December 15, 2017

Another Look: My Ambiguous Apologetic

Orion Nebula (detail), Hubble Space Telescope

I confess. I have no apologetic.

There is no defending God. There is no proving his way is right. To do so would require that I understand God, that I can substantiate the claims of truth my faith calls me to hold.

I can explain what I believe well enough. I can demonstrate to a certain degree that my faith is reasonable and not the delusions of a crackpot. But I can’t prove anything. I can’t argue an airtight case. I can’t campaign for Jesus on a platform of certainty.

You see, all the “evidence” is ambiguous. It is capable of being interpreted in a variety of ways. What convinces one person to believe may lead another to have serious doubts.

Even the bedrock occurrence in the story of our faith — the resurrection of Jesus — was not what you would call a public event. It was unexpectedly discovered by a few common people in the hazy dawn of Easter morning. All of Jesus’ appearances were reserved for people who became his witnesses. It is their word we have to trust. I happen to be convinced that they were trustworthy and that they had no reason to invent a story so fantastic, but I can see why people might have doubts.

I suppose this is why some Christians feel the need to posit an inerrant Bible, a fully trustworthy revelation directly from the mouth of God that demonstrates in incontrovertible terms that it is TRUTH™. Thus, all we have to do is open up the book and — there it is! — a sure and certain foundation for our beliefs. However comfortable that might make believers feel, in reality it just creates another proposition Christians must defend. Proving the divine perfection of the Bible requires herculean efforts and, as centuries of dispute over Scripture’s nature, meaning, and interpretation show, the evidence here is muddy too.

So, I don’t really have an apologetic. At best, it’s ambiguous.

The other day I was thinking about the shepherds in Luke’s Christmas story. Surely they had a sense of certainty. Surely what they experienced was so unambiguous, so transformative, that they lived the rest of their lives in the assurance of faith. Surely God had proven himself to them. They beheld the angel hosts! They heard the gospel announced directly from heaven! They saw the baby Jesus in the flesh!

However, sometimes I wonder what happened next. The Gospel tells us they went back to work later that night. We never hear from them again. What was it like for the shepherds a week later? a month? ten or twenty years? I don’t know if they were around when Jesus went throughout Judea proclaiming the Kingdom. I’d like to think their faith was confirmed and strengthened over the years, perhaps by personal encounters with Jesus in his ministry.

On the other hand, it is possible they didn’t hear much about Jesus again, perhaps for the rest of their lives. If so, what would that long silence have communicated to them? Based on the angel’s message they would have expected, somewhere along the line, a Son of David to ascend the throne in Jerusalem, bringing lasting peace and relief from their enemies. An unambiguous fulfillment of God’s promise. But even if they did become part of the crowd and followed Jesus around Judea and Galilee, they never saw that happen, did they? How might they have reconciled that grand birth announcement with reality on the ground years later — an itinerant rabbi with nowhere to lay his head? And then, the cross? Some king. Some throne.

All this is pure speculation, of course, but I think it makes a point: In my opinion, Christians (and I include myself) have been far too cocksure in talking about Jesus and our faith. As though it’s about having a sense of certainty that carries us blissfully through life. As though what we believe and the reasons we believe are so clear, so transparent, so unambiguous that we just can’t imagine others being unable to see it.

I had a spiritual awakening in high school, and it was prompted by relationships I developed with a group of Christian young people in school and church. What I liked about them was that they were real. I saw their imperfections and could blow holes through their arguments. But I couldn’t get past their joy, their belief that life was worth living in spite of problems and doubts. There was something that kept them moving forward to embrace the goodness of life and faith and hope and love. They were pitiful at trying to explain it, but it was there. Ultimately, I found I couldn’t resist the song their lives sang to me.

So this is what I keep coming back to. Sometime long ago, on a dark night I heard angels sing. I saw the face of the Savior. And it was real.

My experience wasn’t nearly as spectacular as the show the shepherds witnessed. However, it just as effectively got my attention and caused me to change direction in ways that I suppose were as crazy as leaving your job in the middle of the night to go see a stranger’s newborn baby, and claiming you heard the news from angels.

But then, like the shepherds, I had to return to life, plain old life, everyday life.

