Christmas, Doomsday Preachers in Wicker Park, and Why Chris Hitchens keeps me up at night

Ok.

The holidays have come and gone and it’s time to get back to normal life. New Years was amazing and Christmas held for a lot of interesting conversations and church services, some of which left me puzzled and others completely frustrated.I attended no less than three Christmas services this year, due to family plans and what not. Each left me with one or two thoughts penned in my notebook.

1. “If you are not experiencing joy you are in sin. If you are not experiencing peace you are in sin.” I take this out of context, of course, but the idea stays the same. For the head pastor of the church that I attend most regularly, joy and peace are not only blessings or fruits of the spirit, but instead are requirements by God to possess if you want to live a life pleasing to him. We all know Paul tells us “the wages of sin is death”. I guess to him that means you better by joyful if you want to live.

This guy is in trouble

2. “there’s a dying world out there that needs to know they can find peace with God through the blood of Christ.” I know most shouldn’t have a problem with this quote. It sounds like sound biblical doctrine. And it would take a lot of reading and studying on my part to unpack ideas of tolerance and absolute truth. I’ll just comment that I could easily find around 4 billion people who don’t think so.Perhaps he is right that the world is dying

I don't know what Jesus would say about this.

3. “…by child-like faith or trust in Jesus…” If I could make a deal with the church it would be this: Show me where the Bible says we should have faith like a child, child-like faith, or any verse that links those two specific concepts and I’ll shut up. Otherwise, drop it from your lingo. Cheers.

4. “His commitment in wanting to be in a relationship is not obligatory” woah. Not obligatory? So if i click the wrong button

does this mean things will be ok for me? Or will i suffer eternal damnation and separation from anything and anyone I ever knew that loved me and cared for me? Joking aside, this concept of Christianity still hurts to think about it. I have the idea of a father figure in my head who says I have a free choice to mow the lawn all day or play video games. There is no obligation either way, it is my decision. But when he gets home at the end of the day one of my decisions will be rewarded with blessings and the other punished. But, like I said, it’s completely my decision. This is the paradox I see in Christianity, only on an eternal scale. And I think the fact that feel-good free will messages are being taught at not just any neighborhood church, but rather the head pastor of the third largest church in America, say something about what has happened to the gospel.

5. “there’s no dancing. There’s no silliness. Not around God”.

I believe if i remember this was in reference to the shepherds being afraid when angels showed up in the sky singing a chorus to them. Ok, maybe if you attended Moody at all during the 20th century this was the case, but i won’t even begin referencing Biblical verses about dancing in front of God.

Last one. At the most recent mega-church service I went to on Sunday, once again the lead pastor was speaking to an audience of at least +5,000 and telling them that God had come through for them in great ways because miraculously, even in these hard times, they have been able to stay “in the black” financially. “What a good God!” and thus the clapping ensued. This sounded more like cheap public relations to me than God’s handiwork. Why was the church not in the red? Because they had to put my friend’s dad and at least thirty other people like him out of a job. Let’s give that a round of applause.

I pass on these quotes not to make an attempt as to say that nothing that is spoken in front of a pulpit can be believed, nor even to say that everything said or most things said on Sunday mornings are wrong or not encouraging. I only make the point that without an attentive ear or an open Bible, pastors can say shit that just isn’t true and it can go right over your head. Mine does it. I bet yours does it too.

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Moving elsewhere, not one or two, but all three Christmas services I attended referenced, in one manner or another, Phillipians 4:7.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heats and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

or as the NLT puts it

then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

I must admit, this is very challenging. How do you tackle this one? To the believer it says “you don’t have to understand everything about what you believe” and to the non it says “don’t even think about challenging this. your logic only takes you so far.” How can you even begin to approach an inner-mystical peace from God that flies in the face of understanding? I can say that I have had moments of deep peace in my life, some consciously focused on a Deity and some not so much. I can also say that they were, for the most parts, unexplainable. I would admit the point that there is a lot to it that I don’t understand if you would also cede the dangers of a religion based purely on inner emotions and feelings rather than on sound logic and reason.

