pure teachings of the man, Jesus of Nazareth. In deference to those who are atheists or agnostics I will discuss the teachings of Jesus from his strictly human point of view. I think that we will find that no matter what we may now believe about Jesus Christ in our individual “religions” that his teachings are universal and can become the foundation of the best way we as humans can conduct ourselves in this day and age of fear, anger, hate, hopelessness and coming darkness.
My father passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 98. Even though he had been living in the nursing home for the past three years, I always brought him home for the holidays. Every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Fourth of July, my father would sit at the head of our table. And, always, he would lead us in prayer and sing us a song or two.
My father’s singing idols were Tennessee Ernie Ford and George Beverly Shea. Although his voice was weaker and weaker as he aged, when he switched to his singing mode, from somewhere deep within this clear, deep, resonant voice would boom out a song in perfect pitch.
And so, this year, more than any other, I am thankful for my father. His absence has made me realize how much I came to depend on hearing that voice raised in song. “Don’t you want to thank someone?” is a more than just a question. It is a song written and sung by Andrew Peterson. The last song on his newest release, “Light for the lost boy”, this song brought tears to my eyes just a few weeks before my father’s death.
I used to be a little boy
As golden as a sunrise
Breaking over Illinois
When the corn was tall
Yeah, but every little boy grows up
And he’s haunted by the heart that died
Longing for the world that was
Before the Fall
Oh, but then forgiveness comes
A grace that I cannot resist
And I just want to thank someone
I just want to thank someone for this
Those are just a few words from this incredible song. I did not grow up in Illinois, but the corn grew tall in my father’s garden here in Louisiana and one dark day atop the tall tree I realized the world was broken and no longer the glowing, innocent thing I had lived in for my first ten years. It was atop that tree, above the vampires that lurked in the dark shadows and the werewolves with glowing yellow eyes that waited for me in the blackberry bushes and the myriad monsters of my imagination that my fear of the worlds I had only until then imagined became the beasts of approaching adulthood. Just as real. Just as dangerous. Just as deadly.
I write about vampires and werewolves and creatures in the dark because we live in a broken, fallen world. We try desperately to understand it and to dissect it and to equate it and to reduce it to laws and axioms that fit neatly into a science textbook. Equations we can control. With them we hope to tame the beasts but to no avail. Rather, it takes imagination.
During a midnight walk, J. R. R. Tolkien told C. S. Lewis that his atheism was no more than a lack of imagination. Here are some other words from this incredible song:
Now I can see the world is charged
It’s glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from prophets’ lips
But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness
Eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this
‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It’s howling in the snowy peaks
It’s blazing in the midnight sun
Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning
Oh, how long, how long?
Oh, sing on, sing on
And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it’s a better thing
A better thing
To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it’s waking up
And I’m waking up
‘Cause I can hear the voice of one
He’s crying in the wilderness
“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?
I am so thankful for the power of my imagination to open up the doorways of my heart and mind to the REALITY of God! I am so thankful my silent companion standing in the gap between my soul and the monsters of my brokenness is real and loving and forgiving and the author and finisher of this universe. I am so thankful for the times of failure and faithlessness and doubt so that I could search those shadows again and find Him waiting there right where I left Him. I am so thankful my father showed me the love of God! I am thankful for each and every reader that has trusted me to fill a book with words that are more than echoes of futility. Rather, they are words that lead slowly but inexorably to the Word, the Logos, the One who became flesh. And, for that, I am thankful.
Look around you in the aftermath of this hectic and busy season of empty thanks and muted praise and awkward family gatherings and frantic hours of shopping. Stop and look into the shadows. There may be beasts among us, and I am sure there are. But, there is a quiet, abiding companion following, following and watching over us. My father sang of this companion in his powerful voice. He sang of a Father that is greater than any earthly father could ever be. A Father who sits at our table; who sings the story of our lives into being; who longs to love us and redeem us and hold us in his arms. Think on this with an imagination that is a poor reflection of the image of God and you will find in your heart and in your soul the need to thank Someone!
What brought you to Hutchmoot?
What do you do?
Two questions every attendee asks at Hutchmoot, even if you know the face and can’t quite remember the name and the details associated with that name. And, this year, there were 86 more of us to meet than before.
My son, Sean, tried to succinctly convey his job. By the third day, he had it down to a finely tuned summary. You see, while completing his masters degree in media studies, he became an intern at Texas Impact. In Austin, this organization is a political action advocate for inter-faith issues. They monitor issues coming before the Texas legislature (meets every other year) and then posts those issues pertinent to faith based living on their website. They follow various religious traditions and their efforts to change culture through their influence on local government. Maybe. I think I got that right. Bottom line is that Sean works on the website and social media and video editing and video capture and is now the main tech guy for Texas Impact. I have watched him grow and mature as he has dealt with the unhealthy interface between politics and religion. And, it is very unhealthy.