Through the years I’ve had reason to doubt over and over again whether that experience was real. I have wondered whether the promises I received were genuine, or whether it might not all have been some adolescent fantasy born of hormones, naiveté, and group dynamics. It can get awfully ambiguous at times.

Whether or not the shepherds ever saw Jesus again, I can testify that since my epiphany, every once and awhile along the way I have encountered him. Thing is, he’s never what I expect. He constantly confuses me and makes me scratch my head. The more I try to define what he’s all about or what he’s doing in my life, the more mixed up I become. And when I go to speak, I fumble around for words to explain him, to express what he means to me, to put my finger on the gifts with which he has so graciously filled my life.

He’s real, and that’s about the best I can do.

And there you have it. My ambiguous apologetic.

Maybe you were hoping you’d read something today that would nail it all down for you, relieve your doubts, answer your questions, make it all certain.

Sorry. Just a shepherd here.

Most nights are pretty quiet.

Comments

  1. Michael Bell says:

    This. Is why I keep coming back to Internet Monk. Deep profound truth.

  2. It’s good to know that we travel with others who share our uncertainty and who, like us, experience ambiguity in life and faith. Thank you, CM, for your honesty; thank you for not pretending to ironclad certainties that it’s not really possible to have. We are not alone.

    I wonder if it isn’t ambiguity that opens up the space in which it’s possible for us to exist as free beings. Without ambiguity and uncertainty, could our minds and spirits be anything other than automatons? And if our minds and spirits were mere mechanisms, how could our actions be otherwise? Ironically, maybe it’s the uncertainty and ambiguity that make it possible for us to know ourselves and others as living, self-aware beings, finite, contingent, free. Maybe we need that space to exist apart from, as well as in relationship to, God, as well as each other and all creation.

    • Personally speaking, ambiguity *sucks*. I hate not knowing whether heaven, he’ll, or – worst of all – NOTHING awaits me after the end of my life.

      Being a little bit automatonish would be a small price to pay for a little surety in that regard as far as I’m concerned.

      • What I’m wondering is, if we were automatons, could we know anything at all? Can machines know anything? I don’t see how it would be possible to be “a little bit automatonish”; ambiguity is like leaven: a little bit permeates the whole epistemological system. Maybe human knowing is predicated on contingency and finitude, and faith itself, which is a special kind of knowledge involving intimacy and immediacy, can only exist where uncertainty and ambiguity provide space in human knowing and experience. The difference between the Tree of Knowledge, and the Tree of Life?

      • Maybe the deepest knowledge is not a matter of intellectual certainty, but intimate and immediate experience, and maybe such knowledge cannot be born without uncertainty and ambiguity as its midwives.

        • Richard Rohr’s meditation today speaks directly to this issue. See sidebar for link.

          • Yes, Richard Rohr has been really good this past week or two. Speaking of “diversionary temptations” that distract us from the essentials of Jesus’ teaching, he says this morning, “privatized Gospel and inerrant ‘belief’ is the Protestant temptation”.

            I’m not sure “inerrant belief” is a Protestant temptation or just a Western, Enlightenment temptation but it is certainly true that the search for certainty drives much of Protestant, or at least Evangelical, thinking and scholarship.

        • Very much the point. While our doubts are unnerving when they occur, faith doesn’t exist without them. What is it to have faith in something that can’t be doubted? To make a Genesis like comparison, the Spirit broods over the face of our waters of doubt, our chaos, and speaks into them creating cosmos. Like you said Robert, it is an ‘experience’ of that more than an intellectual assent to a group of propositions.

          • That Other Jean says:

            I’ve heard that idea expressed as “believing in the postman.” It’s just silly. I don’t have to believe in the postman–I know he exists. I have seen him (or sometimes her) delivering my mail, putting letters in my personal mailbox. Belief requires uncertainty. Without that uncertainty, what we have isn’t belief, it’s knowledge. I’d be a lot more comfortable with knowledge; but in spiritual matters, I have struggled, and continue to struggle, with the idea that it is not available in this life.

            • I think it is occasionally available. It is available at times. Those moments of clarity act as props to help us stand when things are not so clear. Sometimes nothing seems to help except waiting; just hanging around and hoping. I think that, in part, is what is described as the patience of the Saints.

