Good morning friends and readers – –
The morning twilight has begun although I’m 37 minutes away from seeing the sun rise. Perhaps before I finish the post. A plaintiff train whistle calls in the distance, followed by the low comforting rumble of constant steel wheels on tempered rails. The house sleeps.
We have teenagers now. They will likely sleep past the sun’s announcement. How different it was in the footed pajama days. They woke us up then. We, tired from putting together the some assembly required toys which took two glasses of wine to manage. We, happy to wake while tired, reliving childhood excitement in the eyes of our children. We, remembering ourselves – – just what does this day mean to us?
I know that R&P has readers in both skeptical and believing camps. I realize that the believers represent a plurality. That’s the whole point as we grow. So, if you trust me, let me share my belief with an open hand. I know that I could be wrong, but I’m living as if I’m right. I know that I can’t answer every question, but this is where I stand.
Christmas speaks of the difference. I have begun a long journey to understand the faiths that are not my own. A particular focus of these writings is my friendship with Russell, an atheist. Skeptics, agnostics, and freethinkers may sit within this Venn circle and my heart is expanding for them. What of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Baha’i, Taoists, Jains, and others? Where is the difference? Are there not just believers and nonbelievers? If the story of each faith (or lack thereof) was the same, then that would be true.
Christmas speaks of the difference. God is spirit. That statement puts me at odds with Sean Carroll and my dear friend Russell. Spirit does not exist in the naturalist worldview. Soul could be reduced to biochemistry and neuroscience – – mind, will, emotion mapped by functional MRI. But spirit remains undefined, and for many unreal. God is spirit.
We are made in God’s image. Is Genesis and the garden literal? Did God create life from chemistry from the physical laws that he authored and then superintend evolution? There is room in my orthodoxy for either. We are made in God’s image. So we are spirits. Our spiritual nature does not exist in the naturalist worldview. I respect and understand that, but disagree. Therein lies a clear divide in a sea of subtlety – – believers believe in spirit, nonbelievers insist that nature is enough because it is all and that the supernatural begs the gods of gaps to step in.
Christmas is the story of God’s spirit completely entering mortal body and soul in Jesus Christ. God’s spirit navigated the humanity he created. God’s spirit was willingly and intentionally contained in the frailty of a human body with human mind, will and emotions. God’s spirit did what we do – – suffer. Christmas is the story of compassion, literally suffering with. The Buddha did not suffer with me, he taught me how to avoid it by divorcing attachment. The prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, did not suffer with me. He taught me how to submit to God and how to conquer. The pantheon of Hinduism did not suffer with me. They taught of creation, destruction, and the fire that synthesizes the two in daily life. Jesus suffered.
Russell and I have gone back and forth on passages as simple as Romans 1:1-7 – – the claim that Jesus was a historical figure, the claim that his differing genealogies in the gospels could be reconciled, the claim that his life could serve as a foundation for ours. If he was a figment of Paul’s imagination, then I should not build my life on him. I should not consider it joy to suffer with him as he suffered with me. I should not offer false hope to others. Rather, I should help them (and me) to construct a reason sufficient to imbue life with meaning – – or just not care about meaning at all – – I could be naive.
Christmas is not the story of an angry father brutalizing his son. Christmas is the story of God coming himself and accepting the force of his own wrath in the only way that offers mercy without trampling on justice. Christmas means a lot to me. What else does Christmas mean to me? It means that I was deeply cared for and so I will care for you. I was not brave enough to love before being loved.
I look forward to completing our first year together in writing. I hope that our friends grow and are blessed by respectful conversation. Ahh – – the sun is rising.
“Nativity tree2011” by Jeff Weese – Flickr: Nativity. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nativity_tree2011.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Nativity_tree2011.jpg