the following is a reprint from september 07 vertigo: the monthly online journal of spiritual dizziness at the refuge. some of you have already read it, but the blog gives you a chance to comment on it, too. for those of you who don’t get vertigo, we wanted you to have a chance to experience it. to sign up for vertigo each month, click here.
this subject hits a place near and dear to our hearts–the ability to dialogue instead of debate, offer love & respect instead of judgement & condemnation when others don’t believe the same things we believe. being a Christian doesn’t mean you have to be a judgemental, arrogant jackass whose sole purpose is to tell others of their wrong thinking. ok, so some of you are saying “well, wait a minute, Jesus told us we need to speak the truth, share the gospel, not water it down.” we understand the dilemma, we feel it, too. and that’s the big idea here: how do we live out the ways of Jesus, really? can’t we learn to be better listeners, lovers of all people? what does this mean for the “church’? for the refuge? for each of us?
we hope you can join us as we dive into the conversation with the authors of the new book Jim & Casper Go to Church. jim henderson’s a Christian & former pastor from seattle and director of off the map. matt casper’s an atheist who lives in san diego. they traveled across the US together last summer visiting over 20 churches; their unlikely friendship and perspective on the Christian church will challenge us all. they are coming to the refuge on sunday, september 16th (we are hosting them at two other locations, too, friday night the 14th at CU boulder & saturday morning the 15th at pathways church). more details are on the web.
in preparing for their visit, we had a chance to ask jim and matt a few questions.
what motivated each of you to do the jim and casper go to church project?
JIM: After “winning an atheist’s soul” on ebay I was approached by George Barna about doing a book that featured myself and an atheist going to church together and writing reviews. Beyond that it just sounded like a very fun thing to try and pull off.
ps: you can read a little more about that experience here.
MATT: Ummm. I have been engaging people in talks about such questions-is there God? Why are we here? What should we do?-for years. In the book, you see that first I met Jason, who runs a home church, and we became friends. Then, through him, I met Jim, and we ended up writing a book together. I was motivated by the same reasons I am motivated to travel, to read as much as possible, to write music: I knew it would be a learning experience, and I knew I would have fun, too.
what was the funniest moment on your adventures together?
JIM: My funniest moments came when I knew what Casper was about to experience but I let it happen anyway and just watched for his reaction–like getting ambushed by a couple of Bible thumpers right after church or watching people’s faces twitch when we told them that Matt was an Atheist and I was a Christian and we were writing a book together about church.
MATT: Probably any time Christians made Jim more uncomfortable than they made me. Or maybe at The Bridge in Portland. It caters to a young hip crowd, who are typically a young, hip, and poor crowd. About midway into the service, they all started heading for the exits (a smoke break, I presumed). Seconds later, the collection buckets-trick or treat baskets that looked like Spiderman and Batman-came out. Suddenly, this mass exodus made perfect sense.
thinking back on your travels together, what surprised you the most?
JIM: How fair Matt was in his assessments of Christians–not a surprise as in a BIG surprise but as in a pleasant surprise. Also on how much we agreed on.
MATT: How much we agreed on. See? We just did it again! Also, Jim used to play in a few bands (”We were like ‘The Beatles’ of Mexico City. . . “). The biggest surprise was how quickly Jim and I established a rapport. . . within about a few hours, we were holding nothing back.
matt, if you knew nothing about Christianity but only went to the large churches to find out what would you say are some of the primary values of Christianity?
MATT: Believing in God, growing the church, converting people to Christianity. Sounds good when you read it like that. But I want to know: what good does simply believing do anyone? Belief is not an ends, it’s a means. And growing the church is not the same as helping people or doing God’s will. . . it’s more like a business objective. And when the talk was about converting people, it sounded like folks were more interested in putting “notches on their cross” rather than really helping people. . . “So, Bob, how many conversions did you land this week? Only 3? HAH! I converted 12 people! Boo-yaa!”
jim, if you were telling the average evangelical christian what is on your heart related to the “church”, what would you say?
JIM: If I didn’t have to open with a long list of qualifiers I would say: We’ve inherited a view of church that is flawed. It has been in the works for about 1700 years or more. It is called the religion business. We need to rescue Jesus from religion and take him public. We have an historic opportunity to nudge this thing back into movement phase if we can find the courage to follow in our founders’ footsteps and care more about how the missing see us than how the found do.
of course, your trip was limited to short visits into churches for an hour or so service. if you had really hung out in the community for a longer period of time, what do you think you may have discovered?
JIM: If we could have located them, we would have seen numbers of ordinary people serving non-Christians in ordinary ways. Unfortunately due to the economic pressures (as in justifying the pastor/speaker’s salary) put on churches there is little to no time to feature these ordinary people every weekend.