Coming to Hutchmoot, Sean had a couple of goals. Spend time with his Dad (woohoo!) and to see what God had to say to him. You see, Sean is an excellent writer and storyteller and is insanely creative. But, he doesn’t write books or stories. He writes notes and composes his thoughts into the most incredible conversations I have ever had with ANYONE. Sometimes, I wished had recorded one of our conversations and had it transposed so I could remember all the cool stuff he said. Yeah, my Sean is one cool dude and I am so proud of him.
But, Sean is not without his struggles. He and his wife, Jennifer, are struggling with some personal issues related to his church in Austin. I can’t go into details. These issues are substantial and deep and very, very important to them. But, God spoke to Sean in so many ways at Hutchmoot. And, he heard something totally different from what God said to me. Imagine that? I think this is the singular most important thing to understand about Hutchmoot. It is not only where we come to meet other Hutchmootians in one of the grandest and coolest koinonias in the universe. It is also where we come to meet with God. God speaks in the midst of this incredible gathering — uniquely and individually to each one of us. And, he spoke to Sean in ways only Sean can share with you.
But, there is one last event on Friday I must mention. There were many smaller moments through the lunch and afternoon. One encounter was with a former employee of one of my current publishers who confirmed what an incredible team is now in place compared to a few years back. Again, I can’t go into details but it was another “chance” encounter that God led me to in order to reassure me that my updated book on depression should take front and center attention RIGHT NOW!
Friday night. Sean and I followed the new iOS6 map app on my iPhone 4Gs and it worked perfectly, thank you very much! We pulled onto Lipscomb University campus and I was stunned. I did not know this place existed. As we walked across the campus from the parking garage I felt the cool wind on my face and there was God again, speaking, whispering in his quiet manner, surrounding both of us with His undeniable Presence. I wanted to go back to college again! I wanted to start afresh, anew at this campus filled with soaring red brick edifices and bustling, smiling students and a fresh appreciation of the importance of LEARNING in such a God centered environment.
We went into the auditorium to await this night’s debut of Andrew Peterson’s “Light for the Lost Boy” concert. As Sean and I waited we continued a conversation about a mutual acquaintance who had lost his faith. I don’t mean had doubts. I’m talking about moving from Theism to Atheism. How did this happen? How could someone who has been a professed Christ follower for most of their life walk away from God?
Folks, it is a simple and short journey from our doubts to forgetting the One who created us. How quickly we forget our blessings! How quickly we turn our backs on God! I know. It happened to me. I will talk about my crisis of faith in a future post. But, my heart was so burdened for our friend. What could either of us say? What could we do to convince him how wrong he was for just tossing away his faith in God? Now, I am an apologist. I’ve studied Christian apologetics now for 14 years. Apologetics was an answer to my crisis and it has given me a rock solid faith. Or has it? Hadn’t I just gone into a dark depression over this book deal? How quickly had I forgotten God? Pretty darn quick!
My point is that providing logical arguments and sound evidence is not the answer to those who leave our faith. The leaving is one of questions and doubts that are deeply imbedded in our quest for Eden. It is born of utter deep pain. While at a book signing for my first book, “The 13th Demon” at a book store in Austin, Texas a middle age woman asked if the book was appropriate for her teenager grandson. “He’s lost his faith. He is now an atheist. What can I do?” Now, my internal apologist wanted to take over but instead I sensed the pain. I asked her what her grandson’s life was like. What was his relationship to his father like? What came out was a sorrowful story of a broken relationship. You see, we look at God many times through the lens of our parents. We stack them up against God and when they let us down, we transfer that disappointment to God. As with this woman’s grandson, I feared the loss of faith with our friend was at the expense of a very important broken relationship. More on this later when I post about Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales.
If you have not listened to Andrew Peterson’s new album, you have missed out on one of the truly great works of music and lyrics in the past ten years. Yes, it is that incredible. You must listen while reading the lyrics until they are firmly seared into your mind. Andrew kicked off the concert introducing Caleb, the band composed of two of Steven Curtis Chapman’s sons (He was in the audience about two rows behind us). Then, he came back from a break and began the concert. If you have ever had the joy of sitting through “Behold the Lamb of God” Christmas concert you are well aware of Andrew’s ability to carry a concept from start to finish. Where BTLOG takes us from Genesis to the Resurrection, “Light for the Lost Boy” carries us from birth to death; from innocence to disappointment; from lostness to grace; from the Big Question Mark to the Big Exclamation Mark. As the songs unfolded before us, I wept, I smiled, I hugged my son, I laughed, and I exulted in the utter sheer joy of being in God’s presence.
