Life interrupted

by Don Hartness

Sometimes, the direction you intend to go is not where you end up…

I was staring at a newsletter forwarded by a friend, extolling a doctrinal position my friend passionately believes. Her and I talked briefly about this doctrine in the past. The more she shared, the more dubious I became.

“I don’t have time for this,” I groaned to myself. “I have posts to write! I have to work on my platform!” Still, I promised to have this conversation with her at some point, just “as soon as I can find some time.” It seemed it was time to find the time.

So, with a heavy sigh, I gathered an outline of the doctrine in question, highlighting the key points in preparation for a further conversation. My grimace grew as I read. Doctrinal and theological debates often take the form of an infamous quote uttered by a past president: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Sigh.

After reading a variety of arguments quibbling over Paul’s intended meaning in each and every word he wrote, I took a break and picked up a book I found at the library that afternoon (citation coming later this week).  Written by a former Episcopalian minister and bishop about various controversial passages in the Bible (homosexuality, gender, and so on), I expected a theological piece directed at cleaning up mis-perceptions. What I discovered surprised me.

From page one, the author could have been mistaken for an atheist or de-converted Christian, if not for his testimony of faith prior to his diatribe against anything and everything; from inerrancy doctrine, to the  authorship of various books in the Bible, to various contradictions found across those books. After reading a criticism of the kind of argument I was presented with earlier that day, I read a concise summary of my angst:

“I am now convinced that institutional Christianity has become so consumed by its quest for power and authority, most of which is rooted in the excessive claims for the Bible, that the authentic voice of God can no longer be heard within it.”

Meanwhile, I received an alert for a new post on Finding Truth. For those not following this blog, Nate is a recently de-converted Christian who lost his faith after researching many of the issues presented by the above author and others. Nate posted the last in a long series describing his journey from devout Christian, to skeptic, to agnostic, to atheist.

One thing becomes abundantly clear when you read his blog: Nate is a well-educated former Christian who knows his Bible better than most Christians. Ironically, it is his knowledge of Scripture that led to his de-conversion. If you think you can present an argument to Nate, based on Scripture, for the existence and belief in God that he hasn’t heard, think again. Chances are, he could present a counter-argument that would shake your faith instead.

I had a leadership meeting at church on Sunday morning, so I decided to attend the early worship service. I have to admit, I struggle with my attendance. It has nothing to do with the music being played (it’s fine), or the quality of the sermon (always good, sometimes excellent), or any doctrinal quibbles (none to speak of).

No, my struggle is illustrated in contrast with the events from the previous day. Each Sunday, in churches all across America, foundational beliefs are expounded upon in endless variety. It’s milk, suitable for an infant in the faith, but unsuitable as sole sustenance for adults.

It’s not the pastor’s fault: the congregation only wants milk. If a pastor were to begin dispensing the kind of meat that people like Nate were looking for prior to his de-conversion, the congregation would run him out of town.  How sad is it when the pastor has to exhort the congregation to demonstrate in their lives what they claim to believe? Even sadder, when a member of the congregation desires to grow-up and asks for meat, most pastors are unable, untrained, or out of practice in providing it.

The service concluded and I went to my leadership meeting, with the exhortations of the pastor ringing in my head. In spite of the lack of response from the majority of the congregation, I like the church I attend today. Simply put, they get it. It’s not about doctrine, or theology, or legalism. It’s about people. This meeting, like all the others, was no different: how can we empower others to deepen their spiritual walk, making a difference in the lives of others?

After giving and receiving ideas and encouragement, I returned home to a blank document sitting open on my computer. I hadn’t written a word all weekend. However, before depression could even find a foothold, I recalled the events of the weekend, and it hit me.

Why do you write? Most readers of this and other blogs are writers themselves, whether it is a blog, articles, or even novels. In the mad rush of everyday life, a writer’s life is a never-ending treadmill of posting, social media, more posting, commenting and administrating, and even more posting, all while hoping to build that elusive platform. In the midst of all the madness, we often forget one very important fact.

It’s about the people.

Remember? Your audience? The reason you write and build platform in the first place? Your audience had needs beyond mere entertainment, needs such as encouragement, challenge, exhortation, analysis and, most of all, connection. Your writing is perhaps your greatest gift for addressing these needs. But it’s not your only gift.  Sometimes, your audience doesn’t need your gift. They need you.

I didn’t want to get in a doctrinal debate with my friend, but I opened it anyway, not for the merits of the doctrine itself, but for practicing debate, a skill I believe my friend needs. I don’t share in Nate’s new-found beliefs, but I wrote an extensive response, directed at his grieving family and friends over his new-found beliefs. I’m finishing a letter to my pastor, encouraging him in his vocation, even though he didn’t ask for it.

And although I didn’t present an insightful post this week on this or that, I think I covered what needed to be said.

All in all, I would say that a little interruption is a good thing.