How do Christians understand their faith in light of insights gained from history, social science, natural science and other modes of inquiry? How, for example, do Christians understand the book of Genesis in light of scientific investigations into the origin of the universe and of the species?
A rabbi noted recently that when Jews and Christians view Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ, they tend to see two different stories—and neither seems to appreciate or understand the reactions of the other. A perceptive observer of Christianity, the rabbi pointed out that Christians don’t all see the same story either.
Although the images of shepherd and sheep wind their way through these lectionary texts, they are difficult images for the contemporary church to embrace. I recall many of the adults in one congregation cringing during a children’s time a few years ago, when a well-intentioned volunteer tried to teach the children a song that had them “baa-ing” for Jesus. What are we teaching our children, some of us wondered: To follow the crowd without question? To have no mind of one’s own? To expect someone else to take care of us?
When I was a small boy in Ireland my parents would take us to our grandfather’s farm near Castlecomer in County Kilkenny. On the farm there was a hired man whose name was John Brennan. John lived in a thatched cottage about half a mile away. In the evening after the cows were milked, he would sit on a large flat stone outside the stable door and smoke a stained clay pipe. Sometimes I would sit beside him and he would tell me stories.
At one of our church’s weekly staff meetings the youth minister said he had a problem and needed his colleagues’ advice. In the course of teaching the confirmation class, he had asked the young people to write their own statement of faith. The problem, he said, was that one of the students didn’t believe much of anything, though he was happily involved in the confirmation process.
Last summer around this time I was on the island of Nantucket, once a whaling port and now a tourist destination, where I noticed numbers of people wearing canvas clothing in a peculiar shade of pink. Men wore trousers made of it, women wore jumpers, and I even saw a baby in a stroller wearing a pair of bib overalls made of it.