MATT: I would (and here’s my bias) probably have been disappointed as–based on some conversations I’ve had with more than a few Christians–a lot of people seem to think being a Christian requires little more than a 10% donation and an hour on Sunday. However, I did attend a small group at a local Baptist church where people talked about how to apply what they learned in that day’s sermon, but it was kind of meandering and no real “action items” came out of it.
what is the hardest part for each of you to understand about the other person’s belief system? what has surprised you the most about the others person’s beliefs? what has offended you? encouraged you?
JIM: I don’t find atheism hard to understand. I think it is a common sense and reasonable conclusion to come to if you are limited to measuring using our five senses. Further I think that a reasonable and maybe even a compassionate person (Christians call them humanists as if it is a dirty word) would certainly find it ludicrous to believe in any god currently sponsored by the major world religions. I mean they are pretty weird–including the religion known as Christianity. Having said that, I find atheism to be very difficult to believe in. I have had too many experiences in life that are transrational, loving and lovely to not raise my suspicions that there is a God out there who is at least as good as I can be (on my good days). Besides whether or not Jesus is objectively true or real I would like him to be and since I don’t find anything particularly compelling or interesting about atheism (which could also be a reflection of my lack of intellect) I will stick with the Jesus story and look forward to falling into his arms when this rat race is finally over. There just has to be a place called heaven–this place is just too screwed up. I can’t believe that this is the end. . . sorry.
MATT: This is the question we don’t discuss in the book, but purposefully. It’s not that we avoid it. It’s just that. . . well, what’s the point? If you want me to learn about your beliefs, show me how you live. Jim and Jason and all my believing friends know that I think believing in supernatural gods is really quite strange when you stop to think about it. But what encouraged me was hearing Jim freely agree (”Yes, I see how you think it could be very strange. . . “) and not try to tell me I was wrong. And I never said he was wrong, either, because, in my opinion, when it comes to what you believe it’s subjective and cannot be proven or disproven, so why bother. . . ? Ask questions, get to know a person, be free of an agenda beyond, pursue “I’d like to know what you think.” Nothing Jim did offended me as he answered every question from an honest place. Who could ask for anything more? I came away from all of this encouraged, because American Christians-in spite of the fact they worship one of the most peaceful men who ever lived-can get quite vitriolic and violent while discussing their beliefs. Jim didn’t and doesn’t.
what is the best thing you have learned from being in relationship with one another?
JIM: Being friends with Matt has made me a much more honest and grounded follower of Jesus. It has also motivated me to become a better practitioner of dialog and made me less afraid of difference. Our friendship is a unique gift and one I hope to cultivate for the rest of my life. I really enjoy Matt and especially enjoy his humor, kindness and interest in others.
MATT: Being friends with Jim has made me a much more honest and grounded atheist. It has also motivated me to become a better practitioner of dialog and made me less afraid of difference. Our friendship is a unique gift and one I hope to cultivate for the rest of my life. I really enjoy Jim and especially enjoy his humor, kindness and interest in others. Also, being friends with Jim has changed how I see the world. I was never an “angry atheist” like so many high profile authors we hear about today–Dawkins, Hitchens. et al. (I think they are “anti-theists” not atheists as their books seem to be about how there is no God, not about how living with no God can be a good thing.) I am now so much more in touch with how I see the world, and I remain as open as ever to the fact that I may be wrong about there not being a god. Some would say that makes me an agnostic, but the fact about gods is that no one can prove or disprove their existence. Thus, we never know (until we’re dead). And so, aren’t we all agnostic with tendencies toward either belief or non belief? I never asked myself these kinds of questions or crystallized these kinds of thoughts until I met and traveled with Jim Henderson. I am glad to know him.
the reason we invited you guys to come to denver is we believe in your project. we are listening. as Christians, we really want to be people who ask ourselves the hard questions–how did our reputation become so crazy? what has the church become? why is it so hard for us to live alongside people who disagree? we of course are hoping there will be a wide range of people at these conversations, across faiths, no faith, ages & experiences. so, as you prepare to come here to denver, what are you guys hoping the conversation will do for those who come?
JIM: Move them to connect with someone they think of as “the other” or as “an outsider” and become great question askers.
MATT: Help people return to treating faith as faith, and not as fact. In the book, I close with wishing people would stop staying, “Be a Christian or go to hell” and start saying, “We follow Jesus, and here’s what we do and how it has helped us.”
so, everyone, we hope this gave you a small taste of our conversation. we’d love to hear your comments. this is definitely one to invite your friends to. they will be at the refuge on sunday, september 16th at 5:30 pm. we are also hosting them at two other locations to give as many people as possible the chance to participate. . . CU boulder on friday night the 14th at 6pm and at pathways church on saturday morning at 10 am. for details click here.