Those who made it to my December retreat at Pilgrim Park received drafts of the first three chapters of my new book. The title of the book is Seeker, Skeptic: Christian Spiritual Practices With (Almost) No Strings Attached. It opens with this greeting:
“Yeah, they figured, being a priest, you was gonna slip ‘em the old routine. Personally, I’m for giving you a break, and what I says with the gang goes.” —Tony Scaponi to Father O’Malley in the 1944 film Going My Way
You never really know what to expect from a religious book, no matter what it says on the front and back covers. It might well turn out to be preachy, pushy, or condescending. It might turn out to be the literary incarnation of that guy who sits down next to you in the bus station and asks if you know Jesus. So thanks for taking the chance—I appreciate the nerve you’ve shown in reading this first paragraph, and I hope you’ll find the rest worth your while.
Here’s a joke that was going around my seminary a few years ago (as it was told to me by a Unitarian classmate). Question: what do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian? Answer: someone who rings your doorbell—for no particular reason. In a way, that’s what I’m doing with this book. I do have a few beliefs about God, and I have many conjectures, but this book is not intended to get you to adopt them. If you’re not sure what you believe about God, that’s okay; neither am I. If you’re not sure what you believe about Jesus of Nazareth, I’m right there with you. If you don’t trust institutional churches; if you have problems with various parts of the Bible; if words like missionary and evangelism make you want to pretend not to be home when the guys in the suits ring your doorbell—well, I promise you, I’m in the same club. (And would you be surprised to learn that quite a few people who were in seminary with me are in the same club too?) This book is for you, for us, the people on the margins of the Christian tradition.
But to be honest, I am ringing your bell here for a reason; I do have an agenda; and here it is. I believe in God. I believe that all people are connected to God. I believe that there are many people, both churchgoing and otherwise, who would be happier if they were more attuned to this connection. Some of the following chapters teach simple practices from the Christian tradition, practices that can help us to be more aware of our connections to God. Other chapters explore the barriers that may discourage us from engaging the Christian tradition at all. It is my hope that you will find something here that will help you experience your connection to the holy in a new way. If you are intrigued by any topic, there is some suggested further reading at the end of each chapter.
But that’s my whole conscious agenda; that’s the only string attached. I am not going to slip you the old routine. I don’t care whether you go to church, or tithe, or read the Bible daily, or believe this rather than that. I am only concerned to help you be more aware of your connection to God. It’s my belief, God takes care of the rest.
That’s what ministry is all about, for me. The next retreat at Pilgrim Park is February 12. I hope to see you there.