It was a lazy small-town Saturday in Tennessee, so I expected to meander through the day with nothing out of the ordinary happening. I certainly did not expect an encounter with a Hegelian hipster and two Amish farmers, a fitting metaphor for our times, but such is our journey; the unusual has become usual in our lives. Sometimes I think elves, if they were real, would come out of the woodwork just for us.
My husband and I ventured into the countryside to enjoy lunch at one of our favorite restaurants in a rustic, yet elegant house where the food is prepared fresh from the bounty of local organic farms. After we decided to splurge and order a slice of strawberry cake, I noticed a painting above the mantle and began to write.
Bucolic Babe (based on the painting “Kohler’s Pig”)
I casually glance up from my menu
At a nondescript landscape
So it seems
Yet something draws me deeper
Standard trees, grass, murky pond
Sky and clouds, don’t speak
Not a picnic spot I would seek
Amateur painting 101
Then I notice him
At the end of the pier, his pink body
Jutting out over the water
Like an arrow pointing skyward
Every muscle in his body, taut
The epitome of determination
We form a solid understanding
Of one another
I remember how the farmer and pig in Babe
Regarded one another
My pig is an arrow
Shooting in space
Hog wild with finesse
Chutzpah, he possesses
Not wanting to be a ham, a piece of meat
I, too, wish to defy surroundings
I, too, sometimes think
By sheer force
Leap into what I envision
Guess you and I will have to find wings
Leap of faith as if
A landing will appear out of nil
Substance of what is hoped for
Conviction of what is beyond that hill
Or maybe he just wanted to take a dip
Meanwhile, out of the farm stepped two bearded Amish farmers who supply our special lunch spot with grass-fed beef and dairy. They sat down at the table beside us near my pig and proceeded to order. In walked our hipster waiter who sat down to converse with them since it’s that kind of place and it was that kind of day. So pull up a chair and lean in.
This conversation provides a snapshot of the inquisitive, skeptical, yet bruised young generation of the Western world that bristles at absolutes and serves as a reminder that we must patiently and lovingly engage them in conversations about God and the meaning of life. They are open and we must relentlessly believe we can reach them.
I have been reading something interesting and I want to know what you think. I found this book about death of God theology. I’m really into it. It fascinates me. The idea is that when Jesus died on the cross, God’s transcendence was poured out into humanity so that God is no longer “out there,” but only immanent within us. So I started thinking atheism and Christianity are basically the same. Isn’t that interesting?
Amish farmer 1:
So is Mad Magazine. It sounds like you are into it. Have you heard of Hegelian philosophy?
Yes, I have read some Hegel.
Amish farmer 1:
I think he was a fool and should have been castrated. You cannot equate atheism and Christianity.
Missionary 1 (my husband):
Hegelian philosophy states that there is no right or wrong thesis, but a synthesis of two opposing ideologies.
But see, if God poured himself out on mankind and died, then we don’t have to search for meaning any more. We are free to look at this life only. It is liberating to realize we don’t have to do this religious dance. Chew on that for a moment.
Amish farmer 1:
You chew on that; we’ll chew on our food.
Hegelian dude returns with dessert.
But consider for a moment what actually happened in history. Jesus was born, worked as a carpenter, performed miracles before numerous witnesses, led a sinless life and died on the cross to bear the sin of the world. After his death his body was still in the guarded tomb when He was resurrected. After he came to life again, one of His disciples touched his wounds and He ate fish among them. It really took place. He did claim to be God, and He did not remain dead. We have to look squarely at these facts and consider the ramifications.
You have a point. But when I go to church I see all of this nonsense sometimes, like the church is trying to sell a product just like the world. It’s all competing: cars, women, and God. It gets so confusing and tiring. It seems simpler to think of it this way.
Amish farmer 1:
If you look at the writings of William Blake, he wanted this kind of freedom as well. He wanted free love, but love costs something.
Maybe, but this death of God idea is interesting.
Hegelian dude gets called away.
Amish farmer 2:
Our friend is a seeker. When you have accepted Christ, you see it all from a different perspective and find love, peace, deep joy and truth.
Hegelian dude returns.
Missionary 2 (me):
I do understand how you can become disillusioned by how religion sometimes plays out in culture. We lived in Eastern Europe for many years where people commonly endure great hardship. We never portrayed God in a formulaic way like a genie who gives whatever you ask for of a self-help guru who offers your best life now. God himself is the treasure, offering peace and joy in the very midst of suffering. He also provides the only way for forgiveness and new life. But it is a narrow way. It is His way because He is God, not we ourselves. People today are looking for an authentic faith that touches real issues. The God of the Bible hasn’t changed, yet He relates to us where we are today.
Yes, what you are saying makes me think of Bonhoeffer. I read his “Letters and Papers from Prison”.
Yes, Bonhoeffer suffered for his faith and for the decisions he made to stand up for what was right during the Third Reich. He taught that discipleship, or following Jesus, comes at a cost. He said “cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” And Jesus Christ is not an abstraction. He is alive, offering salvation today and inviting us to follow Him.
I draw the velvet curtains on this conversation and end with this excerpt from a letter Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison on an Easter Sunday many years ago. He knew the hope of ultimate victory and joy through trusting in the resurrected Son of God, even from a prison cell.
Easter Sunday April 25, 1943
“My dear Parents,