        • I don’t trust “experiences”. It has steered me wrong WAY too many times in my life.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Amen to that.

            Nothing is so easy as to deceive oneself; for what we wish, we readily believe.
            – Demosthenes

          • Eeyore, If you didn’t trust any experiences, you would be unable to function, and you would have a form of insanity. In fact, it’s impossible to distrust all experiences. Your justified doubt about much experience is born of experience that has led you to a wiser understanding of yourself and reality; but your conclusion is nevertheless based on experience. Nothing can be known apart from experiences.

            • A big amen to that. Sounds like differing opinions on this but I believe experience is vital and essential. Of course we can get things wrong, and most certainly will, but that is further experience along the way. The Holy Spirit is not absent. The course gets straightened when we abandon ourselves to him.

        • Dana Ames says:

          Robert,

          I think an increasing awareness of this reality while in the wilderness is what led me away from non-sacramental expressions of Christianity, and toward a fully developed sacramental expression.

          Dana

      • Agreed. I’m sick of fighting doubt all the freaking time.

    • Yup, I’m pretty sure that’s true. God’s unbearable silence provides the space in which we can exist.

      • And the difference between God’s unbearable silence, and no God at all, is…?

        • Faith.

          • My faith won’t create God out of nothing.

            • That’s not what I was implying that faith does. Faith means believing even though there IS nothing. Of course, doubt is in there, too.

              God either is or isn’t, whether I believe or not. Faith says, “I choose to believe.”

              • Klasie Kraalogies says:

                But faith can also say, I believe in Zeus. Or the FSM. Or in the Great Green Arkleseizure.

                • Your point being…?

                  If you back up a bit, I was responding to the question, the difference between God’s unbearable silence and no God at all is…? My response is: Faith. Faith that God exists even if He’s silent.

                  Now if you want to make it a different question, go ahead and ask it.

                  • Klasie Kraalogies says:

                    I mean that you said “Faith says I believe…”. But since the Object of that faith is in the silence, faith can fill in the blank by anything. So it is hardly a guide to anything is it? Implying it is not the escape to quandary posited here. Merely, to quote Marx, an opium to dull the quandary. Chaplain mike is at least honest about his doubt. I am not saying you are not, I am saying a simplistic answer “Faith!” doesn’t help.

                    • Okay, I see what you’re saying.

                      My experience, having been through a couple of significant “desert” experiences, is that simple faith, and nothing but simple faith, is all that I had when all else fell away. I guess I could’ve shifted that faith to Zeus or something else, but since I never had faith in “something else” to begin with, I didn’t go there.

                    • Klasie, Rohr’s test for whether the direct experience he’s talking about is of God or not is that such experience leads toward compassion and compassionate activity for our fellow human beings, and beings in general. I think he is not much concerned how God is named, Zeus or whatever, if one is led to such a compassionate orientation. I think he even assumes that on the way to direct experience, and in the process that it involves going deeper into that experience, there will for a long time be a greater or lesser degree of what once was called idolatry, whether we name Zeus or Jesus as our divinity.

                    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

                      Robert F, we now know that compassion is not unique to our species even. What does that imply?

                      Also, for Rohr, therefore, “God” is a synonym for decency/altrusim/fraternity etc. All the rest is added myth then?

                    • Good points, Klassie.

                      May I ask: What is the basis of your own faith? Personal experience? The experience of others? Both? “Institutional” (the church) experience? Direct? Indirect? My own is a composite of many things, personal and impersonal, much of it borrowed and indirect. But experience of one kind or another permeates it.

                      Silence was introduced on this thread, but not by me. God often seems non-responsive, but that’s not the same as saying he is silent. What does it mean for God to speak, or stay silent? Not sure. I started off simply trying to say that I think that our minds and thinking and experience necessarily exist in the spaces opened up by ambiguity and uncertainty. Those spaces are not for the most part silent.

                    • Klasie Kraalogies says:

                      Robert – mine was a combination of those, I think.

                      Yes you read right. Watch this space.

                    • Klasie, I didn’t mean to pry into your personal matters. My own faith is a patchwork job, held together by paste and string in many places. I wonder if it’s the same for many others. That was the motivation behind my inquiry about your faith.

