Back in the 1980s I was in the market for a new car, and someone (can't remember who now) suggested I go see Dave Metheney at Burton Motors in suburban Lee's Summit, Mo.
It turned out I liked Dave a lot. And eventually met his wife Lois, also a top-cabin human being.
Over several years I bought a few cars from Dave. And in the process I learned he and Lois had two musically talented sons, Pat and Mike. Pat has won all kinds of awards for his special style of jazz music and Mike has had a wonderful career as a music teacher and trumpet/flugelhorn soloist.
I got a note from Mike recently telling me about a book he has put together (with a foreword by Pat). It's called Old Friends Are the Best Friends: The Letters of John McKee and Mike Metheney. Mike thought it might interest me because one of the fairly regular topics the late McKee and Mike covered in several years of correspondence was religion.
John McKee, also a musician, became a Christian convert. Mike, by contrast, was a skeptic who asked John challenging questions about his new-found faith.
Well, the book is thick (more than 500 pages) and there's a lot in there about Lee's Summit in the 1980s and earlier. Which means it's audience may be relatively limited. But here's why I like it and why I hope some of you might like it, too:
John and Mike, in their correspondence, demonstrate just what we need today: How to hold civil conversations about hot-button issues. There isn't much religious common ground between John and Mike in these letters, but there is friendship, respect, even love. And there's the kind of good humor that we'd all do well to bring to our own conversations about such matters.
John, for instance, is perfectly comfortable sharing with Mike why he's convinced that Christianity is the right path for him:
"It's mind-boggling to think that before there were even 100 years on the A.D. calendar, people were convinced, as I have been, about the validity of Jesus' claims to be God's son, and that he was capable of forgiving sins and granting them eternal life. (The same people who were littering the Roman Coliseum with their bodies and blood! Now that's sobering!) (Tammeus note: The previous words in parentheses are John's.)
Some time later Mike writes to John about religion:
"Ah yes, religion. . .hmmm.
"Well, we've certainly covered this ground before. And my position is the same: I'd rather be a Miserable Agnostic than a Happy Believer. I've often wanted to ask you how you've been able to reconcile the fact that you've made such a large emotional and intellectual investment in something that causes so much human suffering. I've always felt that religion in any form was, at best, a psychological insurance policy for those who are afraid of death, and at worst, an excuse to invade someone else's turf and do battle with those who don't share your beliefs."
A bit later John replies to Mike's charge about religion causing so much suffering: "The charge is true! Religious people do terrible things!" He then lists some atrocities attributed to religion, but notes that "we are ALL born into the world with bad blood! Moral hemophilia!. . .We are not innocent. We have failed, morally." Then John offers his version of the Christian gospel about forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ.
But from neither side do we see coercion, compulsion. John doesn't tell Mike he's going to hell and Mike doesn't tell John he's a religious nut with whom he wants no more preaching. They talk. They listen. They are human to one another.
Why is that so hard for so many of the rest of us?
(The link I've given you on the title of the book will take you to a site that tells you how to buy a copy if you want one.)
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POPE BENEDICT XVI ASSESSES HIS PAPACY
A book-length interview with former Pope Benedict XVI is being released, and in it he acknowledges some of his weak points but says he doesn't consider his papacy a failure. It always takes years and years before historians and others can do a proper assessment of any pope's time in office. But clearly B-16 is going to suffer by comparison with the popular and spirited Pope Francis, who succeeded him.
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P.S.: Speaking of books, as I was above, you are invited to join me at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Public Library, when I will introduce my new book, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. For a reservation to this free event, click here.