A Thinking Man’s Questions From A Wittenberg Coffee Shop – You Better Read This To The End

The ThinkerMy time in Germany has allowed me to think about many things.  One thing I have pondered is the tendency that many have to fear and resist personal reflection and  asking challenging  questions.  Why are there those who refuse to reflect?  Why are there those who are afraid of questions?  Why are there those who confuse the edge of the rut with the horizon?

Many will not like this blog.  This is not like my other blogs.  This is not a report of Wittenberg; however, this blog is the result of experiences in Wittenberg that have gotten me thinking about some things.  This blog could be really uncomfortable.  Be careful!

Questions that are worthwhile tend to be uncomfortable because they challenge current thinking and invite people to step outside the boundaries of comfortability.  Phil Cousineau inThe Art of Pilgrimage writes:  “…if the journey you have chosen is indeed a pilgrimage, a soulful journey, it will be rigorous.  Ancient wisdom suggests that if you aren’t trembling as you approach the sacred, it isn’t the real thing.  The sacred, in its various guises as holy ground, art, or knowledge, evokes emotion and commotion.” 

Questions don’t physically hurt, but they can hurt both intellectually and emotionally.  Questions challenge the order of thinking and force people to look at themselves and their view of the world.  My sense is that people in general don’t want to think about the things that question and  challenge them. 

I saw this t-shirt on a person the other day.  On the front it said, “Agnostic Front” and on the back of the t-shirt it said, “There is no justice—Just Us.”  I was intrigued as to what he meant and what he was trying to communicate.  I wanted to ask questions.  What does he mean?  What does he believe?  I felt sad, and even a bit angry, but more than anything I wanted to know his questions.  That is where this language thing gets in the way for me.

I saw another t-shirt.  On the back it said “F*%k off Slaves” and there were three red circles with slash marks.  In one was the cross,  in the second was the Star of David, and in the third was the Islamic crescent and star .  That t-shirt caused me to have many questions.  What was making this person so angry that he would walk around proclaiming hatred?  There is a story there.  What is it?  We don’t have to agree, but it would be good if we could understand each other.

I met a young man.  He is searching.  I noticed he was reading The Shack.  We began talking about it.  He likes questions.  But, he asks questions that would make many very uncomfortable.  Like, “What is the name of God?”  He said, “I don’t usually ask spiritual questions, but for the past three years, I have been searching.”  He is trying to figure out which name of God he likes.  He really doesn’t know the name Yahweh, but, he knows the concept of Trinity and the Christian God.  He struggles with the Christian God because he remembers that the Church has not been very nice.  He forgets (or perhaps never heard) about hospitals, orphanages, social service agencies…….all started by the Church.  But he does remember the Crusades, the Inquisition, and other terrible times and ways in which the Church has behaved.  He has uncomfortable questions.  I need to listen and to understand.  He helps broaden, and deepen, my view.  He is a great person and I love talking with him.  I grow as a result of our conversations.  What a blessing.

I met a young man.  He is gay.  He invited me to read a book.  I did.  The book discussed  how the Church has treated gay people over the centuries.  The book was historically accurate and very graphic.  It really should be called “a history of torture.”  This young man has uncomfortable questions.  One must deal with the reality  that this young man is both fully Christian and fully gay.  What does this mean?  By exploring the questions, we explore the presence of God in the day to day places of life.  When we do this in connection with the Word, we then hear God’s questions as well. 

I met a young man.  He was a communist.  We spent days talking.  We talked about communism and Christianity.  He asked very difficult questions.  He said, “You call yourself a Christian country.  But in my country, every person has a job, every person has medical care, every person has an education, every person has a house and every person has food.  Tell me about your Christian country.”  This was, and is,  a difficult question.  Can we explore our questions without becoming angry?  I hope so.

Last week I was in a group.  The group was made up of Christian leaders.  Another person appeared and began asking questions.  Tough questions.  This person, German and Canadian, challenged this group of American church leaders about the behavior of America and about the behavior of the Christian Church.  It was uncomfortable.  The group of Christian leaders said, “We live in a sinful and broken world, so this is to be expected.”  Even through I agree with their response, I was truly embarrassed because even to me it sounded like a simplistic cop out.  The visitor said, “You can’t do that.  You can’t pass off these behaviors of the Church by blaming the devil.  What are you going to do about this?”  Wow, talk about uncomfortable questions.  Can you say awkward?  I like this man.  He is annoying, but I like this man?  Talk about prophet!

I met a man.  He said that he could not be a part of the Church because the Church does not allow you to think.  He grew up in a communist nation and did not like the government or the church telling a person what to think.  He raises really good questions.  He is a thinker.  He is creative.  Can the Church handle his questions?  Can the Church handle a thinker?   If the Church can’t, he won’t be there.  He is  not baptized.  What does one do with this?  Yes, pray, but we must also engage in conversation and dialogue that is respectful.

I have come to believe that God is in the questions.  Joan Chittester writes, “Let nothing go by without being open to being nourished by the inner meaning of that event of life.  There is an Oriental proverb that teaches, ‘Take from death before it takes from thee.’ In other words, if we do not live life consciously,  we may not be living at all.”  (Chittester, A Spirituality for the 21st Century: The Rule of St. Benedict)  Life comes in the questions.

Can the  Church be the  Church without asking questions?  Jesus asked questions.  That is what rabbis do.  In fact, Jesus would answer a question with a question.  If we are afraid to ask the questions, we are afraid to live.  Can we be Christian and fully free without asking questions?

Luther lived a life of questions and it got him in trouble.  Indulgences: What does this mean?  Christian freedom: What does this mean?  Living the Christian life with justice and compassion: What does this mean?  What questions would Luther ask today?

Quite frankly, sometimes even I have felt oppressed by the Church, because I have questions.  I have felt oppressed by people who want to have nice, neat little answers in nice, neat little boxes.  I was told that I was too welcoming and allowed too many questions.  I was told it was terrible to be accepting of people who had questions.  It is hard for me to confine the God questions to little, systematic boxes and simple rote questions and answers that so many like to use.  Way too confining. These boxes just cannot capture God.  Why do we think they can?

It is very hard for me to be around people who are afraid of questions.  It hurts too much.  I cannot be around people who resist or oppose reflection because there is no hope for growth.  I am willing to sit with people who want to learn how to reflect.  I am willing to help them formulate the questions, and I want people to  help me formulate my questions.  I cherish those on the journey who ask tough questions.  I cherish people who are reflective and who face the tough questions of their own personal life, as well as the life of the Church.

My sense of the Church and the culture today is that questions are not welcomed.  My question:  “What do I do with this?”

But, the real problem comes when good Christian people come up with different answers to the questions and then refuse to listen to each other.  Then, it becomes a matter of defending one’s view of what the answer should be.  Well, at this point Satan has full reign.  When Christians begin to defend their answers, rather than listen to God and God’s people, Satan wins.

When Christians come up with different answers, the only solution is to engage in prayers of discernment.  It is in prayers of discernment that the Holy Spirit reigns and begins to lead.  Prayers of discernment are answered through the Word and through listening – listening to God and listening to the other.

Benedict says, “This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for Jesus, the Christ.”  (Rule of St. Benedict, The Prologue)  Joan Chittester writes, “Obedience, Benedict says–the willingness to listen for the voice of God in life–is what will wrench us out of the limitations of our own landscape.  We are being called to something outside of ourselves, something greater than ourselves, something beyond ourselves.”  (A Spirituality for the 21st Century:  The Rule of St. Benedict, 2010).

Both the questions and the answers are of God.  Listen!


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