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Don’t Check Your Brain at the Door

I’ve always been willing to ask the challenging questions. I think a big part of it was the way I was raised, the way my mom treated her faith. There were certain basic tenants, but everything else was up for question. That really took hold for me when I got to college, when I took a serious look at the context in which biblical stories were written to help shape my understanding of what they were trying to say.

When my wife Donna and I came to Lynnewood, there was a sense that there would be intelligent discourse here—a sense that you’re not checking your brain at the door, that God gave you a mind to use, and that you should.

A couple of years ago, Pastor Heather Hammer arranged to have Bishop Shelby Spong come and speak at Lynnewood. I’d never heard of him before, but she spoke so highly of him that I went to listen, and I’ve studied a couple of his books since.

From my perspective, he has a very unconventional approach to theology and to the origins of the Bible. He puts together a pretty compelling argument aligning the Gospel stories with historical figures in Jewish literature. Elizabeth and her husband Zachariah, for example, are throwbacks the Jewish reader would connect back to the very familiar story of Abraham and Sarah. For Spong, the purpose of those Gospels was to help the Jews of the time connect with Jesus’ story; they were not necessarily intended to be historically accurate, but to teach lessons.

Even if these events aren’t historical fact, the lessons in the Gospels—as well as in the Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament—are still relevant and help you understand who you are and how you should live.

For many people, if you took away their foundational understanding of scripture and acknowledged that the Bible isn’t even intended to be historically accurate, it would destroy their faith.

But Lynnewood is a place where we talk about these kinds of things—we’re free to think about things in a new way and to discuss them openly. This environment of “dare to question” is one that helps me continue to strengthen my faith while still questioning.

Spong’s lecture gave us the opportunity to question even something as fundamental as the way we approach scripture. Lynnewood has never been a place where we take the Bible literally, but these ideas took things to a whole new level.

The lecture wasn’t a crisis of faith for me because questioning is something I just do. Some did struggle with their faith, and some didn’t buy Spong’s argument at all. All of these answers are good, and the people are loved independent of what answer they come to. That’s probably the most important piece of this: learning and growing together helped to build a community that questions, and we supported each other in these questions.

That’s what Donna and I found at Lynnewood—the willingness to enter into even those difficult conversations where you don’t necessarily know the answer and maybe can’t know the answer, but understanding that this is part of people’s faith journey.

The ability to question has allowed me to have a larger tolerance for people who think differently. I still respect folks who come at this from a conservative perspective, a more literal perspective. There was a point in time when I was there, too, and so I respect people who have different views and allow them their own pace for questioning.

I recognize that I don’t have all the answers, and that maybe the answers that I do have at the moment are wrong. And while for some people that would be disquieting, for me it means we all struggle, and it puts us all in a similar position. At Lynnewood, all people and all questions are welcome.

I’m reminded of a peanuts cartoon: Snoopy sits on top of his house, typing. He has a conversation with Charlie Brown about writing a book about theology. He says something like, “I have the perfect title,” and the title is typed out on the page and says, “Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?” And there’s a sense in which that sums this up for me. Yeah, I might be wrong, and that’s okay. It’s a journey full of questions. As long as we keep striving, the journey continues.

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