3:00 p.m. EDT, today, Diana Butler Bass and New York Times columnist
Ross Douthat will participate in a conversation about the “Future
of Faith.” The conversation is hosted by Yale Divinity School.
Bass' book, Christianity After Religion, addresses
the fact of religion, and particularly Christianity being reshaped by
today's changing world. She also suggests that religious life has
been greatly influenced by the Franciscan revolution, the Protestant
Reformation, the Wesleyan revival and the three Great Awakenings of
North America, and that we may be at the dawn of a new awakening.
Dr. Bass' blog on Huggington Post)
can watch the conversation live on Livestream.
Krista Tippett, in this unedited video, moderates a conversation between Jim Daly, President of Focus on the Family, and Gabe Lyons, founder of Q: Ideas for Common Good. - This is a compelling discussion with implications for all of us.
parson sat at his favorite table, in a back corner, of Peggy's
Cholesterol-laden Gastronomic Breakfast Delight Cafe. He was sopping
up the runny yoke of two Sunny-side Up Eggs that had been served up
on an island of toast smothered in butter with two pancakes covered
in Georgia Cane Syrup along with three patties of sausage and two
strips of thick bacon. Peggy, herself – not a server, but Peggy
herself, leaned over the parson's table as she refilled his mug with
her specially blended decaf.
Peggy,” said the parson.
problem, Parson,” she replied, “and no I don't want to buy
another raffle ticket to your church's fundraiser.”
parson smiled, leaned back in his chair, punched the power button on
his iPad and started to read the morning paper. He was able to read
two complete articles and was halfway through the third when the
voice interrupted him.
me,” the voice said, “are you the parson?”
parson looked up to see a man dressed professionally. He had the
appearance he might be a lawyer about to argue an important case
before the Superior Court. “I am,” said the parson. “I'm sorry;
do we know each other?”
don't,” said the man. “That's why I stopped to speak to you.”
stopped to speak to me because we don't know each other?”
did. Look, I got that stupid postcard from your church inviting me to
come visit and be a part of all that stuff your church is doing.”
wonderful,” the parson responded. “Great. I'm so glad to hear
someone responded to the invitation.”
well, I tell you what, Parson. You can shove that card of yours where
the sun doesn't shine.”
said; you heard what I said. I'm an atheist and I don't appreciate
your church sending out those cards to anyone in the community.
You've offended me. As an atheist I resent your damn card.”
not,” said the parson.
not what?” asked the man.
not an atheist.
hell I'm not; what makes you think I'm not an atheist.”
you were really and atheist, my friend, you'd have thrown that
postcard in the card in the trash and shaken your head at my naivete.
But you didn't. Instead you decided to confront me about a silly
little postcard. So I tell you what: When you and God get finished
with this argument you seem to be having, the invitation will still
parson walked across the campus of the big university in the really,
really big city on of which the seminary was part. He'd been at hospital
where occasionally he volunteered for some testing and procedures in
the cardiac clinic. Now he was headed to the seminary library to look up
a couple of obscure facts and to continue his pretense of being a
in a corner of the library, the parson was reading about the history of
several churches in his conference, churches who had been in existence
during the expansion of his denomination in the eighteenth century. His
study was interrupted.
“Parson, what are you doing here?”
parson turned to see Emily Watson, the daughter of a dear friend, now a
student at the seminary. “I'm just reading up on some church history no
one else is interested in,” said the parson. “It's really good to see
you. How are your studies coming?”
Emily sighed. “Can I talk with you a minute?”
“Sure,” the parson replied, “have a seat.”
seated herself across the table from the parson. She looked intensely
at the parson for a moment then said, “How long does it take to be
“Certain about what?” the parson asked.
not sure, Parson. It's just that, well, I'm in my second year now, and
it seems the more I learn the more questions I have to ask.” Emily then
began to relate her studies of the early theologians, Augustine and
others; she talked of the writings of Kant, of Bonhoeffer, of current
“I read and read but the more I study the more questions I have. I wish, Parson, I could be as certain as you are.”
“You think I'm certain about things?”
“Well, you always seem to have the answers to the questions.”
“Oh, Emily, I don't. I don't. I'm just like you, Emily, every time I turn a page I find a new question.”
“Doesn't that discourage you?”
one bit,” said the parson. “Not one bit. If I had the answer to all the
questions I'd no longer be able to marvel at the mystery.”
The parson had known her close to twenty years. Long ago, when she was a single girl, working in the growing IT industry, she moved into a house seven doors from the parson's church. It was then she became a lurker.
She was a lurker but not in the lurk around the blog sense. She lurked around the parson's church. She might have attended a couple of times in the decade the parson served that parish, but, if she did, the parson couldn't remember it. Nevertheless, she was spiritual; she was a seeker; she was what the parson termed a “non-church going Christian.” She wasn't afraid to ask questions, hard questions about God and Jesus, and sometimes she asked unanswerable questions about the organized church.
It took a while for her to discover that right fellow. But he was the right fellow, the very right fellow. The parson married them at a wonderful celebration at a country retreat not far from where the parson would retire.
