Tuesday was my dad’s birthday – he would have been 72. He was quite a chronicler and wrote many cards, notes, and letters over the years. Some of my most cherished possessions are letters my dad wrote to me during difficult moments of life and ministry. Some of his words were hard to take but they were generally spot on.
On this week of his birthday, my blog post is one of those letters. After his death we found several things he had written to or for us. Most were things we hadn’t seen. He clearly wrote them for us to see later. Among them was this two page letter entitled “An Invitation.” It is a scan of the actual letter and it has things crossed out and his handwriting was pretty bad as well. But worth puzzling out the writing for the message he wished to leave. He wrote this on February 16, 2011 and died on May 11, 2011 so this was among the last things he wrote to any of us even though it was his death that caused us to see it for the first time.
This week I read a really challenging debate on the New York Times website about whether atheism is a religion (you can find – and you should read it – here). The debate includes a post from leaders of The Sunday Assembly, an atheist “church” that meets in London. An atheist church?
What I find fascinating – as a friend observed – is this innate need to gather and worship. The atheists gather to celebrate their beliefs (or unbelief) and the values they cherish. They may not worship God but they venerate and worship what they value. We see the same impulse in stadiums and arenas when sports teams play. Or at a concert. People gather to adore and to express their love for what they treasure.
Related to this need to worship something if not someone is our need for community. I am still wrestling with an e-mail from a long-time friend who is an agnostic if not an atheist. He wrote about not caring for the religion he heard in the years he attended church but that he enjoyed the community. The next time you go to the grocery look for the jackets and shirts with sports teams or universities on them. These folks are identifying with a community of people who share their loyalty.
What astounds me is how poorly we – the church – capitalize on this. Decades – and certainly centuries – ago the options for worship and community were more limited. Today they are nearly endless. Human beings have a need for community and adoration. Even atheists understand this and respond to it.
I don’t know the answer but I am starting to ask anew some questions. Do we live and provide genuine community that others find attractive? Do we, the church (by which I mean not the church I pastor but THE church in our day and time), satisfy the needs for real relationships that our guests come seeking? Do we lead people to places of transcendent worship? Do we present a God who is worthy of their worship – and ours?
This week the debate over gun control continues in the light of the Newtown massacre. While I struggle with my own thoughts on this issue, what I keep seeing in the battle is a deeper and shared value – security. Some who favor gun restrictions want to protect us from a violent person or group with a gun. Those who argue for the rights of gun owners argue, in part, that possessing and using personal firearms protects their families and friends from harm.
What I find myself thinking is that they are all wrong. Much of what seems to promise safety does not, what seems to assure peace is illusory. In some ways the horrible shootings in Newtown raise the same insecurities and fears that 9/11 did. And we want to do something about it – to protect ourselves from harm and to guarantee that such unimaginable evil does not happen again.
But it will happen. Thousands of years of human history – and the same human longing for peace and security – demonstrate the illusory nature of the promises of safety and security. Guns won’t keep bad things from happening. Neither will gun restrictions or better mental health care or any other things that we hope will shield us and those we love from harm.
The answer to which I keep returning is faith. Paul tells the Thessalonians “When they say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!” (1 Thessalonians 5:3 NRSV). Paul is talking about the Day of the Lord but the principle applies. No human promises of peace or safety are permanent or effective. But the peace of Christ trumps the violence in the human heart. The order that the Creator brings to human life and relationships can stand even in the face of incredible, overwhelming chaos.
Helen Keller is quoted as saying
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. . .Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. . . Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
We cannot avoid danger however hard we try. But we can rest, trust, and live in the God who travels with us on the daring adventure with all of its danger and chaos.
Over Christmas we did some housecleaning and de-cluttering. I was amazed at how many partially eaten boxes of cereal had accumulated. If you are a cereal eater you may know the routine. You open a box of your favorite cereal and you eat a third or maybe half of the box. And then it sits. Sits taking up space in the pantry. Sits until it grows stale. Sits until someone de-clutters the pantry.
As 2013 gets under way I imagine we all have boxes of cereal in our lives. Projects begun that we didn’t finish. Things that were once important and now hold no value for us. Habits that need to be changed or replaced because they don’t help us (if they ever did).
I don’t know what those cereal boxes are for you. I know what they are for me. God has made us beings of great potential and value. But we do not have unlimited time, resources, or room. I need to make room for new things, better things in the pantry of my life. Maybe you do too? But please don’t touch my Captain Crunch.