                    • Yes, at least for this “other”. Patchwork, lots of paste and string… with humility. I might add “community” as part of the patchwork, though that can get tricky.

                • Heather Angus says:

                  Yeah but in most cases, Faith won’t mean it. 🙂

        • Burro (Mule) says:

          The same as the difference between Providence and Chance.

  3. One of the problems I had when I taught the “Science and the Bible” classes at my old evangelical church was the expectation that I was going to show how “science” would actually prove the Bible to be true or give proof that God existed. It was a notion I gently tried to disabuse my students of. Of course I would talk about the anthropological principle and the “fine tuning” of the physical constants but I always emphasized that these apologetics were no “slam dunks”, that, in fact, there were no slam dunks, just interpretations that could be consistent with the faith, but didn’t have to be i.e. ambiguous. Some could handle it, some couldn’t. As Eeyore points out, the human heart desires certainty. The shroud of Turin, pieces of the Ark on Ararat, the eye of God in the Helix Nebula, and my personal favorite— laminin. I remember watching on a Wednesday night service the Louie Giglio video in which he runs through the comparitive size of various stars compared to our sun. Of course, there are oohs and aahs, and there should be, Giglio is quite right here, the heavens do declare the glory of God. But then he concludes with laminin, the protein that holds us together. And what does laminin look like…. (dramatic pause)… shows textbook picture of laminin…. THE CROSS. Applause and cheering and “praise the Lords” break out in my congregation, but I drop my head and hear in the voice of Don Adams/Maxwell Smart: “Missed it… missed it by thaaaat much. Ah well, as the philosopher once said, “Give me ambiguity or give me something else…”

    • I’ve seen that video. And yeah, my reaction was much the same, minus the Don Adams retort.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      The shroud of Turin, pieces of the Ark on Ararat, the eye of God in the Helix Nebula, and my personal favorite— laminin.

      Geology Guy, one (non-Christian) friend of mine put it this way:

      “They’re trying to find something — anything — that PROVES I’s All Absolutely True and everyone else is Absolutely Wrong. Something they can rub in the faces of everybody else. ‘SEE? SEE? SEE?'”

      Slam-Dunk! Count Coup on all those Heathens, HAW! HAW! HAW!

      This reminds me so much of those “100th Anniversary of Roe v Wade” essays in World magazine many years ago. Especially of the one where Genesis 1 was found to be encrypted almost word-for-word in the genome of ALL life on Earth, thus PROVING Intelligent Design(TM), destroying Evolution Forever, and triggering a Great Revival. (Not so much different from those bad Furry fanfics where “One day we all woke up and discovered Everybody had morphed overnight into Furries! Yiff! Yiff! Yiff!”)

      “Always trying to prove that God exists — as if God had nothing else to do except Exist!”
      — CS.Lewis, “The Great Divorce”

      • Something they can rub in the faces of everybody else. ‘SEE? SEE? SEE?’”

        Slam-Dunk! Count Coup on all those Heathens, HAW! HAW! HAW!

        You just described 2016 and now most of 2017 in a nutshell.

        How is this going to change? Will they even burn out? i don’t know

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          You just described 2016 and now most of 2017 in a nutshell.

          In which context?
          The whole TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP Circus?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          “For in the Devil’s theology, the most important thing is to be Absolutely Right and to prove everyone else to be Absolutely Wrong. This does not lead to peace and harmony among men.”
          — Thomas Merton, “Moral Theology of the Devil”

    • The thing is, when you show proofs like this that your religion is right, what happens when the other side has similar proof?
      I’m currently reading a book called The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. It’s very interesting, dealing with some (bad-ass) librarians who risked a great deal to smuggle some ancient and valuable Muslim manuscripts out of Timbuktu to safety after radical Islamists descended on the city. Several times, they were stopped with a car full of these manuscripts, taken for questioning, and held for days by people who had previously executed people in horrible ways for perceived offenses of all sorts. Each time, the librarians were allowed to travel on with their manuscripts intact and get them to safety. In other words, really, it was miraculous.
      As I read, I kept thinking that if these had been Christian manuscripts, smuggled out by Christians, how many Christians would see it as proof of God’s supremacy and care for his people? Many, I’d say. Many.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Saw that same video in a Sunday School class. Did more to produce doubt in me than anything else I have ever experienced. Pretty sure that was not the intended response.

