“You really should read…”

I get this all the time!  From friends who have just finished a book and want to talk about it; from church members who have been struck by something they came across in a magazine; from TV shows who just entice me with some tidbit of the latest best seller.

But the worst of all are my family.

“You need to read this book.”

Sometime it is phrased in a work-related kind of way—“Dad, you should read this book.  It has great sermon illustrations!”  Other times they just think I should.  “You need to read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”  “You need to read The Hunger Games.”

Eventually they just wear me down and I give in.

And they are usually right!  (Please don’t let them know I said that!)

So as Anita sat in the airport, downloading a book to her Nook to read on the plane to the CBF General Assembly, she commented, “I think this is something you would like.”  Midway from Atlanta to Dallas she commented, “You probably should read this book.  By the time she was nearing the end (“I haven’t gotten anything done today because I have to finish this book”) she was pretty insistent!

“You HAVE to read this book!”

She was right.  (Again, please don’t let her know I said that!)

 I just finished American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  (Or should I say it just finished me!)  I don’t know what was worse–not getting anything done because I had to finish it, or not getting anything done because I am still trying to work through all the ramifications of the story.  (Full disclosure—Do Not Read this book if you are bothered by language and sex.  Probably not a Church Book Club Selection.)

BUT…

The premise of his book is that as settlers came to America they brought they gods with them.  The Irish brought the leprechauns, the Vikings brought Thor, the slaves brought their gods.  They all came together in America where the Native Americans already had their god living in the land.

But as time passed, the rituals faded away.  As time went on the myths were no longer believed.  As time went on the beliefs died—and so did the gods.  Well, some of them died, or at least just disappeared.  Most of the others are “demoted” into less deity-like professions–undertaker, taxi driver, prostitute.  At the same time other gods come in to vie for people’s attention, affection, worship.  The book is about the storm that is coming.

That is the question raised by this book.  What happens when the sacrifices aren’t made, when the temples aren’t built, when the people don’t believe?  What happens to god?  (Little ‘g’ is intentional.)  What happens when we replace our god?

I had lunch recently with Reverend Doctor Lt. Colonel John Painter.  (I just wanted to see if I could get all the titles in one line in the right order!)  John is a chaplain at the VA Hospital and we were talking about ministry and life and stuff.  The kind of thing that ministers do when we get together.

I mentioned that I was reading Gaiman’s book.  As I was talking about the premise of the book John recalled that in the Sumerian world, the moon goddess was a major deity.  John was deployed to the Iraq several years ago and reads the ancient languages like I read the sports page.  The major seat of worship was Ur, home of Abraham, and not far from where he was deployed.

(I looked her up by the way.  Her name—Sin.  Cue CCR!)

Sin was a major god.  There were temples to her and worship services—but suddenly they all just went away.  I asked if there was some literature from that “going away” period, but he didn’t know of any.

I wonder what happened?  Was there some new knowledge that let them know that the moon wasn’t the most important being in the heavens?  Was the temple just too far away to get to on a regular basis?  Did a new more attractive god show up that offered more for less?

What happened?

What is happening?

When more and more profess that they are “spiritual but not religious;” when the ancient rituals are replaced with modern convenience; when the stories are avoided because they clash with our sensitivities, our lifestyles; when sacrifice means settling for a car one level down; when worship is planned around soccer matches and the NFL?

I have to wonder.  Will Jesus soon be a cashier at Wal Mart?

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5 Comments

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5 responses to ““You really should read…”

  1. But yet, I’ve read how more and more young people are getting involved with some type of service or charitable organization, up to 50% from 10% a few years ago (don’t ask me for the source, I can’t remember, but I’ll try to find it). So, is it more important that they show up in a building and go through the rituals, or that they go out and do the work that Jesus called us to do? To me, when someone says they are spiritual but not religious, my initial reaction has been one of “Yeah, OK, you just don’t want to commit to a church.” And I think we are seeing that in some ways with church attendance down for so many. But it does seem that more and more people are getting involved in helping others, so my reaction is changing, and I find myself now wondering, and sometimes even asking outright, “If that’s the case, what are you doing to live out that spirituality?” Maybe it’s not a bad thing. Maybe it’s a maturing of sorts in society, and those “religious” organizations that can figure out how to tap into that will be the ones that are successful. As for the rest, they just may end up going the way of Sin.

    • Mike, you are right in that there is a great sense of spirituality among young people, but as you note they are “living that out” outside the church. Check out this article from ABP.
      http://www.abpnews.com/culture/social-issues/item/7555-millennials-losing-their-religion
      The challenge for us in the church is to respond. How can we tell the old old story in a new new way–while at the same time responding to the desires of those for whom this transformation is disconcerting (but who also pay the bills!)
      Ahh, the joys of life!

      • And there’s the rub. How DO we make it relevant for them, while retaining a connection to the ‘old ways’ that current members seek? I don’t know the answer, but I do believe there are ample opportunities, if we can only figure out what those are and how to implement them. Kinda feels like “damned if we do, damned if we don’t” sometimes.

  2. “Will Jesus soon be a cashier at Wal Mart?”

    The possibility of that statement hurts me, for it is in fact not that far an event what with the way things are going now. I love Jesus, and the way how some people mock him is beyond tolerable. Where has respect gone?

    • Is it the mocking that is intolerable, or is it the complete ignor-ance?
      I think Jesus would prefer the mocking, as horrible as it is, over being completely ignored, to be seen as totally irrelevant to life. At least mocking recognizes that something or someone exists.
      Which makes me wonder if I ever recognize the Wal Mart cashier. Does she exist to me?

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