Member Number Thirteen
This weekend I was inducted into the Spiritual Arts Jesus Think Tank Club. I am member number thirteen.
While trying to read my Jimmy Carter books at Starbucks I could not help but be distracted by the three old men who were chain smoking right behind me. First of all, I smoked at least three packs of cigarettes vicariously through these men on Saturday. If I wanted to be polluted by harmful toxins I would live in Houston or Romania (where our buggers actually came out black because of the pollution) but I don’t. I shortened my life expectancy by about three years in the first thirty minutes. Next of all, did I mention these were old men? I’m talking in their 70’s, which inevitably means they don’t talk at all because they can’t hear, or they talk way too loud because they can. These guys talked way too loud.
I quickly realized I was not going to get anything accomplished, so I pretended to read and eavesdropped on their highly charged spiritual and political conversation. They were having a book club. It was pretty cute.
For being so annoying it was pretty comical. I guess I assumed once I reached seventy or so I would give up my fervor for religious and political discussions, give it a few years, and ask the big guy himself. But what fun is that? These men have no intentions of going out quietly. And just in case you are trying to imagine these guys, go with as country as you can imagine, over weight, and rough and scruffy, verses well dressed, scotch drinking, bow tie, scholarly gentlemen. This was basically like dumping the Beverly Hillbillies off at Starbucks and having them talk about…
Whether Mary was really a virgin and if it mattered? Whether Jesus came for the whole world or just the Jews; and did he even mean to start another religion or was that Paul’s fault? What about the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, is that the same as the Spirit of God in the Old Testament? And will God let the right wing fundamentalists into heaven?
Headache. They skipped Theology 101 and moved straight to advanced headache theology. But I was so intrigued with their conversation I couldn't stop listening. Long story short, I decided to read the book they were reading and I stopped them on their way out for the title. And the rest of my perfectly planned out day was history. (The title: The Turning Point of Western History; Why the Jews Rejected Jesus)
Not only was I the first girl they met interested in religion and politics and willing to openly discuss Jesus from different angles without casting fierce judgment upon them for their beliefs, but I was the first person they personally knew that used to be a Southern Baptist. I was a novelty! The leader, Jim said, “Sit down boys we have a lady with a brain and we are going to talk to her for the rest of the day about God. This is a real gem.”
That is when he told me about their Jesus think tank and inducted me as a new member. Member number thirteen. And I agreed that I would be willing to let people approach Jesus from different angles and that I would join the group knowing there was no agenda or enrollment fees except for the use of my brain and reason. Jim hit the table, they all agreed, and there I was on the porch of Starbucks with Jim the leader, Bill the skeptic, and Jerry, a man with no teeth, a bullet hole in his head where a robber shot him two years ago, and me, a girl among a nursing home full of vigor and brains. Totally weird?
I sat and listened and learned and shared. And I couldn't have loved it more.
[4:00 pm. There were two hyperglycemic men and one with diabetes, so we moved across the parking lot to Chick-Fil-A for dinner. 4pm. Wow.]
The Heart of the Matter
I think I have always assumed that old age means having a closed mind. But these men desperately wanted a place to ask their questions and discuss their faith. Jim, the leader said that they meet together each week to talk about things they can’t talk about in church, because “the church is no place for questions, doubts, disbeliefs, or…even thinking. The church is a place where we are spoon fed, a place where naive people who never want to study or learn on their own can be told exactly what to think and believe.” They all agree that they love their churches, but they value wrestling with their faith and love the freedom of discussing different “Jesus angles” as well. A freedom they don't feel they have in church.
I love conversing with people who do not have it all figured out. People who have their faith all figured out usually present it as the only way, the absolute truth, and the final word on all things related to God. But like I said last week, what do I know of Holy? And what do you know of Holy?
If I cannot question my faith for fear that it might fall apart and it might not make sense, then it was no real faith in the first place. The very place we should be encouraged to learn, grow, question, doubt, and grapple with questions of faith, scripture, church history, and religion should be in the church. Where we can embrace the absence of answers and have the freedom to explore as skeptics and doubters.
I am one such skeptic, one such doubter, one such textbook-history junky, and one such person who finds great pleasure in talking to all kinds of people about my religion, beliefs, and questions and theirs. At the end of the day I find that the more I bring before the Lord, the more He is allowed to answer, and He does, He is big enough for my small minded disbelief. Open dialogue about my faith adds depth and character to it; it never detracts. At the end of the day, I tend to fall in love with God through my questions.
So do these guys.
Jim and Bill came to our concert that night. My new friends. It was not what I expected at all to do with my Saturday and I have definitely never showed up to a show before with two brand new, chain smokin, Starbucks friends over the age of 70, but it made me smile. These men made my weekend...
PS they asked me to get on the internet and tell other people to start Jesus Think Tanks. I am fulfilling my duty. Start a Jesus think Tank. You never know what kind of friends you will make!