The Spiritual State: Pancakes With Real Butter

Faith is the nitroglycerin of the world. In the right dose it can stop a heart attack, and in the wrong dose it can blow up a world. Recently, in two extraordinary and tragic events we saw the power of faith to kill and to make alive.

Two weeks ago, Terry Ratzmann stormed out of his pastor's sermon at the Living Church of God, which meets at the Sheraton Hotel in Brookville, Wis. Last weekend, he returned and, without saying a word, shot and killed the pastor and six other congregants. Then he shot and killed himself. The same day, the killing rampage of Brian Nichols in Atlanta was brought to an end by Ashley Smith, a pious single mother who spent hours talking to him about God. She inspired him with her faith, then she made him pancakes with real butter, and he released her. Later, he surrendered without a fight.

The two cases are separated in the papers and on the tube, but they are joined together in my tears and my heart. I spend way too much of my time defending religion from the criticism of cynics who see faith as the single greatest force dividing people in this world. It has made me a religious ninja. When the anti-religious folk thrust with Osama bin Ladin, I parry with Mother Teresa. When they thrust with Torqemada, I parry with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. When they thrust with Pope Urban II and the Crusades, I parry with Gandhi. Then in this duel masquerading as a debate, I throw down Hitler, Stalin and Mao--all mass murderers and all rabidly anti-religious. I finish the argument with the local interfaith soup kitchens and food networks serving a hot lunch in a thousand basements of a thousand houses of worship all sustained by this supposedly divisive force in our world. I usually win these arguments not because I am right, which I am, but because I am slick.

That's no way to win a debate; not this week it isn't. No, the truth this week is the real truth, and that is this: nothing so powerful as religion has ever been imagined on planet earth, but its power can easily be perverted. This is not a critique of religion. It is a critique of all the broken people who use the power of religion to convince themselves that they were not put here to serve God but to play God. Perverted religion can convince even the reticent that they are not killing human beings made in the image of God, but infidels or heretics who lost their right to live when they decided to believe something different and sinful and despicable.

Yes, I feel sadness and shame that some pastor's sermon could lead a congregant to mass murder. Then I think of the simple, pure and pious heart of that courageous mother who wanted to get her daughter from church school but first had to convince the killer in her apartment that she and he were not enemies but rather, "a brother and sister in Christ."

The media is full of praise for Ashley Smith's courage. But what people have missed is the simple power of her faith, which was the source of that courage as it was for Daniel in the lion's den. Brian Nichols was an accused rapist, and to rape a woman you cannot see her as a human being made in the image of God. You cannot see her as possessing a sanctity which is not yours to abuse or assault. In the face of this evil, Ashley Smith held up to his brokenness the face of true faith, which is the ability to love unconditionally even the most broken human being, and she held up to him her Christian faith through her words and her soul and her pancakes. She convinced him that God would be with him even in the pit. In the face of thousands who were trying to find him, Ashley Smith found him, and she did this not because of some really good argument like the ones I use to win debates. She did it because of a really deep and pure faith that took her right straight through the valley of the shadow of death and into the green pastures where her daughter was waiting for her mother to return.

The Bible is not filled with a lot of arguments, but it is filled with a lot of choices. The one I feel in my soul now is from the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy, "I have set before you this day life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life." In one week, both choices were made in the name of religion. What that means is not up to God or any religion. It is up to you and me and all of us to make certain that the choice of life will win over the choice of death. I am not interested in debating religion this week--not this week. I am preparing my next Sabbath's sermon. and I am beginning it with a disclaimer, "If you do not like this sermon, please come over for pancakes with real butter."

The Spiritual State: Pancakes With Real Butter | News