Praying with Dennis
I once told Dennis that my thoughts on this subject have gotten me into hot water. He said, “Most Christians I’ve spoken with haven’t given social issues a great deal of introspective pondering. It’s easier for all of us to absorb the sound bytes of a culture than it is to substantively critique. Maybe the fact that you can discuss your views with a great deal of complexity and sophistication is what causes the disconnect.” I know he meant to pay me a compliment, but it made me sad. I am deeply saddened that he has never met a Christian who can talk about these things without getting bashed by oversimplified arguments. He grew up in a college town in the southeast. How many gigantic churches did he drive past when he was a kid? And not one of them was producing disciples who knew how to discuss their faith in reasonable and gracious terms?
I don’t mean this as an indictment on one community. He could have grown up in Atlanta or Dallas or Chicago. The geography is irrelevant. The truth is that churches everywhere have failed to produce the Christlikeness in people that the world desperately needs.
One day, Dennis wrote me and said he’d finally found a church to attend in New York. He said it was the first time in his entire life he had felt welcome in a Christian environment.
“I wasn’t expecting to dig it – I’ve never really dug church before. But the pastor is astonishing – a scholar of amazing depth who learned Hebrew, Aramaic and other ancient languages and brings a complex understanding of world beliefs into messages that show a total lack of intimidation by other faiths. Everyone is welcome. The gospels are read in Spanish and English and (in the afternoons) Mandarin Chinese. Rich white couples sit next to near-homeless people. The serve the community by bringing Meals on Wheels to people with cancer and HIV. I feel like it’s a good place.
“I talked with someone there about my doubts, and she said a remarkable thing. She said I wouldn’t be a good member of the congregation if I didn’t honestly bring my doubts to the table. I hope if you ever come to NYC that maybe you’ll go to services with me there.”
I went to visit Dennis one gorgeous October -- ah, Autumn in New York. I didn’t make it to church with him, but we had a great dinner in an amazing restaurant and had some seriously enjoyable conversation. I hope that through all of this I showed my friend Dennis a face of Christianity that was different from what he was accustomed to.
I’m not saying we should stop teaching about sin in all its multifaceted forms. But I don’t know that telling people what they’re doing is sinful will bring them into a more intimate relationship with God. Paul tells us it is the kindness, love and mercy of God that draws us to him (Titus 3:4-5).
At the end of one of our e-mail conversations recently, Dennis promised to do something amazing. He wrote, “I’ll pray for you – how about that!”
Pray, Dennis, pray. Pray for all of us. Pray for yourself, and pray for Adam. And pray for me, too. Pray for God to reveal his will to all of us, to give us answers and to make us brave.
I’ll join you in that prayer. I promise.