When the parson did retire, he didn't seem them as much. But there came that day when the call came, “We're pregnant!” There was rejoicing, anticipation, trepidation. And within months they brought their child to the country where the parson supplied the pulpit in his retirement to be baptized. There was lunch following the baptism accompanied with Ms. Parson rocking the baby in a rocker on the front porch of the restaurant, rocking him and rocking him and rocking him, cooing and smiling and, unknown to the parson then, creating a precious memory for him. A memory she too had and which she shared with the parson.
Two years later they were back. The second child was baptized. Lunch was shared again. Ms. Parson was happy to have another child to rock.
It wasn't long after the tragic call came. Her fellow, her knight in shining armor, had cancer. It was a horrible cancer. It was a devastating cancer. There was no cure. The parson and she shared flowing tears. The parson and she talked a lot about bad things happening to good people. But there was no adequate answer. “Why do these things happen?” she asked. The parson told her he didn't know.
There was hope. There was an experimental treatment he could volunteer for. He did. It wasn't the easiest treatment to be borne, but he endured it and he got better. He was better for a few years. And then it happened. Things when from bad to worse. The boys were now five and seven. Their daddy was dying.
The phone call came. The parson answered. She told the parson he was home now. Hospice had been called. The doctors said maybe it would be two weeks. She told the parson she thought it would be two days. The parson told her he'd be there the next day.
It was a beautiful spring day in the inner city of Atlanta. The youngest boy met the parson at the door. He wasn't in kindergarten that day. Her high school friend who was there to help her told the parson she'd let them know he was there. So the parson and the five-year-old played games on the floor. Then the hospice nurse came out. She talked a while. Then the oxygen technician came by. Then the contractor remodeling the basement came up. Then the ….
Finally, she came out. She told the parson they'd just given him some morphine and he was out of it. She and the parson went out on the deck, into the bright spring sun, the budding flowers, and the promise of new life. The dog accompanied them, assuring their conversations would punctuated by periodic tossing of the tennis balls which were quickly retrieved and dropped at their feet.
That conversation bounced from one thing to another, from talks of death, of her acceptance of what was coming, of the fact she'd already been grieving for years. They talked of funny things that had happened back when she lurked around the parson's parish. They talked about the children and the counseling they'd been put into to prepare them for what was coming. They laughed about children, and Christians, and the absurdity of it all, of the wedding when the parson danced a jig with her eighty-year-old grandmother.
Four hours later the parson left. He headed home, knowing he'd retrace his steps soon to return and talk some more, if she wanted; but to be there because he wanted. Navigating through the traffic the parson thought of how she was so typical of the new Christians. Church membership is secondary to faith. She is full of faith; she is well-acquainted with God. The parson remembered how when she and her fellow, having not seen the parson for a year or so, were there when Ms. Parson died, being pastors to their pastor.
She'll lose her fellow soon. The parson is experienced with what that will feel like. She'll go on, probably facing it much better than did the parson. And maybe that's the miracle of it all: even in the shadow of death life goes on.
Below is the unedited interview Krista Tippett conducted with Rabbi David Hartman, in which he confronts God in the modern world, and the deepest meaning of the Jewish state as a sacred obligation. The interview aired on "On Being" on American Public Media / National Public Radio.
The parson was enjoying himself. Away from his parish, he'd spent the last few days enjoying the performances of some of the country's best dance companies at The American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina. Now he stood in a private room of a local bar and restaurant across the plaza from the performing arts center. The dancers of the company were talking about their performances, laughing at a couple of slips the audience had no idea occurred and debating the order of the various pieces. One in particular felt one piece needed to be separated from another because of the physical demands of each.
The parson listened fascinated with this world of which he was but an onlooker. The agility and poise, the polish and presence of these world renowned dancers captivated him. He listened intently to everything they were saying, with only an occasional break to sample the vast assortment of food on the tables.
His captivation was interrupted by a woman in her fifties. “So,” she said, “I'm told you're the father of one of the dance directors and you're a pastor.”
“I am,” said the parson.
He told the woman his name and asked her's. She told him, and then she began her assault.
“Don't you think it a bit weird to be hanging out in a place like this with all the booze flowing and being a pastor?”
“No,” said the parson. “I don't.”
“I like to be around interesting people.”
“Isn't that amusing,” she said. “You don't find your church people amusing?”
“Not tonight,” said the parson. “They're most likely all in bed. So, you folks are all I have to hang out with.”
“You don't mind hanging out with the unredeemed?”
“Is that what I'm doing?”
She stared at him a minute then replied. “Well, look around you.”
The parson looked around. “What am I suppose to be seeing?”
“You're seeing the sinners; that's what you're seeing. You do notice everyone is drinking?”
“That's your definition of sin? Drinking?”
“Well, you damn well know that all these people aren't going to be in church Sunday.”
“That's your definition of sin? Not going to church?”
“Well, what's your definition?”
“Anything that separates you from your relationship with God.”
“You think I have a relationship with God?”
“I don't know. Do you?”
“We're talking about the people in this room not being religious. We're not talking about my relationship with God.”
“Sure we are.”
“No we're not.”
“Look,” said the parson. “You walked across a room filled with people who are celebrities, who are accomplished in their art. Everyone of them is much more interesting than I. And you brought up sin; you brought up the church. I was just enjoying my drink and the company I'm in. Matter of fact, I confess to you I was enjoying not being around church folks. But, if you want to talk about your relationship with God, we can do that.”
She stared at him in a stern manner. Then, without a word, she turned and walked away.
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