How to Be an Atheist: Working out the Worldview of a Skeptic, Free for CAPC Members
Mitch Stokes’ ‘How to Be an Atheist’ shows the work of the worldview of a skeptic.
Every Wednesday in Holy Relics, Martyn Jones explores artifacts unique to Christian subculture. Except this Wednesday.
This week, D.L. Mayfield is the Holy Relics Guest Writer.
The little blonde girl stands in the foyer, thick bangs in her eyes, and stares up at the large map of the world tacked to the wall of the church. At the top of the map it says that phrase she has heard her entire life: “Go Ye Into All the Earth and Create Disciples.” She reads it again.
“Go Ye.” She has memorized the shape of the continents; she knows a bit about most of them (the starving babies in Africa, the orphans in Russia, the communists in China, the shirtless cannibals in Southeast Asia); she knows all of their wants, both spiritual and material; she knows how much they need her. When will she grow, when will it be her time to go, when will all of those other verses she memorizes on Wednesday nights to get fake plastic jewels in her fake plastic AWANA crowns apply to her?
Blessed are the feet of those who bring the good news. She looks down at her own feet, clad in scuffed Mary Janes. She looks at the map again. There are faces pasted all over, portraits of families and singles, spread wide over the earth. She cannot see the feet in most of the pictures, just the smiling faces, the nicely brushed hair, the polo shirts and khaki pants. The families with the multiple children, serving in the Congo, in Guatemala, in India. The young marrieds in Russia, in China. The single women, posing alone and strong, scattered all over the map.
“Go Ye,” says the sign above the map, and the young girl stares hard at the ones who were good enough to obey. It is easy enough for her to imagine her picture up there in a few years, her hair cut short and efficient, her blessed feet clad in sensible shoes. Perhaps she will be a Bible smuggler, or an orphanage director, or an open-air preacher in the refugee camps. Her dreams fill up the map; she is not called to one specific area. She wants to live everywhere, do all the important work, save all the souls.
Other people, the grown-ups, hurry by that map on the way to their cars in the parking lot and they catch a glimpse of the Greatest Commandment proclaimed overhead, pride and unease in their hearts. Work and kids and sports and errands have taken over their lives; they try and come to service when they can, ready to hear the word of the Lord. It feels good to look at a map and see the faces of those who obey and see where that money placed in the offering basket goes. Those faces, so white and calm and full of peace and hope, are helping all those brown bodies the world over, doing what so many are not able to do. The map, in a way, connects the church to them, to God, and it flattens out the overwhelming words of Christ into something doable. A system. An outsourcing. A way for all to be involved, for all to feel the flush of solidarity, the spreading of the news that we all keep saying is so very, very good.
In the pictures that the girl stares at, she does not yet know that the hearts are as varied as the poses are the same. Some long to run away from the troubles at home, the toil and mundane and the awkwardness. Some long to be of use to somebody, anybody, to prove to God that they are worthy of love. Others are compelled, guilt and shame and joy and hope all mingled together in the hand that clutches the words of Truth, to do the hardest thing for God. Others quietly hum with the glow of seeing the Invisible One in the stars and the hands and feet of Christ-followers half the map away, the immeasurable joy in a faith being stretched and realized, the gaps and holes being filled by people who experience a God in ways so different from your own, of falling into an exhausted sleep at night, sure that there is a God who is present and concerned with the world, who deeply loves not only you and yours, but all of His precious, beautiful, broken children.
She is only a little child, but as she stands in front of the wall — the geography of mixed motives and grace, of fear and doubt and faith — she knows it is the only life she can imagine for herself. Here, in her church, she has never heard a woman preach from the pulpit. She has never run out of food and asked God to miraculously fill her bowl with rice. She has never seen a room full of swaying and singing bodies, materially poor but gut-achingly rich in love for a good and kind Creator. She doesn’t even know she wants these things.
But she does understand, somewhere deep within, that in order to experience what she has always heard and read and colored pictures of — the deep, deep love of Jesus — it might demand a shift in place. Her feet, so small and untouched by the world, might need to head off towards the ones Jesus always said would be blessed: the sick, the sad, the poor, and those oppressed in the pursuit of justice. “Go Ye,” proclaims the words. But she doesn’t yet understand that she will be the one discipled. She still doesn’t understand who are the blessed ones in the geography of Christ. But one day, she will.
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