A longtime female friend told me a few years back that she recalls walking the streets of small-town Elburn with me as I philosophized about various issues. That’s no way to win the heart of a girl. Somehow I could not help myself. I’ve always cared about the deeper issues.
We were in eighth grade at the time. Our family was “new in town” because my father moved us from Pennsylvania to Illinois when I was thirteen. That meant establishing an entirely new friend set. That happened like most junior high social interactions. One connection at a time.
My next-door neighbor was the minister at the United Church of Christ church in downtown Elburn. A band of us somehow wound up attending confirmation class together at that church. Somewhere in my clippings file, there’s a photo of that group with about fifteen of us meeting each week to talk about God and Jesus.
That was not the church that my parents attended. They drove ten miles east to Geneva to the Fox Valley Presbyterian church. We’d attended the First Presbyterian Church back in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I loved that church, especially one of its deep blue stained-glass windows that cast an ethereal light each Sunday morning. I think that’s why I’ve also always loved blue Christmas lights for decoration. There was a house along the road to the junior high in Lampeter, Pa. that used only blue lights each year. It gave me a holy feeling inside to see those blue lights against the black night sky and the illuminated snow.
Confirmation class was its own kind of community for us eighth-graders. While there were a few more popular kids in the group, we left most of that social stuff behind in the context of those weekly sessions with Reverend Willhite. He was a caring man, serious and eager to challenge our minds in his conservative way. We held a discussion about the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, of which he was no real fan. It all seemed irreverent to him, but he also didn’t tell us not to listen to it.
I recall having an odd sense of nerdy pride in having chosen to be confirmed in a Christian church without my parents telling me what to do. In some sense it was an act of independence, an early recognition that I could think for myself, and did. One or two of those fellow classmates are still Friends on Facebook fifty years later. They are the people that are as open-minded in their thinking as I am today.
My brothers chose to have far less to do with religion than I. Their intellectual pursuits took them in different directions. But on that subject––despite my almost worshipful desire to earn acceptance from them–– somehow I didn’t care. That’s still kind of the case to this day. We all go our own ways.
Table tennis realities
So I kept up my interest in religion while rebelling against certain aspects of its proclamations. That came to be symbolized in the table tennis match I played against Reverend Willhite in the giant attic of our Elburn home. He loved playing table tennis and I’m half certain he expected to beat me in the game. What he did not count on was the fact that my brothers and I played relentlessly up in that attic, which was a perfect venue for the sport. Its high arched ceiling allowed for the “loop” shots we’d all learn to make using the smooth rubber paddles that provided a better grip. The Reverend played with a pebbled-rubber paddle without any foam between the rubber and wood. Those were better than the sandpaper paddles commonly used at home ping pong tables, but not by much.
The game was close in the early stages, but my aggressive loop shots pushed him back away from the table (a foldable construction built by my father out of plywood) and as the match grew lopsided I was amazed to hear the Reverend let loose a profane invective. “Shit!” he spat after going down about 11-4. We played games to 21 back then.
Part of me wanted to let him catch up. The other part of me saw the match as an opportunity to score theological points. I often argued with him about the more conservative aspects of the Christian religion. For me, the chance to drive ping-pong balls past him was as good as winning discussion points. As it turned out, I won the game.
That’s how I am about many things in life. Inseparably competitive. I like to win discussions and arguments as much as I like to win races or age group titles in running or triathlons. Now grant you, I’m far less competitive than I once was. I’ve learned to let some types of arguments go. But not all.
And recently, upon invitation from my brother Gary, I was invited to re-enter the table tennis world with a group that plays at a local recreation center. The first week back I was so unsure of my game that I backed off and didn’t continue. Yet the second week I arrived early, hit for a while with my brother, and won two out of five matches in a fun set against a good player.
Life is much like table tennis, you see. Every second of the day there are choices to be made. The accumulative effect of those choices constitutes who you are and what you do, or think. I care about the nuances of all that. I care about how people think, and how they arrive at their beliefs. I’ve always been that way, and always will be. If life is indeed a game of some sort, then the points and games and matches we engage in are what form our whole selves.
The writing game
That’s what I also love about writing. It is a challenge to pull thoughts together into a conscious whole. Over the last five years, I’ve worked on a pair of books that I care deeply about. One just published on Amazon. It is titled Honest-To-Goodness: Why Christianity Needs a Reality Check and How To Make It Happen.
The book is a collaborative work with Dr. Richard Simon Hanson, a Professor of Religion from my alma mater Luther College. His work and mine combine to propose solutions to the legalistic misdirection of the Christian religion over time and in real-time. The book is a consummation of my lifelong interest in ideas, the verity of theology, and the realities introduced to use by science.
Many ideas in the book have been worked out during my training runs, rides, and swims. That’s where solutions to theological or philosophical problems often occur to me. I’m grateful to have those activities to process events of the world and make sense of them so that other people can look them through and consider their own beliefs and ideas. In the case of this book, I’m not trying to win some game or beat someone in a competition. The opposite is true. I’m trying to get people to come along on a journey, like riding bikes or running together to share an experience and decide what really feels true.
A great read on religion and life
So I invite you, WeRunAndRide readers, to give my book a try. It’s an afternoon’s read, and available in softcover, hardcover, and Kindle editions. Here’s a link to purchase the book.
I’d love to hear your feedback here or please consider writing a review on Amazon.
The book is about giving Christianity a reality check because the religion is being used in so many historically corrupt ways. In some quarters, the Christian religion is even being turned on its head or reverse or inside out by people eager to have it serve their political, economic, cultural, or selfish ideals. That’s been the case since the inception of Christianity, as you’ll see in reading the book. But people also eagerly deny that, and when bad theology gets unleashed on the world the effects are often devastating. Holy Wars. Genocide. Torture. And theocratic attempts at controlling others. Christo-fascism. It’s a reality. What we’re notw facing is a “Christian” nationalism and political entity essentially seeking to take control of entire countries in both the United States and Russia. That’s how messed up religion can get when it stands on the opposite side of the original goals of the faith.
Here’s an excerpt from the book that describes the problem:
“Getting Christianity back on the right path today is a difficult task because many believers refuse to admit that the Christian religion has ever been wrong about anything. That is why it is so hard to help folks comprehend that religion is capable of causing real suffering in this world. The track record does not lie. Legalistic brands of Christianity have been used to support slavery, block civil rights,17 brand love between two people sinful,18 and denigrate useful science19 based on a biblically literal interpretation of scripture. And that’s just the start of the list.
None of that negative behavior serves God in any useful way. Yet, these seem to be some of the highest priorities among legalistic Christians determined to “win” what they term a Culture War.20 We must ask: What kind of worldview works so hard to deny obvious material truths and block equal rights to people deserving of them? The answer is that Christian legalism needs to aggressively protect its worldview because it does not necessarily stand for truth. That is why scriptural legalists defend their theology from any sort of objective analysis or criticism, lest many theological manipulations or contradictions be exposed.”
So you see, just like that kid walking the streets of Elburn in eighth grade, I’ve thought things through and brought them all together to make clear points so that readers like you can gauge where the truth really resides. We need honesty in this world more than ever. Please give this book a chance to show you how to get there. I promise it is an interesting, clear and satisfying read.