At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sacred Cows Into Digestible Burgers

I realize the risk of giving people a sneak peek of a book that exists only in a computer file. But as I was navigating through my thoughts a scene really fit in my mind.

My second novel is tentatively labeled The Broken Cross. Lord willing, Litany of Secrets will do well enough to warrant the sequel, but that's not the point right now. Toward the end of The Broken Cross, Detective Cameron Ballack has a flash of intuition and calls a priest for some vital information. Throughout their conversation, the priest is impressed with the fact that Ballack--though an agnostic--has a decent knowledge of Catholic tradition and activity. So astonished is the cleric that he tells Ballack, "You know, for being a gloomy young pagan you sure know a lot about our most sacred traditions."

To which Ballack responds, "I'm not that bad of a pagan. I just like turning a lot of sacred cows into digestible burgers."

That's not just the modus operandi of Cameron Ballack. Many people offer up their criticisms of Christian theology, moral taboos, and skeletons in religious closets. Now I'm not here to skewer and counterattack people who take the Christian tradition to task. Besides, as someone who grew up swimming in fairly deep evangelical waters, I'm overqualified to poke fun of and offer charitable criticism of my own spiritual fraternity.

I will say that two truths come bubbling to the surface here.

The first reality is that often well-meaning Christians can overreact to the slightest criticism, and this does NOT give skeptics, seekers, and inquirers the idea that Christianity is marked by grace. Ask the average person what image comes to mind when they hear the word church and I doubt you'll hear them respond with "grace", or "compassion", or "fair-minded dialogue". I cringe when some people tell me they know many evangelicals are against abortion or homosexuality, but they don't know what Christians are for. So often we cry foul when our sacred cows get ground up and put on the grill of discussion. We feel threatened. We sense that our entire castle wall of faith is under attack. That's not to say that it's okay to mush our beliefs and say everything is valid (I will not--for example--compromise on the cardinal consensus of Christian beliefs, namely the Trinity, the deity of Christ, his sacrificial death, his actual resurrection, etc.). But our reactions to the spectrum of skeptical cynicism often say more about the heart conditions of Christians than their counterparts.

And getting back to the burger-creators, that brings me to my second point. You'd probably be surprised at how often such inquirers are asking hard, edgy questions to see if the landscape is safe for another question. Many times a person who is seeking the truth needs to offer up a gritty query to test the pushback or lack thereof. I've found this to be the case with a lot of my students over the years. A lot of them wanted to talk about spiritual things, but in their experience not everyone was safe to talk to. So what some people view as an attack might just be nothing more than an emissary coming forth to ask, "Hey, is it okay if we can talk about this?" You just have to be willing to discover the question behind the question.

Unless that question is "How do you want your burger prepared?" And then of course the discussion begins and ends with "Medium rare."

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