Sharp About Your Prayers

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Can You Trust Mama?

May 11th, 2012 · 1 Comment · Faith and the City

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. In worship, we will be reading from the pages of an oft-overlooked book in the New Testament — Second Timothy. In this fairly short letter, the Apostle Paul reaches out to exhort and comfort his young friend. He does this by recalling the manner in which Timothy came to faith.

Paul writes:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  

I love this passage. It reminds me of the black, leather-bound King James Bible that sits on my desk, and the way it would look resting in my grandmother’s lap as she told stories of the faith. David and Goliath. Sampson and his long tresses. Mary and the baby Jesus fleeing for Egypt.

I know exactly what Paul is talking about. I remember. 

What I find especially fascinating, as I prepare for this Mother’s Day, is how controversial this passage has become. Or more accurately, how much high-octane debate now surrounds the notion that faith gets passed down from one generation to the next.

Richard Dawkins — a biologist who’s actually better known as an evangelist for atheism — argues that human beings have evolved so that, as children, we will accept what our parents have to say. We are hard-wired, he claims, to believe our mothers and our fathers will tell us the truth.

This inclination to trust our parents (and other elders), Dawkins surmises, helped us survive. It is important that a child trust his mother when she says, “Don’t go by that cave. A tiger lives there, and he will eat you!”

The problem, as Dawkins sees it, is that so much of what we pass along is not factually true. It is “tradition,” which (in Dawkins’ view) adds up to drivel, myth and outright lies. In fact, Dawkins famously wrote a letter to his 10-year-old daughter, “Dear Juliet,” warning her about the dangers of believing in tradition.

I have been thinking about Dawkins’ arguments. They are interesting, provocative and important for Christians to consider. What do we think of tradition? Can we trust it? Did grandma Lois and mother Eunice pull the wool over little Timothy’s eyes?

Or is something else going on here?

My guess is that “tradition” is a bit more complex than Dawkins lets on. In other words, don’t give up on Lois, Eunice or Timothy just yet!

My sermon for Mother’s Day comes in the form of a letter to my almost nine-year-old son, “Dear Oliver.”

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Anonymous

    This is so beautiful. So dag gone beautiful. I hope your son gets to hear the sermon. And if there is a written form available, that he has a hard copy of it. This is the stuff of tradition that grabs my gut & soul, the good kind, the kind I want to pass down to my family.