First, I apologize to all my readers/fellow bloggers for not having posted in awhile. It’s all out of busyness. My work has been insane, but for mostly good reasons. I’m planning to get back to the R.C. Sproul book (Pastor Chuck has completed it and I’m well into it.) I also have several other topics I wish to write about and hope soon to find the time.
But in the meantime, a very interesting opportunity for dialogue has dropped into my lap. Back in the day, around 1986, in the first year or so of my Christian experience, Santa Cruz Christian Church began a College and Career group, a youth group for young people transitioning from high school to adulthood. T and I were there with about 15-20 others at that very first meeting.
Another person there, who, if I recall correctly, was helping as a lay leader, was a young rockabilly dude with an awesome (and still extant) pompadour, Dan Kimball. Today Dan is a noted pastor (although he doesn’t prefer that term) of Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, an author, and a leader in the post-modern Emergent Church movement. While never close friends, Dan and I were always friendly acquaintances. Dan is humble and as genuine a guy as you can find.
I’m Facebook friends with him and his wife, and reached out to them when I found a number of books from my searching days I thought he might want in his church library. We’ve been trying to get together for coffee to catch up and had been trading emails, when he floated an interesting offer.
He does some teaching at Western Seminary in San Jose. He asked me to come for a 1.5 – 2 hour session and tell my story to his class, followed by an open Q&A session. Having once done something similar in a class he taught up in Portland, he was very happy with the challenge it brought to his students and wanted to try it again. After only a little thought I decided I was very interested. I emailed him and told him so. A few days later we had a chance to speak on the phone about this session’s purposes.
His goal is to get his students to really listen and understand the questions, concerns, and doubts of non-believers. An important factor is that I already knew what these students know, and still left the faith behind. It wasn’t like I just didn’t understand. I had lived it. He asked me specifically to be very direct about my doubts about biblical doctrines and theology as well as telling the human side of the story. He was also very clear that his intention was to provide a very positive dialogue for everyone. The last time he did this, it turned out just that way. The tone and the spirit of the session is deeper understanding of each other and consideration of hard questions, regardless of our stark lack of agreement.
As I thought about why I would want to do this, it occurred to me that this was exactly the kind of spirit I had originally hoped for this website. Like many of my atheist friends and acquaintances, I feel I’ve devolved away from the aspiration into a meaner, snarkier sort of monologue, which does little to foster the sort of interaction I would like to have. It’s easy to lose sight of that, because so much of the dialogue becomes repetitive, unproductive, and sometimes combative. You start to feel like you’re fighting rather than talking, and so you pull out the arsenal designed to hurt rather than be understood.
I told Dan that my personal goal would be to help his students understand that, when they dialogue with non-believers, their religion, their Christianity, is to us simply one in a sea of ideas about the world. I would like them to be able to understand that. If they can, they’d be better equipped to carry on a dialogue as equal human beings discussing philosophy rather than treating the non-believer as damaged, deluded, or diseased. So often the Christian allows their assumptions of knowledge and their certainty to override their ability to consider other viewpoints or, perhaps more importantly, their ramifications.
I appreciate that Dan wants his students to contend with the hardest areas of biblical theology. He understands that it’s too easy for Christians to dismiss the concrete reasons atheists like myself have for not believing by focusing on those human emotional events that led us to first start questioning. I think that approach is very honest.
The class session is scheduled for Friday, October 30th. So I’m preparing about a 30-40 minute talk, as well as preparing for the Q&A. In doing so, I’ve gone back to read through the My Story section of this site.
I have to say, there is a lot in the way I’ve told my story that disappoints me. I think that when I told that story, a lot of the resentment I harbored from that period of my life was raw and close to the surface, and it shows. The idea of this class, the spirit of it, inspires me to rethink how I’m telling my story. If I want those Christians to respect my viewpoint, then I think I owe it to them to respect theirs. And not because their viewpoint is necessarily valid. Rather because I was once there. I once held that viewpoint, closely and dearly, and should be able to understand the filter they see the world through, no matter how damaging I may think it is.
So if you’ve read through my story, I’ll be making a few changes to tone down the snark, to make it a story better accessible to the honest seeker who doesn’t know what to think, as well as to those who just need to know they’re not alone.
Wish me luck. I’m hoping to video the class and perhaps share some sections of it here on-site.