It should be an easy answer. Yes. His story is in the Bible.
But, someday the grandchild will confront hard facts about the impossibility of stuffing two of every kind of animal into one boat—just as other mature believers have had to do. Not so quick with the easy answer.
Maybe I should have given the classic “Santa Claus” answer, given by newspaperman Francis Church when asked if Santa Claus was real, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus [or Noah]. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist….”
What did I do? I hedged a little, and said I thought Noah was real, but not with the same fervor that Church generated to affirm Santa’s existence.
If it is hard for people of faith to answer children’s questions about God and God’s story, it can be even more challenging for “faith-free” adults to respond appropriately to those questions from their children.
That challenge was the motivation for North Carolina author Andrew Park’s new book, “Between a Church and a Hard Place: One Faith-Free Father's Struggle to Understand What it Means to be Religious (or Not).”
The resulting book could be welcome help for any parents, whether believers or faith free, who want to share their values and beliefs with their children, if, in the end, they want their children to be prepared, responsible, and free to make their own decisions about faith.
Park’s book begins, “My son was three years old the first time I heard him say ‘God.’ He didn’t get it from me.”
Park describes his panic as he and his wife sat on the couch listening to their son bring up this unwelcome word. “I wanted to grab it out of the air and gently shove it back into his mouth for a few more years.”
A little later, Park overhears his budding evangelist son talking to his one-year old sister, ‘Hey, did you know that God made us?...And when we die, we go back to Him?...Isn’t that so cool?’”
Park describes his reaction: “I lingered by the door a moment, expecting a return of the panic that had visited me on the couch. But it never showed. In its place, a different feeling arose, something vaguely happy, maybe even hopeful. For a moment, I felt his wonder at the idea of a benevolent creator just waiting to welcome us back into His loving, secure embrace. I understood his comfort at the notion of a grand plan for our existence. When you put it that way, it is so cool. I’ve just never believed it.”
His son’s encounter with God sent Park on an odyssey to find the origins and the underpinnings of his own lack of faith. He takes his readers with him to the tiny town of Falcon, near Fayetteville, where his great grandfather, Julius Culbreth, is still honored as one of the founders of the modern Pentecostal Holiness Church; to a serious discussion with his brother, whose teenage conversion to evangelical Christianity led his “faith free” parents to hire a deprogrammer to attempt to reverse the conversion; to participation in a small support and worship group that was part of the ministry of a modern conservative mega-church; and to thoughtful study and reflection about the role religion can play in enriching the lives of so many people.
Nevertheless, Andrew Park remains “faith free.”
But, whatever their religious views, those who read his book and take the journey with him will be challenged to examine their beliefs or lack thereof—and find the renewal that comes from an honest self-appraisal.
Best of all, Park’s openness and humor make this very serious topic a rich reading pleasure.
D.G. Martin will moderate a panel on Western North Carolina’s New Economy on Mar. 29 from 7:15-8:45 at the AdvangeWest Economic Summit at Pack Place in downtown Asheville. Details at www.advantagewest.com, or call Amanda Baranski at 828-687-7234.