  4. This has been the past 10 years of my relatively short life. I just wanted to know for sure, because it’s the Most Important Thing. And those aren’t sarcastic capital letters. They’re divine serious capital letters. Because how are you supposed to live, if you can’t even be certain of what alone makes life worth living?

    Thanks for speaking for me, Chaplain.

  5. I would like to point out Matthew 28:16-17; “16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.” Really, some doubted? I thought they had seen him die and now there he was in the flesh in front of him and yet “some doubted”. This passage of scripture has always blown my mind. You would think that having personally witnessed the resurrection all doubts would be banished. You’d be wrong, apparently. This passage of scripture also gives me great comfort; I don’t have to work up the “will to believe”. Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief. And he will, he does, always.

    • Yep, this was the same passage that crossed my mind this morning. How? How could “some doubt”? But they did. As he said, there are some who will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead (Luke 16).

      I’ve wondered why he came at the time in history when he did. I’m still not entirely sure but I have concluded that he didn’t come today, when cellphone cameras are ubiquitous and could have recorded his every miracle including the resurrection, because God, for whatever reason, requires our faith, which is not the same as certainty.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        As he said, there are some who will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead (Luke 16).

        Before I was indoctrinated into the “plain meaning” of that verse (uttering Prophecy), I figured it was just Jesus getting sarcastic.

  6. >> I have no apologetic.

    Praise the Lord! Thank you Jesus! Hallelujah!

    It didn’t take the early “fathers” long to crank up the apologetics machine, and that is understandable given the context they lived in. The Romans lived by law and their whole education system was based on rhetoric, the skill to convince others your position was right, what lawyers do, take either side of the debate and win. The Jews had been doing this at least since Moses and it was probably in their DNA. Argue, convince, prove, win. The translations that call the scribes “lawyers” are perceptive. Paul was schooled in both systems but he practiced some restraint, possibly because he noticed that Jesus never argued with anyone. He just told it like it was, take it or leave it.

    Apologetics is still alive and well in the Evangelical community and they proudly call it as such. There is a level of spiritual growth that needs this external illusion of proof and certainty, and no blame, unless you get stuck in it for the rest of your life, and then no blame either, but perhaps sorrow. If you are looking for certainty outside yourself, repent, change your mind, turn around, and go within, which is where it is to be found, if anywhere. Listen, Jesus is calling!

  7. To be a crop farmer, you work real hard, but you can get some good sleep…..not real likely people are going to steal your crop that night. But not so much with animals. And its true that the people who farmed, both crop and animal, always drove out the hunter gatherers where they would go. And the animal types were always the roughest types, because of the need to watch over their livelihood even at night. Those shepherds were not what they are made out to be in today’s Christmas stories.
    Chaplain Mike, you have it in common with those shepherds the return to everyday life. But almost all of us have chosen a life that isn’t like theirs. And the domestification of the wild to forms of agriculture has evolved today. It’s really a different everyday life. Even today’s livestock people go around in pick-ups and air conditioned tractor cabs. Not that I’m trying to say the return to everyday life doesn’t affect a life of faith. I guess I’m trying to say, that the people who we’re talking about today, who are most like the shepherds, are not even the farmers I live with and go to our local animal auction. There the one’s who displace others when they move in. Maybe even the dope pushers in urban environments. Maybe gang people are good analogy today. I have little in common, but I’m betting the one’s who do meet Jesus have a faith with doubts like all of us, and one that lasts,, even if we never hear about it ever again in our circles.

    • Phillip Keller’s “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” comes to mind when reading your comments about those who tend animals/sheep. Not easy work at all.

  8. Christiane says:

    ” ….. I saw their imperfections and could blow holes through their arguments. But I couldn’t get past their joy, their belief that life was worth living in spite of problems and doubts. There was something that kept them moving forward to embrace the goodness of life and faith and hope and love. They were pitiful at trying to explain it, but it was there. Ultimately, I found I couldn’t resist the song their lives sang to me.”

    thank you, thank you, thank you

    ethereal JOY as witness . . . . the sign of the Presence of the Holy Spirit is said to be ‘joy’ 🙂

    • I’ve met WAY more joyous pagans than Christians in my life.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Too many Christians were baptized in either lemon juice or vinegar.

