Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Date night with Jesus?

I don't like the word "evangelical" in this sense, tho "fundamentalist" and my own mental shorthand, "Southern Baptist," are also inadequate. Anyway, "those people we're talking about when we talk about 'evangelicals.'" The New Yorker reviews an anthropologist's field observations in the Vineyard Christian Fellowship:
This casualness carries over to conversations with God. The Vineyarders asked him “for admission to specific colleges, for the healing of specific illness—even, it is true, for specific red convertible cars.” Some Vineyard women had a regular “date night” with Jesus. They would serve a special dinner, set a place for him at the table, chat with him. He guided the Vineyarders every minute of the day. Sarah told Luhrmann how, one day, after a lunch at a restaurant with fellow-parishioners, she was feeling good about herself, whereupon, as she was crossing the parking lot, a bird shat on her blouse. God, she explained to Luhrmann, was giving her a little slap on the wrist for her self-satisfaction. Sarah accepted the chastisement, but others don’t. They may get furious with God. And, according to some evangelicals, he feels bad when this happens. In “Disappointment with God” (1988), the religious writer Philip Yancey claims that God can’t bear for us to turn away from him. He longs for us to like him. It is hard to understand how evangelicals, most of whom are regular Bible readers, could come to this conclusion about the God of Abraham and Job.

Worth a read; this part struck me as significant:
Elaine, her “prayer partner” (the woman who brought the news of the cricket that sang Handel), had terrible problems: she couldn’t pay her rent, but neither could she get a job. She had interview after interview. Before each of them, she and Luhrmann prayed together vigorously, but she received no offer. Elaine said that she understood why: by refusing to grant her a job, Jesus was showing her that he wanted her to depend on him alone. About this, Luhrmann makes only a bland comment: reasoning such as Elaine’s, she says, “allows people to reinterpret a disappointment as, in effect, a promotion.” In the end, Elaine decided that she was a prophet. (Some members of the church agreed with her.)
Reinterpretation of one's experience is a key reason for religion. And interpreting God as "a stuffed Snoopy" (the author's metaphor) who unconditionally loves and consoles, certainly gives one a powerful interpretive tool. It also, arguably, allows people like Elaine to postpone growing up, since life becomes a spiritual quest for eternal childhood.

When Jesus said to be like a little child, I don't think this was what he had in mind. Or maybe it was?

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