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Outside of church, questions don’t stop. It was New Year’s Day I believe, and I was at one of my favorite book shops when I heard an awful lot of yelling coming from something outside. At first I thought it to be a fight, but it didn’t stop after ten or fifteen minutes. From the second floor window I finally found them, maybe five or six mid-thirty somethings standing out in the freezing cold, accomplishing what I can only imagined was a last-minute NYE Resolution: to stand out in 20 degree weather at nine at night on a Saturday night and yell, literally yell, at the hipsters, college kids and young professionals of Wicker Park about the wages of sin.

No, not these kids

Not him either

These were just your average Chicagoans, drinking starbucks, wearing Argyle sweaters and working up a sweat for Jesus.

Come to Jesus while there is still time!

I imagine they thought they were doing the will of God. Unfortunately the balding gentlemen living on floor three did not agree as he threw open his window and yelled “Excuse me! I’m trying to sleep up here! I appreciate what you are doing, but could you please take it somewhere else?”

This must have thrown the proselytizers for a head spin. Were they supposed to act as most decent citizens would and NOT yell loud things outside somebody’s window after they asked, or where they supposed to follow the inner calling they were certain God had for them: to stand outside of a bookstore and  yell, ahem, “Where will you spend eternity?! Smoking or non smoking?!

They did not stop, however, and continued on sharing the good news that we all need so badly. “Come to Jesus while there is still time!!” and “You don’t have to run! The judgment day is coming!”

If you are a Christian reading this, then these words could be doing one of two things. You could agree with them and right me off as a sinner and walk away. Or these could be getting underneath your skin as a type of Christianity that you have always had a problem with which turns secularists off to the truth of Jesus. My date for the evening was in the second category, and I think it bothered her more than me to hear such bold and attacking remarks. As I debated going downstairs to talk to them, and the sermons kept going  ( “How you doing friend? Can I talk to you about Jesus? You don’t want to remember this day on judgment day!” )  I could see a liberal, more tolerant and generally modern side of Christianity get offended inside of her. I’ll happily admit and be thankful that Christianity is far more diverse than those folks outside, and often there is more in-fighting than anything else.

(un?)Fortunately the friendly group was gone by the time we checked out. I had already imagined the things I wanted to say to them, “why are you yelling?” “what are you trying to prove?” “I’ll talk to you if you stop screaming and come inside”, but none of these did I get to share. The two of us walked home and discussed matters of faith for the better part of the night. Throughout the course of that conversation and those that followed, a thought came to me that I’m not sure if I can clearly explain.

Simply put, it goes like this. I have doubts of faith. You have doubts on faith. Most everybody has some doubts on faith. Some people tackle them. Some people don’t. I guess if I was speaking to a Christian questioning some of the same things I am I would say, “What’s so different about the two of us? If we both question some of these truths and are looking for answers, would it be fair to say that you pre-suppose that you already have the answer somewhere and it only needs better explanation, whilst I would say I hold no pre-existing assumption of correctness in my vulnerable, lengthy, and sometimes quite depressing search for more answers? To put it another way, a Christian has the ultimate solution to the answers and works to prove it. I have no idea what that solution might be, although I’m willing to learn.

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Ok, that said, I’ve had a good week of faith-related issues. I’m reading some great books, unfortunately they come four at a time so I can’t pick just one. It is challenging to me though to be reading some smart books by Christian authors who pair new atheist such as Dawkins, Chris Hitchens and Sam Harris in the same boat as conservative Christians who claim to have ultimate truths. I’m learning to have more respect for people of faith in general, and not write them off as people who believe in fairy tales as Dennet might suggest.

I’ll leave you with Chris Hitchens. If you haven’t heard of him or watched him or read him, he may come as a bit of a shock. To a secularist, he is a champion. To a Christian, he is an inappropriate ass. I’ll pass this along in hopes that somebody can watch it and prove him wrong. Please watch it.

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2 thoughts on “Christmas, Doomsday Preachers in Wicker Park, and Why Chris Hitchens keeps me up at night

  1. If Chris Hitchens keeps you up at night, you ought to read Terry Eagleton’s book, “Reason, Faith, and Revolution” (2009,Yale University press) Eagleton, who refreshingly does not claim to be a Christian, deals with both Hitchens and Richard Dawkins on their own terms.

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