As is obvious, I am not a blogger who comments regularly on happenings in the world. And I have been hesitant to break that pattern. The central reason is that a very occasional comment might give the wrong impression: as if I just care about the occasional isolated topic on which I focus. Anyone who really knew me would know otherwise. But I find myself simply too busy with the many tasks related to teaching a full load at Eastern Mennonite Seminary to comment often. But it is the case that my interests vary quite widely—even if I will comment only occasionally and thus on randomly selected topics.
I simply couldn’t pass this up. I am a regular listener to NPR (and when I am not sleeping well in the middle of the night, the BBC). I have been aware for some time that the bright and talented writers and commentators on NPR seem almost tone deaf to orthodox Christianity. Christianity is most often simply absent. When some comment is made about Christianity it is more often than not rooted in relative ignorance of the rich wealth of varied Christian traditions (or particular ones, for that matter). Or when they have a Christian on NPR, again more often than not, it is someone who is quite cynical or critical in regard to orthodox Christianity. (And I mean to refer to what I would call a generous orthodoxy. I mean nothing especially narrow by my reference.)
Anyway, it was on NPR that I heard yesterday (or the day before) about some anonymous individuals leaving large tips (sometimes $1000 or $5000 or more) for waiting staff at restaurants, anonymously. It was mentioned in the brief story that some of these tips come from an organization called “tips for Jesus.” The commentator felt compelled to add the editorial comment: “of course this is not about religion, it is simply about kindness.” (Or words to that effect. I didn’t write them down.)
On the other hand, of course, within the last week (and often) “religion” was to blame when NPR was discussing “sectarian” violence. And it was Christianity (and Western colonialism) that was being blamed for animating anti-gay laws in several African countries as I listened to an interview on the BBC last night. (Although, honesty compels me to add that the BBC interviewer kept pressing the gay Kenyan being interviewed to be honest about the fact that traditional African cultures had also opposed gay and lesbian sex, long before Pentecostals or Anglicans imported Christian views. Both seemed to miss the irony that the “universal” human rights language they were using was also, basically, a Western import.)
After I went to the trouble to read a couple of articles about “tips for Jesus,” I noticed that this anonymous donor added: “Doing the Lord’s work, one tip at a time.” Another anonymous donor said, “God sent me here to help you.” Why were these statements not quoted on NPR? Why does this not lead at least some commentator on NPR to discuss “sectarian” compassion or generosity? For after all, there is a good chance that some of these anonymous givers are members of particular churches, i.e. “sectarian” (distinct religious/Christian) groups.
George Steiner, influential literary and cultural critic said: “Even if we cannot believe that God is dead, it is clear that something has died. And that is the capacity of most of us for conducting our daily lives as if He were about, as if His existence and His interest in our affairs were fairly probable. This incapacity may have already had drastic consequences. It may be an honest explanation of the barbarism and confusion that attack our politics, and it may help to account for the turbulence in the private climate of the age.” (“God’s Acres,” The New Yorker, October 30, 1978, quoted in Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, Vol. 1, p. 3)
Perhaps many of us—including Christians—have trouble having a living faith in a living God because our “world” too often is defined—narrated—by those who are tone deaf to the Christian story. We need to reflect critically on what that means for how we live our lives. Perhaps we should live with the question: Who Gets to Narrate Our World?