Thursday, January 18, 2018

Evolving in Monkey Town

Isn't January great? In the first days of the month we make New Year's resolutions. And the for the first few weeks we actually follow through with said resolutions. And when we do, we feel such a sense of accomplishment. And we try our best to not worry for the next goal cause that's for our future selves to worry about. Right? Or is that just me?

I love New Year's resolutions. In January.

February is another set of feelings. Cause. You know. Ash Wednesday needs planning. So does the AGM. And that stupid Masters thesis proposal isn't going to write itself. And there's the little trip to Ontario that I need to make. (Did I tell you that I have the privilege to be a Youth Group leader for General Council 43? Yay! But there's some traveling ahead to prepare for that.)


Life in ministry has a tendency to hit hard in February because Lent always (ALWAYS) seem to take ministers by surprise. It always (ALWAYS) comes a lot sooner after Christmas than you would think.

But I digress.

This year I've set my reading goal to be 26 books. They are stacked every so beautifully on one of my bookshelf. I am excited to read each one of them as I carefully selected them just last month. I love looking at books. And holding books. And choosing books. And buying books. It's the reading all of that's hard. There never seems to be enough time. I sometimes think having a chauffer would free up some valuable reading time.

Today I am happy to report in about book #1 - Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans. I enjoy Rachel's writing. When I was on sabbatical I read her book, Searching for Sunday and very much enjoy it. As do lots of people on Twitter. I regularly see tweets that are thanking Rachel for her wisdom in that book. So, as I do when I like something, I get more of it. In fact, if you pay attention over the next year, you will see a few repeat authors (Hatmaker, McLaren, Barnes) - I might be able to run workshops on each of these theologians by the time I'm finished the pile. From Rachel Held Evans, I selected Faith Unraveled and A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

The long and short of Faith Unraveled is that it is a memoir about Rachel's faith journey. She grew up as a conservative, evangelical Christian in Dayton, Tennessee, which is where the Scopes Monkey Trial took place in 1925. The trial was a test of the law, at the time,which prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools. The American Civil Liberties Union sought a teacher who wished to sue the State to oppose its anti-evolution laws. Some bright spark figured that Dayton would be put on the map if the trial took place in their courthouse. A local teacher by the name of John T. Scopes was found and the trial took place in the heat of that summer. Essentially, it was a science vs. religion spectacle. Dayton acquired the name, Monkey Town (a play on evolution's assertion that humans are just a short genetic hop from primates).

The trial was many things and both sides think they won. Scopes ended up being charged with violating the law as he admitted to teaching evolution in his classroom. Dayton ended becoming fervently religious. Conservative religious. Evangelical religious. Rachel grew up in the nineties as a believer in the black and white of God's Word as presented in the Bible. All of life could be seen through a biblical worldview and there was only one correct path - the path of her church and pastor. A critical event occurred as the US was about to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and was broadcast on TV. This event made Rachel ask questions of her faith tradition and her God. Questions that her friends, student colleagues, parents and religious leaders could not answer to her satisfaction - thus beginning the unravelling of almost she had ever believed in. And the building up again of her faith and the establishing of a firm foundation upon which she meets God and Jesus.

I very much enjoyed this book if, no other reason, than it speaks to what we, in the United Church of Canada, know to be true - doubt and questions are not denials of faith but essential components of faithful living. Here's one of my favourite lines, from chapter 19 entitled, Adaptation:
I may have met one or two people who rejected Christianity because they had difficulties with the deity of Christ, but most rejected Christianity because they thought it means becoming judgmental, narrow-minded, and unkind. People didn't argue with me about the problem of evil; they argued about why Christians aren't doing more to alleviate human suffering, support the poor, and oppose violence and war. Most weren't looking for a faith that provided all the answers; they were looking for one in which they were free to ask questions. (203)
If you'd like to borrow this book or any other one that I've written about, swing by my office one day - I'd be happy to lend it to you.

Onto book #2 - Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown - the book we are studying for our Lent Book Study. See the SVUC website for more details.

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