Curious Church, Curious Christians
Way back when we hired a design firm to make some stuff for us (including this website you’re reading right now), they asked what we hoped would happen when people saw our publicity. “I hope it makes them curious,” I said. “We don’t need to persuade people right away. We can work with curiosity.”
Our G-Study group just started the strangest book (Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science by Alice Dreger, 2015). On the first page the author says, “Twice as often as my parents told their four children to go wash, they told us to go look something up.” She gratefully remembers that her parents cultivated curiosity in their kids, a trait that gives her deep satisfaction in scientific inquiry and has fueled her successful (if controversial) research career.
All of which puts me in mind of Jesus.
When Jesus met potential followers on the seashore (John 1), he invited them simply to “Come and see.” Who knows how many people heard his invitation that day? But only a few were curious enough to take him up on it. And even as the crowds around him swelled, he admonished the ones closest to him to try harder, invest more mental energy in understanding the nature of his work. “Let those with ears to hear, listen!” he would implore (Mark 4:9, e.g.) when telling his strange and beautiful parables. “Do you have eyes, but fail to see?” he would groan (Mark 8:18, e.g.) when they forgot to consider his power to make good things happen.
Jesus, I’m saying, seemed to like people who were curious – curious about him, curious about God, curious about the world we live in. He engaged people who came to him in a spirit of open inquiry, and poked fun at people who feigned interest for the sake of reinforcing their already-held points of view. It could be said, according to his way of thinking, that the sweetest thing a messiah could do for somebody in distress was teach them something they didn’t already know (Mark 6:34).
As Dreger points out in the introduction to Galileo’s Middle Finger, a lot of secular liberals imagine that religiously devout people are close-minded and incurious. (I can’t believe spellcheck accepted “incurious.” Cool.) But we know better, don’t we? Followers of Jesus should be among the most curious people in the world. We know there’s so much that we don’t know, so much about God and God’s world to discover. So we (some of us anyway) cultivate curiosity itself as a Christian virtue. It drives us to inquire and challenge and argue and test and learn. And we hold things we’ve learned lightly, knowing there might be more for our eyes to see, our ears to hear, because God just keeps doing stuff.
Our church has certain practices that cultivate curiosity as a virtue in the people who hang around. Our sermons don’t usually end with a tidy “Q.E.D.” We send out mildly transgressive tweets to see if anybody’s paying attention. We show videos at the top of each worship service, without commentary, that make just about everybody scratch their heads. (Here’s an example of one we love, about a werewolf and his boyfriend.) We make lots of room for exploration of the Bible, and our life stories, and our communal call from God. We publish just about every thought we’ve ever had so everybody can think about it together (but not the same, of course).
So what kind of church do you get when you cultivate curiosity as a Christian virtue? Wouldn’t you like to know? Come and see.