For, Andrew encapsulated my entire journey of faith in those songs. My lostness in the woods wandering but sensing a hidden companion. As a child, I wandered the pasture and woods of our 62 acres listening to the stillness, the quiet, the thunder. I remember one startling moment after my dog, Rusty died when at the age of 10 I climbed the “tall tree” in our front yard higher and higher struggling through the branches, tearing my skin, bumping my head until I reached the giddy top of the tree swaying and dancing in the evening breeze and I wedged myself into those small top branches and gazed out over a sea of trembling, weaving green tree tops stirred by the hand of God and I felt Him there, felt His presence wrapping me up in love and understanding and saying, “My son, I feel your loss; I know what it is like; you lost a pet; I lost a Son.” I was there in that tree in that moment in that concert and God stirred within me the memory of His presence. It was shortly after that incident in my life that I surrendered all to Christ. There were many journeys to the top of the “Tall Tree” in later years. Many moments with God at the top of my world before my innocence and trust in this world died and I realized it is irrevocably broken and bruised. No Eden. No Garden. Just this — living on the edge of Theism and Atheism.
And, hearing those songs, some of which were written by Andrew for his children was especially wonderful for me to hear with my son sitting beside. He has always chided me for a statement I made in his early years, “Son, you’ve never lived until you’ve climbed a tree” something he has never done. After the concert in that wonderful walk across Lipscomb campus I shared with him the story of the tall tree. And, I saw dawning within his mind a new understanding of his father. “Dad, you have lots of stories. You need to write them down.”
As humorous and hilarious as the chapters were in “Night of the Living Dead Christian” the Interludes were powerful and moving. It is in the Interludes that Matt Mikalatos brings home the goods. Here is an excerpt from one of the first interludes with the “werewolf” Luther Martin about his father, a pastor.
“My father’s inflexibility, his unpleasable nature, and the paucity of sincere affection all haunted my youth. But as Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote, “A man knows when he is growing old because he beings to look like his father.” I can look back now, and insights about my father’s nature and intention become clear to me. He did not intend to teach me theology at the expense of a relationship with himself, or for that matter, with God, though that is what he did. He did not meant to drive my brother out of the house or out of the church, but that is what he did. He did not mean to take his anger and grief about my brother’s prodigal lifestyle and use them to turn the screws on my own theological education, but that is what he did.”
Further on Luther says, “My entire life reflected on him, it seemed, and when I first learned the story of my poor brother, Marty, standing up in the middle of a service and declaring himself an atheist before walking out the door, never to return, I immediately envied him, understood him, and pitied him for his flamboyant dramatic streak.”
Matt goes on to uncover one of the most powerful truths about those who have chosen to be atheists in this revelation from Luther:
“You ask me why I hate my father. I can only say that hate, loathing, disgust, all these words would be too strong to explain my feelings for my father. I have felt these things and moved beyond them to a sincere and placid lack of thought about him.”
Recently I had the opportunity to hear Frank Turek speak on his apologetic ministry. I was stunned when he said that when a person rejects God so many times and crosses that threshold into an area where God removes His forgiveness, then to that person God no longer exists. It’s not like God is still there hovering hoping for the person to change their mind. No, God removes His presence. God leaves the person alone which is exactly what that person wants! The person truly becomes an atheist because for him, God no longer exists!
I never thought of it that way but this idea comports itself with Romans 1. And, here, in this ditzy, crazy, monster filled book, Matt Mikalatos nails it! Dinesh D’Souza in his latest book, “Godforsaken”, says that atheists are really “wounded theists” hurt by someone, most likely their father. They look at God through the lens of the pain that was dealt to them in the name of God by their fathers.
Some readers may find the humor and rapid fire story of “Night of the Living Dead Christian” too much. But, it is worth the roller coaster ride just to pause and soak up the Interludes. Here, Matt reveals a powerful truth by “showing” not “telling”. The truth that we are often hurt by those who love us the most and in that hurt, we look at a loving God through fractured, splintered lenses. We see God as we see our flawed fathers and mothers and brothers and pastors and friends and sisters. We see God as someone we would just as soon have a “sincere and placid lack of thought about him.” Read those quotes again and then read the book.
Do you know someone who has walked out the door and away from God? If so, why not extend to them a loving hand; a helpful heart; an understanding that Matt extends to a lonely, hurt werewolf whose idea of God is that of a hateful, disgusting father. Sometimes when these questions arise, it’s not answers they seek. It’s understanding and connection and empathy. Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the ending of this book, not in detail to spoil it, but in substance to understand the most powerful Interlude.