        “Walk the hard, grey, drab, joyless path of Salvation.”
        — James Michener, Hawaii

  9. Good post and comments. Takes time to wade through it, but I consistently find it worth the effort.

  10. ‘In my opinion, Christians (and I include myself) have been far too cocksure in talking about Jesus and our faith. As though it’s about having a sense of certainty that carries us blissfully through life.”

    Increasingly not just Christians but other faiths as there seems to be a rise in extreme fundamentalism in our world. I’m not sure of the cause. Modernization? Technological advances? Huge innovation in communication which puts the beliefs and lifestyles and norms of other people smack dab in front of us? Rather than live with the ambiguity, we hunker down in our foxholes in a desperate attempt to block out what we think we don’t agree with. If we only listen to Christian music and only read Christian books and only watch Christian movies (or insert any other religion),we will never have to face that moment when we realize that there is common ground between our beliefs and a Muslim’s or a Hindu’s or an atheist’s. And if we have even a small bit of common ground, where will it stop? But, if we stay in our Christian bubble, “cocksure in…our faith”, we don’t have to cross that line. Heck,we don’t even have to see the line or imagine it exists. But eventually, reality confronts us, and, as we are seeing worldwide, when that happens, we, and they, too often lash out in fear and hate at the others that are making us confront our own ambiguities.

    • –> “Increasingly not just Christians but other faiths as there seems to be a rise in extreme fundamentalism in our world.”

      Excellent point. And not just people of faith, but even ATHEISTS are now extreme in their fundamental disbelief. Some of these folks have switched the brain off long ago.

      • Klasie Kraalogies says:

        Actually very few extreme atheists, other than internet warriors. On the internet most people are somehow extreme 🙂 .

        I think though the rise in extremism / fundamentalism is in response to a rising tide of irrelevancy / unbelief. Brought about by the fact that suddenly, people realize that demons are not the cause of disease, being different (say gay or anything not prescribed by your religion) is not going to mean you will be struck down by lightening/disease, olus the uncertainty brought about especially in older generations by the globalized world. The old certainties are falling away. So lets shout them harder!!

        In addition in a few places, localized economic hardship is fertile ground for extremism (Northern Nigeria, for instance). As it has always been.

        • “The old certainties are falling away. So lets shout them harder!!”
          Yes! Exactly. Much like someone speaking English louder and slower to someone who speaks only Russian or French. Might make the speaker feel better but does nothing to solve the problem and only makes the listener wonder why the speaker is so angry.

          • Klasie Kraalogies says:

            Good analogy!

            • +1. Very good analogy. Made me laugh!

              True story: I was once in line at a sandwich place and a Hispanic woman in line was trying to articulate her order to an Asian woman behind the counter. Both spoke VERY broken English. It seemed the harder she tried say what she wanted, the worse it was received.

              I stepped in to translate.

          • My senior pastor used to tell the story about a preacher who would write in his sermon manuscripts: “Point weak. Pound pulpit and speak louder.”

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Actually very few extreme atheists, other than internet warriors. On the internet most people are somehow extreme.

          It’s called “Net Drunk Syndrome”.
          Or “Instant A-hole, just add Broadband”.
          Something to do with hiding behind your WiFi and handle, well out of fist range.

        • Exactly!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      If we only listen to Christian music and only read Christian books and only watch Christian movies…

      “…And only drink milk
      If it comes from a CHRISTIAN cow –.”
      — Steve Taylor, “Guilty by Association”
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UplOF-GtoS8

      • Christiane says:

        I met a young mother in the town library some years back who was ‘only Fox News’, ‘only believed in homeschooling’, very fearful of ‘the culture’, very afraid of being influenced by the wrong things and so limited herself to her own church circle (bubble) . . . . . . If I ever needed to understand the word ‘vulnerable’, meeting that poor woman sealed the deal . . . . . how does someone end up that fearful, that frightened? Maybe she was sick. But maybe she was just some nice person who had been hornswoggled into being absolutely terrified of just about everything? Whatever her trouble had been, I sure didn’t know what to say to her that might have ‘helped’, so I listened as she just seemed to want to talk.

