You know how you have a list of books and authors you want to read that friends keep telling you about? David Dark, author of Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons and The Gospel According To America: A Meditation on a God-blessed, Christ-haunted Idea has been near the top of my list for a while. A friend of mine is a fan of David’s wife, singer/songwriter Sarah Mason, read his books a couple years ago, and mentions them every once in a while. Back in March, when I was placing an order on Amazon for the score to Stravinsky’s The Firebird, I decided to go ahead and get both of his books and make some time to read them. So I was happy to find out that the featured speaker for April at the monthly Nashville Cohort meeting that I attend, sponsored by Emergent Village, was David Dark. David is in the process of writing his third book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, and he read us a couple excerpts and led a discussion about it.
As is par for the course for those meetings, the discussion was great, as was the company. I’d told a couple of friends about it who I thought would enjoy it, Paul Jones and Andrew Peterson, and others there included Tyler Wigg Stevenson, who spoke about his new book a couple months ago, Brand Jesus: Christianity in a Consumerist Age, that I’m reading now, and Gareth Higgins, author of How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films which I read a couple of years ago. Matthew Paul Turner, author of The Christian Culture Survival Guide and a number of other books, was also there. Matthew and I have been e-mailing each other for a couple years, but things hadn’t come together when we’d tried to hang out before, so I enjoyed finally meeting him in person.
One of the primary purposes of David’s new book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, according to him, is to get us to ask better questions. One of the underlying threads are his thoughts on redemptive skepticism. At one point, he said, “Skepticism, like faith, cannot be a virtue by itself.”
One point he kept returning to is “who’s really evangelical?” As I’ve mentioned before, I stay away from that label because of the negative connotations. But I’m hearing more and more people, like David, trying to reclaim the label. (Donald Miller is even identifying himself now as a Fundamentalist, trying to take back that label.) David said that too often, the vibe we get from the church is “I’m Christian, because I’m offended.” But we are called to something different, “we are called to better imagining,” not for ways to be offended and cry foul.
In David’s upcoming book, each chapter will be devoted to questioning a different thing. He mentioned questioning The Future, Being Offended, Religion, Government, and the Media; I think he said there will be ten or eleven chapters in all. He read an excerpt to us from one chapter on what he learned while watching Michael Scott on an episode of NBC’s The Office. He mentioned that, “what we call comedy is the space where everything can be talked about.”
A quote that has meant a lot to him recently is from John Howard Yoder – “Jesus has the power to unendingly meet new worlds.” And because of that, if we believe it is true, we don’t have to be afraid of things changing, of post-modernism or other shifts in our culture and in our lives.
After David talked about his book for a while, we asked a couple questions. Someone raised the issue of people using questions to avoid community, to avoid actually facing anything. David agreed that can be a problem, saying, “There is a lot of questioning, of skepticism, that is always on the run from community.” What we need instead is to be able to ask questions in community, which is a part of what David is hoping to accomplish with his book, I think. In what became my favorite quote from his talk, David said, “We need community that is always destabilizing our sense of copyright on Jesus”. I’ve been thinking about that a lot this past week, realizing how diametrically opposed it is to my background in Fundamentalism where one of our main tent-poles was the constant reassertion of our exclusive copyright on Jesus.
In the asking of questions, there are also pitfalls that demand caution, ways that we can make The Answer more important than anything else. “There is a fetishizing of answers that gets away from loving others,” David warned us. “The Bible has answers, but also questions to which we don’t know the answer.” He mentioned the scene from The Simpson’s movie where Homer’s dad is in church and starts speaking in tongues. While everyone is trying to figure out what he’s saying, Homer grabs a Bible, flips through it, and exclaims, “There are no answers in here!” We often try to use the Bible in the same way, David said, and when we do, Homer’s right. There are no answers if that’s all we’re trying to get out of it, if we rape the text for our own purposes, as Don Miller points out.
David told us a story about a panel discussion that took place between a Baptist minister and a Jewish Rabbi. The minister spent a lot of time trying to convince the Rabbi why he had to accept Jesus, trying to point out what he thought was overwhelming evidence of proof of Jesus as the Coming Messiah, the fulfillment of Jewish faith. At the end of the discussion, when it seemed like both sides were talking past each other, the Rabbi attempted to sum up their differences, saying, “Your Jesus is the answer to questions I’ve never asked.” I feel that way often, skimming over the current batch of popular Christian writing or finding out what the hot speakers on the Christian circuit are selling. So I’m glad David is writing this book, thankful that I’ve found people who are asking some of the same questions I’ve asked and am asking, people who are on a similar journey.