It’s started: “Dad, tell me about Jesus”. So here we go, during the most appropriate season there is, advent.
The first conversation occurred while the four of us were on the way to Longwood Gardens a few weeks ago, to see the lights, trees and ice skating. Griffen asked about who Jesus was. Susan and I shared our similar belief that Jesus was very special and has a lot to teach us. But we both told Griffen that we didn’t believe that Jesus was more of a child of God than he was. Then Griffen (age eight) and Susan and I talked for quite a while about what Jesus teaches us and why he was killed. Ella (age four) listened intently. Susan and I both stressed that Jesus preached about love and responsibility, and about the need to help anyone in need. We talked about Jesus hanging out with lepers, prostitutes and poor people, and how he threw “gamblers” (my on the spot translation of “money changers”) out of the church. Susan and I parted ways around the idea of Jesus’ presence in our lives today. I told Griff that Jesus made my worship very personal, and I’ve come to feel him in my life like dear, old friend. Susan and I both spoke about how his ideas are still alive and still challenging. We told Griffen that he was killed because the people in power were afraid of him.
The second conversation came a few days ago, just between Griff and me. Griff is fond of talking about Jesus “super-powers” (walking on water, etc.) and we both talked about how cool it would be to be able to do that. He asked if they wanted to kill him after he was born, and I told him the story of Herod killing all the male babies in Bethlehem as Jesus and his family snuck away to Egypt. Griff sat quietly for a minute. “What happened then?” So I told him that there isn’t a lot of information about Jesus between the time of his birth and the time, about 30 years later, when he became the minister that changed the world. Griff and I speculated about his childhood, and I was reminded again of Ann Rice’s novel Christ The Lord (see this blog post). We ended this conversation with an idea I was shocked to be discussing with him: “Maybe we’ll read the Bible together some day”, I said. “Cool”, he said, and then the conversation moved on to other things, like football, Christmas presents and food. So I will read the Bible soon with my son. Holy Christmas, Batman.
These conversations were echoing in my head as I listed to two episodes of Speaking of Faith, in which host Krista Tippet interviews the “New Evangelicals”, or the post-religious right Evangelicals. The first episode was with Jim Wallis, the second with Rick and Kay Warren. Some highlights:
– Wallis describing the exercise he did in seminary in which he and his classmates cut any social justice reference out of the Bible. He described the result as something comically “hole-y”.
– Warren’s observation that the split in Protestant Christianity between either social justice (ceded to the political left) and personal conduct (ceded to the religious right) is artificial and politically motivated. He observed that this split has not occurred in the Catholic Church, which remains committed to social justice causes and is deeply invested in issues of personal conduct.
– Wallis describing how the religious right is now being replaced by Jesus.
– Kay Warren’s story of visiting AIDS orphans in Africa, then being joined by Rick. They witnessed a church which was nothing but a tent helping 25 AIDS orphans. “Like a knife in my heart,” Warren said, “I asked myself, how many orphans have we helped. Not one. And I knew that had to change.”
– Both the pastors were adamant about removing politics from Evangelical Christianity. And I resonated with that position, and recalled my own concern around the way Quakers use words like “liberal” and “conservative”.
These are two committed, successful Christians trying to live the life they believe Jesus is asking them to live. They are deeply reluctant to pass judgments, and both have a sense of humor about themselves that, to me, has always been a mark of a great minister. They, and Griffen, have added a sense of import to this advent season. I hope it brings you joy.