Another conversation. A stranger who, on discovering that I am a minister, uses me to pour out a tale of woe centered on the imprisoning of his young spirit by his early church experience. While I'm listening, several thoughts chase around my head. I do listen carefully because people's stories need an attentive ear. I wonder, though, as I am listening, if this telling is part of a process of reconciliation with his past or is only one more expression of nurtured anger. The conversation also makes me extra grateful my experience of religion has been so personally enlivening. For example
I learned how to read by reading the Bible--not my abc's, but how to read inquisitively, skeptically, and critically. Instead of destroying faith, the academic study of the Bible helped me with richer understandings through questioning the text. The same tools, honed by critically reading the Bible, are used in my general reading and conversing. The Bible has made me less, not more, gullible.
Instead of a constricting influence, I have found religion keeps me in touch with the world around and pulls me out of a natural self-focused existence. Whether it be building a Habitat house, or hearing about gun control, or grieving over the slaughter in Rwanda, or considering the physical needs of earthquake victims in Turkey, I am consistently asked to consider, pray for and act in these areas. And, I am given a channel to do so.
I even attend worship when I don't have to. Entering into the rhythm of worship, and surrounded by others, I find that there is a subtle unconscious (and sometimes acutely conscious) process of examination of my relationships, my priorities and my future. Plato wrote in his Apology that "The life which is unexamined is not worth living." Without worship little examination takes place, outside of a crisis.
My careful and sympathetic listening was not reciprocated. As I briefly and straight-forwardly shared my story, his eyes told me he was not in the mood to have his angry remembrances tampered with.
I left incredibly sad for him. For in embracing a comfortable and familiar past anger, he is unable to embrace a present joy.
--Robert H. Tucker
4 May 1998