FISH FARMING WITH AN ATHEIST

DSCF7830FISH FARMING WITH AN ATHEIST

Steve Dresselhaus

“If I ever believe in a god it will  be because I am  awestruck by the beauty of a coral reef in the tropics.“   My response to the agnostic/atheist scientist who made this comment was, “When I am SCUBA diving or in some other magnificent wilderness area, I just gotta  say  ‘thank you’  to someone, and God is the only one to whom I can say thank you for masterminding such indescribable  beauty.”   I should have added that I  also have to thank God for having created the uniquely human trait of perceiving  and appreciating beauty, an attribute that serves no biological function, confers no  selective advantage, and therefore has no practical  or evolutionary  reason for existing.

The comment from my new friend came at the conclusion of a meeting at which I was an active participant.  The meeting took place in a major US city.    Participating in the meeting were medical doctors and architects from the staff of a  community health clinic run by a bunch of Jesus followers in an under-resourced and violent neighborhood.  A second  partnering agency was a well-known city botanic garden, which has no religious affiliations,  but which out of admirable civic duty and concern  is trying to create an urban agriculture and fish farm in a major urban area in the US.  The third partnering agency was TEAM, the non-denominational, international mission agency of which I am a member.  These three groups are working together in an effort to  eradicate an urban food desert,  educate the residents and improve their eating habits, provide jobs for needy residents, beautify the neighborhood, and create a safe place for people to interact.

Prior to his comment about being awestruck by the beauty of a coral reef in the tropics, the scientist, a specialist in fish farming, had said that he had not been aware that Christians cared about the environment.   He thought the main thing Christians cared about was getting “removed from Earth”  (what some Christians call the rapture)  and that Christians in some kind of Vietnam War-style belief feel  that in order to save the world it must first  be destroyed.* My new friend clearly expressed his incomprehension of the non-caring attitude of those Christians who assume  that their belief in the inevitability of the  just-around-the-corner total destruction of the universe  absolves them from any form of social or environmental responsibility.

In spite of this one little snippet of  conversation,  it was a very pleasant experience.   The agnostic scientist in no way fit the evangelical stereotype of a non-believing scientist.  He was friendly, pleasant, respectful, and funny; he neither criticized nor ridiculed me for my belief in a loving, universe-creating,   knowable God.   He was grateful that I wanted to partner with him in doing good for the community.   I hope I did not fit the stereotype many people have of us Christians as anti-intellectual, judgmental simpletons.   Curiously,  I was able to discuss my theological differences with this agnostic scientist in a much more relaxed atmosphere than I can when discussing doctrinal differences with some fellow Christians with whom I am in  99% agreement.  In talking with my agnostic friend I did not feel I had to win an argument.  Why was I more comfortable hanging out with an agnostic/atheist than I am with some  Christians?  I gotta think about this one some more.

I can’t wait till my next meeting with my new friend.

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*There is no evidence that the phrase “in order to save the village we had to destroy it” was ever actually uttered.  Apparently, this manufactured quote was what launched the career of a well-known war correspondent.

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HUGGING A NUN IN A CONVENT

SAMSUNGHUGGING A NUN IN A CONVENT                                                                                       Steve Dresselhaus

Two years ago I met a man,  a highly educated man, a PhD.,  the president of a conservative, evangelical institution in the United States.  Meeting him was an honor, or so I assumed.  He is an active member and leader in a respected and very well-known church.  The senior pastor of his church is famous–so famous, in fact,  that he is on the radio,  either preaching or being interviewed pretty much non-stop, or so it seems.  The pastor of the church has even one-upped the Holy Trinity  by doing something  that not even God himself has ever done:  get his personal name included in the title of a study Bible.*

As I was introduced to this seminary president, he heard my name; and before saying anything else he asked, “Are you related to so and so?”  I happily responded that so and so was indeed a close relative, thinking I had an easy head start on developing a friendship with this erudite professor.  Instead, responding to my affirmation, the professor said, “Godly man [my relative], but messed up in his theology.”  Whoa! That was an unexpected deflator.  Talk about a wet blanket.  “Hey Bucko, your mom reads supermarket tabloids, and I saw your dad  in the ‘Shoppers of Walmart’ video,”  is how I wanted to respond.   What I had expected to be a pleasant experience turned out to be an unpleasant reality that still bothers me two years later.  It bothers me not because of the event itself;  I can get over the judgmental arrogance of the man.  What bothers me is wondering if there are times when  I might not be as arrogant as the professor.  Claiming to be a follower of Jesus should mean that I am loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled.    Am I? Or am I like that ill-mannered seminary professor, assuming I have arrived at the pinnacle of evangelical enlightenment?  I am tempted in that direction but hope and pray that God will deliver me from that temptation.

Shortly after meeting Dr. Omniscient,  I met an  elderly, very elderly nun in a convent where I was doing a personal retreat.  In the pre-dawn hours, my favorite time of the day (yes, I’m serious), I was in the convent chapel praying and reading my Bible when the nuns came in for their early morning mass.  I am not Catholic and understand little of the rituals and rites performed during a Catholic mass.  Curiosity won out and I stayed; call it professional interest.

I was the only person under 80 in the chapel; and other than a post-retirement aged priest who officiated, I was the only man in the building – it was a convent after all.  Following the mass, one of the elderly nuns hobbled over to  me, took my right hand in both of hers and smiled warmly,  gently welcoming me to the convent.  She thanked me for being at mass with them and expressed her desire that I join them again in the future.  Her demeanor was so pleasant that I wanted to give her a big hug,  but hugging a nun in a convent chapel immediately  following mass felt to me like a lightning-bolt-from-heaven-worthy  offense, a violation of protocol,  and a non-stop,  one-way  ticket to Hell;  so my urge and desire to hug a nun remained unsatisfied.

Theologically I am not Catholic, and I am confident and comfortable with my faith in Jesus and with my  attempting-to-follow-Him life style.  But I couldn’t help but compare the kind and gentle nun with the arrogant professor.  In my beliefs I am much more in tune with Professor Bombastic than I am with Sister I-wanna-hug-her.  However, which of these two made me think of Jesus?    Of these two, who behaved the  way Jesus would have under similar circumstances?  Am I more often like the professor or more often like the nun?  I suspect the professor comes out in me far more often than my inner nun.    I never thought I’d say anything like this, but for the first time in my life I hope I can behave like a nun.

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*Fear of being struck with Old Testament-style leprosy or having the Earth open up and swallow me keeps me from  even touching  a Bible with a man’s name as part of the title, much less reading it.