Tasked with telling hard truths

A new book out by theologian Stanley Hauerwas, Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir in which he talks about living with a wife suffering from bipolar disorder and the lifelong effort needed to tell the truth about God and  ourselves.

 

I became a theologian because I could not “get saved.” I was raised in an evangelical Methodist church. Evangelical meant that though you had been baptized and made a member of the church on Sunday morning, you still had to be “saved” on Sunday night. I wanted to be saved but I did not think you should fake it. So finally sometime in my middle teens, while we were singing during the altar call “I Surrender All” for the twenty-fifth time, I surrendered. That is, I dedicated my life to the Lord assuming that if God was not going to save me, I could put God in my debt by going into the ministry. That has never happened, but it did put me on the road to college.

By the time I had got to college, I had begun to read and had decided that most of what Christians believed could not be credible. So I became a philosophy major at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. It was by reading philosophy that I discovered that I did not know enough about Christianity to know if it was true or not. So I went to Yale Divinity School not to study for the ministry but to find out if the stuff was true. God help me, I fell in love with theology, and in particular the theology of Karl Barth. I have now spent a lifetime thinking about God.

That I have spent my life thinking about God, moreover, has gotten me into a lot of trouble. I did not expect to discover that being a Christian might put one crossways with the assumptions that shape “normality” — assumptions that make war unproblematic — but like it or not, I became convinced that Christians cannot kill. I even think that Christians must tell the truth — even to those they love. As a result, I have never found being a Christian easy.

I observe in Hannah’s Child that most people do not have to become theologians to be a Christian, but I probably did. I still find it surprising that I am a Christian. God is just not there for me the way God is there for some people. I am not complaining. I assume that that is the way God works to make some of us have to think hard about what it means to worship God. I use the language of worship rather than belief because I am never sure if I believe in God. I do not trust myself enough to take what I believe seriously. But I do worship God, and I do so with joy.

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