Over the last few summers, we have assigned our Church Council and congregation a summer reading assignment. Being on the doorstep of a major University (Go Heels!) there is a different pace during the summer, and our community is used to having summer reading assignments to help us get ready for the fall semester.
During the summer of 2022 we read “Churches and the crisis of decline” by Dr. Andy Root who teaches youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary. Every institution is wrestling with decline and a “new normal” of how to operate in our post-pandemic world. The stats are clear that church attendance and membership are down. (they were down before COVID too!) So, what do we do? Dr. Root pushes back against the temptation of “doing more” or becoming busier or seeking to be more relevant. Perhaps we should be counter cultural and slow down and wait, do more listening, be more intentional in our relationships and community, and ask better God questions. And so, this summer I found a book that asks really good God questions.
This past summer we read Dr. Peter Enns newest book, “Curveball… when your faith takes turns you never saw coming, or… how I stumbled and tripped my way to finding a bigger God.” (How is that for a title!)
Dr. Enns is a Hebrew Bible scholar and is famous for his podcast called, “The Bible for Normal People” where he boils down the Bible for normal people like you and me. I was able to meet Dr. Enns at Theology Beer Camp last October here at Holy Trinity. And I can assure you, Dr. Enns is just as funny and easy to talk to as you hear on his podcast.
I encourage you to read this book if you haven’t yet. If you haven’t, mild spoilers ahead and if you want some bonus material and hear a conversation I had with Dr. Enns about his book, check out this link on our YouTube channel….
In this very honest book, Dr. Enns shares openly some of the curveballs he has experienced in his life. The curveball of…
- Not able to fulfill his life dream to become a pro baseball player.
- Vocational shifts and the weight of imposter syndrome of being someone looked to as one who is a “God expert”.
- Peeling back the layers and complexity of the Bible that eventually leads to reading the Bible in a new and nuanced way. And for us who claim to be Christian, the reality that Jesus is the ultimate curveball in how we understand how God operates.
- Existential crisis’s revolving around the reality of a vast and ever-expanding universe and on the quantum level... the universe is super weird.
Dr. Enns shares that these curveballs, as hard as they can be to go through and experience, helped him reevaluate his belief systems and lead him to deconstruct and reconstruct how he understands God.
And we can all relate.
We all have had disappointments in life. (I’m not a pro surfer)
We all wrestle with what we are being called to do, how we make a living, and if we are making a difference in the world. (Yes, even pastors go through this)
Scholarship and Science often forces us to reevaluate the world and universe we inhabit. (That James Web Telescope keeps revealing the universe is more vast than we could ever imagine!)
Not if, but WHEN life’s surprises, tragedies, and our world is literally turned upside down… this forces us to navigate life and our faith in a new way. And change isn’t easy… even though the only constant in life IS change. Instead of fighting this change, how can these changes and shifts lead us to a "bigger and better God."
I admire Dr. Enns’ intellectual humility and his posture of openness and curiosity. I wanted this book to be permission giving by allowing the curveballs we experience in life and faith to lead to a bigger and better God. My hope is that this book can give us permission to accept the curveballs life throws at us and it can open a way for us to handle and process WHEN we have curveballs in our own lives, and in the life of our congregation. As Dr. Enns shares, this can lead to “a bigger and better God.”
As a member shared with me, “this book solidified that God infuses all connections, particles and relationships we have in life.”
A few weeks back we discussed this book together in Sunday School. We had a great cross section of our members, so I asked to lift up some “curveballs” Holy Trinity experienced in our past… the ones mentioned were…
COVID (yep, that was a big curveball in how we operated as a congregation and community of faith)
Planning for and building a new Worship Center, and other building renovations (buildings and building management always leads to us asking the important questions of “who are we?” and "why are we here in the first place?")
Staffing and Pastoral transitions (we are a staff lead congregation, and we staff appreciate the trust the congregation has for our work, BUT what if a staff member leaves? Who will keep the mission and vision moving forward?)
The Civil Rights movement in the 60’s (this was a big shift in society and culture and for Holy Trinity in Chapel Hill. (We acknowledge this work isn’t done, we are still wrestling with these important questions as a Church and society.)
We even had a member share that we should continue to anticipate curveballs ahead of us… like new scientific discoveries, the progression and prevalence of technology, AND the growing concern of Artificial Intelligence and it’s impact and role in society.
No doubt curveballs are a reality for us all and we will continue to experience them together as a congregation. My hope is that we too can have intellectual humility and that we continue to have a posture of openness and curiosity as we navigate the world together as a community of faith.
What if we leaned harder into the God questions we all have in life and faith. AND actually slow down with them, not looking for an exact answer but rather just sitting with the actual question for an extended amount of time. (I mean, time is relative… right?)
What if we did listen more intently and intentionally to our friends and neighbors, in and beyond our congregation, not to “fix” them but to stand in solidarity with them as co-curveball teammates.
I’m curious… What are some of your personal curveballs in life and faith and what would you add to the list of HTLC’s curveballs in our 75+ history and looking to the future?
Shoot me a message or email or text. Or let’s grab a coffee, meal or beer together as members of the Curiosity Club and teammates at Holy Trinity.