Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Letter to Dad

Dear Dad,

5 years seems like a long time not to see you. Memories aren't as clear as they were, and more of our past conversations seem to be lost in the midst of new memories taking their place. I still miss you greatly and think of you daily. I like to think that there's alot you'd be happy to see in the lives of your children and grandchildren. Today, though, as I remember your last day on earth, spent preaching to inmates in a Missouri prison, I wonder what you'd think of my spiritual struggle of the past 3 years. You are the one family member who I know asked many of the same questions as me and read a great deal yourself on many of these topics. Even now, sitting on your bookshelves in your office at home I see half a shelf dedicated to the question of whether there is a God. And not all the books are from the believing side, such as Bertrand Russell's book, "Why I Am Not a Christian."

I'd like to ask you why you continued your whole life in the commitment to God and Christianity within the churches of Christ. Despite the absence of your dad, your poverty in childhood, the cancer and heart attack that took you way too soon, you dedicated yourself to a life of serving God and others. What answers did you come to about suffering in the world, about eternal hell for so many, about confusing, inconsistent, and unsupported Biblical passages? Why did you decide that there is a God who is good and personally intervenes in our lives?

My guess, from comments I remember you making over the years would be something like the following: I know you admired the type of woman your mom is, who worked hard to keep her family together and sacrificed greatly for it. You probably decided that her strong faith in God is what caused her to endure abuse and poverty without self pity and live with hope and determination. I imagine you found that an example worthy of imitation. I also remember you telling me a story about finding bags of groceries on your doorstep, right when you needed it. I know you also got advice from a mentor at church to attend college to be a preacher, which led you out of a life of factory work at Ford's or Borden's and into your eventual vocation as a principal. I imagine you felt God at work during these times, though you may never have understood where he was during the difficult periods. From a talk we had while you were receiving cancer treatment, I know you wondered why you got sick while your older, alcoholic brother who has greatly mistreated his body remains cancer free. You spent your days focused on others, while he does not. However, I also know you remained grateful for your life and you refused to pray for God to heal you. You figured he'd keep you around for the right amount of time. I wonder if now you would say there is no more need for you on this earth. I, personally, would beg to differ. I don't know how much Biblical studies or scientific evidence played a role in your religious beliefs and faith. I'm sure to some extent they must have. However, I believe that our personal experience also plays a major role in understanding spiritual matters. In order to function in the world, we have to find a way to make sense of our experiences. I think religion offers a way to make sense of this world and to give us guidelines or rituals for navigating through it. I think you experienced the Christian worldview as offering hope for a better future in the afterlife, given this world's unfairness and suffering, and I think you believed your Christian lifestyle spread more goodness and mitigated more suffering for yourself and others than if you had embraced non belief.

In response, I would say that I certainly was blessed by your life and the example you provided. I and my character are better for it. I had a positive experience with Christianity growing up and watched you live what you taught me. I learned from you that Christianity can work beautifully and lead to a life of caring for others, in deep and sacrificial ways. That's the rub for me, really. After the studying I've done thus far, my conclusions don't support the Christian faith that I've experienced as a positive force in life. I don't see support for a great deal of the doctrines and historical underpinnings for Christianity, though living the Christian life and being connected to a Christian community has largely been a blessing to me. I'm feeling somewhat stuck about this. I may never reach a conclusion, though I would certainly like to do so. This world with its relentless and needless suffering and confusion over the nature of God isn't the way I'd imagine it would be with a loving, omnipotent God in control. On the other hand, there's a great number of transcendent experiences to explain as well as a great deal of goodness and love for a meaningless and moral neutral universe.

I wish we could be having this conversation in your living room after everyone else has gone to bed, as we use to do. I'll just have to imagine you sitting there patiently in your recliner, and see where that takes me.


Your Ever Wondering Daughter