        What happens to fearful people like that?

        • I meet these people fairly frequently, Christiane, and I always wonder, too, why they are so fearful. Especially where I live in rural America where half the people don’t lock their doors and everybody knows everybody.
          When we sent our kids off to big state universities, I got these questions frequently from church people. “Aren’t you afraid of what they’ll run into? Do you know what goes on there? Aren’t you scared of the influences they’ll be bombarded by? Aren’t you afraid they’ll be lured into doing things that are bad?” No, I would reply. I’ve told them that God gave them a brain for a reason and I expect them to use it. I expect them to use their sound judgement and if they screw up, I expect them not to blame everybody else for them making a poor decision. Each of us has free will and choose what we want.
          I was usually met with a rather stunned silence.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          I met a young mother in the town library some years back who was ‘only Fox News’…

          Fox News is passe.
          Now it’s Breitbart and the Alt-Right.

          …‘only believed in homeschooling’, very fearful of ‘the culture’, very afraid of being influenced by the wrong things and so limited herself to her own church circle (bubble)

          Like Kirk Cameron hiding in his trailer from those Heathens on the set, obsessed with keeping his/her nose squeaky-clean to pass the Rapture and/or Great White Throne Litmus Tests and nothing else. Hiding from any external reality. Kind of like all those “Safe Spaces” for Speshul Snowflakes you hear about in the news since the electipn.

          What happens to fearful people like that?

          They often throw in with some Fuehrer of a cult leader who promises to Keep Them Safe.

          Again, “Safe Space”.

    • “Increasingly not just Christians but other faiths as there seems to be a rise in extreme fundamentalism in our world. I’m not sure of the cause. Modernization? Technological advances? Huge innovation in communication which puts the beliefs and lifestyles and norms of other people smack dab in front of us? Rather than live with the ambiguity, we hunker down in our foxholes in a desperate attempt to block out what we think we don’t agree with. If we only listen to Christian music and only read Christian books and only watch Christian movies (or insert any other religion),we will never have to face that moment when we realize that there is common ground between our beliefs and a Muslim’s or a Hindu’s or an atheist’s.”

      This is so spot on. Not just people of faith, though–simply people. There is so much more opportunity to come into contact with people of all nations and creeds and it can rock the worldview which has supported us. Richard Rohr says our natural inclination is towards “dualistic thinking”–seeing everything in binary splits as good or bad, with me or against me. It takes a great deal of effort to overcome this type of thinking. It’s so much easier to, as you say, “hunker down in our foxholes”.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        If we only listen to Christian music and only read Christian books and only watch Christian movies (or insert any other religion),we will never have to face that moment…

        “And only drink milk
        If it comes from a CHRISTIAN cow…”
        — Steve Taylor, “Guilty by Association”

  11. CM, you’re channeling Andy Rizzo or Kris Bryant here. You knocked this one way out of Wrigley. Nice job.

    • Christiane says:

      “Maybe you were hoping you’d read something today that would nail it all down for you, relieve your doubts, answer your questions, make it all certain.

      Sorry. Just a shepherd here.

      Most nights are pretty quiet.”

      absolutely loved this! 🙂

  12. In my 20s I was into apologetics for a while. Walter Martin, etc. By my 30s and into my 40s I had pretty much ditched it. Winning the argument usually happens only in your own mind and really never attracts others.

    Now in my 50s I find my favorite authors are people like Brennan Manning and Frederich Buechner, both of whom emphasize the grace and mystery and wonder of faith. This is where I am. I don’t have the answers or arguments. I only have the life I try to live honestly and humbly and joyously and graciously and charitably. I’m not good at it. But I know that people whose lives had these traits, however imperfect, were what drew me to faith. It is enough.

    Thank you, CM, for this post. It’s one of the best and most encouraging I’ve ever read.

    • –> “Now in my 50s I find my favorite authors are people like Brennan Manning and Frederich Buechner, both of whom emphasize the grace and mystery and wonder of faith.”

      Yep. And if you haven’t read it yet, I’d recommend Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son. ” I just finished reading it and now rank it right up alongside Manning’s “The Ragamuffin Gospel” as my favorite Christian book ever.