Thursday, April 9, 2009

I remember when

"'I do not give a fig for the simplicity that is prior to complexity; but I would give my right arm for the simplicity that lies beyond complexity.' This remark gets at the kind of thing French philosopher Paul Ricoeur had in mind when he wrote about 'the second naivete.'

The first naivete happens when we see things in quite uncomplicated terms -- they strike us as simple and straightforward. But then something forces us into a questioning mood, and we subject those ideas to critical examination. Some folks get stuck at this stage -- they suspend belief and get caught up in a mood of endless questioning. This isn't healthy, Ricoeur argued. We need to embrace again the beliefs that have held up well under critical scrutiny . . . the second naivete."

Richard J. Mouw, The Smell of Sawdust: What Evangelicals Can Learn From Their Fundamentalist Heritage, page 151.

I grew up in a softly fundamentalist church in the 1950s. Back then, "fundamentalist" was not a smear; it simply described our attempt to be thoroughly true to Christ, according to the Bible. Which means I can remember some wonderful things.

I remember when churches were not commodities but communities. I grew up in a spiritual neighborhood, where the adults took responsibility to care for the next generation. I lived among hundreds of spiritual aunts and uncles who loved me, told me about Jesus, taught me the Bible, corrected me when I got out of line and generally sacrificed for me so that I could grow up to be a man of God.

I remember when the Bible was cherished as so sacred that we treated the very leather and paper as "The Holy Bible." We read the Bible, sang the Bible, prayed the Bible, memorized the Bible, heard the Bible preached, and learned the Bible from cover to cover. I grew up knowing my way around the Bible -- and knowing that it mattered supremely and eternally.

I remember when this crucial question was always close at hand in our collective and personal consciousness: Is your life fully surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ? Not only, Have you been born again? That vital question was always there too. But in addition, the question of wholehearted intentionality about living for Christ first, whatever the cost, whatever the implications, wherever it might take you -- this was constantly put before us, "every head bowed and every eye closed." My spiritual teachers did not hope I might fit Jesus into the margin of my crowded life. They confronted me, lovingly, gently, insistently, that Jesus is Lord. I needed to know that. No one else would have told me. Thank God they did.

I remember when we prayed together, the whole church together. I grew up listening to adults pray mature, adult prayers. I learned something. I learned reverence and depth and faith that with God nothing is impossible.

I remember when we tithed. And in our home, if because of our tithing to our church we didn't have enough money ourselves to make it to the end of the month, we sucked it up. But Jesus came first. Period. It was that practical.

Sure, we were uncool. Sure, we needed some refreshing in our music. Sure, there was some quirkiness that we've improved upon since then. But there was something real and solid and powerful there, something we must not lose in our glib arrogance today.

Gimme that old time religion.