In the Gospel reading from Mark that a lot of us will hear this Sunday (Mark 9:30-37), Jesus tells his disciples a second time that he is going to Jerusalem where he will be rejected, beaten, and crucified and, three days later, be raised from the dead.
As I mention in a column on Working Preacher, I’m not that surprised the disciples don’t get it, even though Jesus is telling them a second time. We have, I think, a phenomenal ability to tune out, mishear, and generally ignore that which is unpleasant, and the news Jesus shares is unpleasant and unwelcome in the extreme.
But while I understand their state of denial, what I don’t get is how the disciples can be, as Mark describes, too afraid to ask any questions (9:34). And yet as soon as I think about it, I do begin to understand, because I’ve known lots of people who are nervous about asking questions as well. Maybe they don’t want to look dumb, or maybe they think that “good Christians” don’t have any questions but take everything on faith.
And yet I think asking questions – about God, the faith, Scripture, whatever(!) – is in fact crucial to the life of faith. Which means that our congregations – and, for that matter, our homes and schools as well – need to nurture a culture in which questions are invited and encouraged. Why? Because it’s by admitting what we don’t know and asking questions that we learn more and grow in our faith.
Toward this end, I’ve been encouraged to see more resources out there assisting people to ask and answer questions of faith and life. Here I’ll suggest just a few. The first two are by friends. Paul Raushenbush is the religion editor of the Huffington Post and he regularly receives and answers email questions in an occasional column he writes there called “Ask Pastor Paul.” While they are not collected in one place, you can access them at Paul’s HuffPost page – just scroll down and look for the articles beginning with “Ask Pastor Paul” in the title.
Tony Jones has also begun soliciting questions from readers and offering his take on an answer. His first one, from an atheist, is huge, and one that I suspect a number of our folks may have asked at times as well. (I know I have.) Tony has gathered the questions (he’s onto the second one), the invitation, and his responses at his blog under the category “Questions That Haunt Christianity.” There you can read the various questions and answers, but you can also pose your own or chime in with your own response.
I don’t know the authors of the next two sites I want to suggest as resources, but each helps us ask deeper and better questions. The first is called A More Beautiful Question. Questions, author Warren Berger believes, are how we learn, progress, and change. But many of us have forgotten how to ask them. Berger’s goal is to help us ask “a more beautiful question” and in this way change ourselves and the world. While the site is in part a promo for the author’s book of the same title, I find his blog at times provocative and insightful. If you want a taste, you can go to this page which offers some of the beautiful questions he’s encountered.
The second is not a website but rather an extended post called “40 Questions Everyone Is Afraid to Ask.” Each question involves a certain level of self-reflection and is coupled with an engaging picture. I think they’d make great material for discussions, particularly with youth groups, though I wouldn’t deprive adults of the same chance to reflect on their lives and aspirations.
If you’re in church this Sunday, wonder for a moment why the disciples don’t ask more questions, and then probe for a question or two that maybe you’re nervous to ask and wonder why as well. And then, if you’re feeling brave, ask someone – at church, home, school, and or in the comments below or in an email to me. What are you wondering about? Ask – because questions invariably lead to growth.