Frank Warren has been called the world's friendliest stranger. Mainly because every week he gets anonymous post cards with people's deepest secrets (Sounds like something out of Stephen King). These secrets, usually on a creative post card, get posted on-line at his blog for all to see. For many, it fosters a sense of community and understanding, in knowing that there are others out there who feel like them-and that there is a place to express those feelings. Warren started the blog as an art project back in 2005. Since then, he has traveled the country with the cards as a traveling art exhibit.
In the case of "Confessions on Life, Death and God", the secrets were from an exhibit called: Every Faith Beautiful. Warren explains that one of the first cards he ever received was from a woman in Texas who's husband was a Baptist pastor. Her secret? No one suspected she was an atheist. The fact that a lot of the post cards are about issues related to faith, doubt, life, and death is what led to this book and the exhibit.
The cards are almost always creative with a lot of attention to detail. No wonder they can be a part of an art exhibit. Some are funny ("I don't hold my farts around you"), some are very revealing (a suicidal psychiatrist), and some-to Christians- are thought provoking and sad.
That's where the God part come in. One that made me think was from a woman who lost her unborn child at 16 week. "That was the day my baby, God and my heart died".
The cards make for a pretty fast read. However, some images in the book are very inappropriate (along with some of the content). Thus I would be careful with who you get this book for.
So why is this important? I think to those of us in ministry, this is the kind of research you sometimes can't get. It's a peek into the lives of everyday Americans. Maybe even the man next door. And since this book is specifically about faith issues, I think it's one worth looking at.
To finish I wanted to share some observations I made while reading the book:
1. People are desperate to communicate.
Even if it's telling a stranger their darkest secrets,people want to talk. The image of the God who is not silent, makes us want to communicate. Facebook, Twitter, etc.. are further proof of that (See Ch.1 of James White's "Scripture Alone" for a great argument on this point). This leads me to the next point....
2. We must learn to listen.
I know it's been said before, and it bears repeating: James 1:19 reminds us to be "quick to hear, slow to speak". Many of us who are called to evangelism and apologetics, can get a little too eager to make our points at the expense of the person. We must learn to cultivate the discipline of listening. If ever we needed the ministry of listening, it is now. I know I speak this to myself as well.
3. The arts are our friends.
A simple post card becomes a medium for communication and a work of art at the same time. Many people have noted (i.e. John Frame) there can be variety to our apologetic. In the Bible, this includes parables, metaphors, images, etc... Is it any wonder God speaks to us not only in language, but with literature? (A great resource for this would be the Literary Study Bible). And yet, many churches think it odd to try and include the arts in its worship and evangelism. This isn't the place to discuss arts and the church (but you're free to) so I will just say two things. In the book, Warren, talks about visiting a Buddhist temple, and being attracted by a garden and pond there. He then went on to have a pretty interesting talk with one of the visitors in the temple.
The first thing I thought was: I wish my church had a garden! I know a lot of us are stuck with store front churches, but that shouldn't be reason to ignore the aesthetic possibilities our buildings can have. Neither should we ignore the value the arts can play in our worship and communication.
#4 People still have questions.
The classic questions of evil, exclusivity claims, and the nature of God keep coming up. People are looking for an answer. they're looking for a word from God. I have been of the opinion that our churces have been weak in teaching and preaching. At a time when people are asking the classic questions (in the face of personal and national troubles) we hide our bible to our shame and detremement. This is connected to my last obserevation...
#5 We need to teach our people
Many times while reading Confessions, I just kept seeing people who gave up on church or God because of a bad tradition, or interpretation of scripture. Whether it was tongues or the place of people with gay tendencies, God basically gets a bad rap sometimes. We must teach the whole counsel of God's word and help our people develop a robust world view. To give our people any less, is to put them in danger of not being able to answer the big questions that are being thrown at them by the man next door. Or without the means to minister to them.