Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…
I already knew Bill Pruitt a little bit when I was appointed to Charleston, IL Wesley Church. I knew him mostly by reputation, as a hard-line, hard-edge conservative. I was not looking forward to getting to know him better. Outer edges that are too hard mean nothing new can pass through. But as the senior pastors of the two largest churches of our denomination in the county, it was inevitable that we would have to cross paths often.
Turns out he wasn’t looking forward to having anything to do with me, either, but we became good friends, the kind who share the difficulties of life as well as the necessities of work. He always introduced me as “My friend, John; he’s a liberal,” as though a badge of rebel honor, within his usual circles, to be friends with the likes of me.
“You make me think,” he said. “You don’t let me get away with saying ‘It’s the will of God.’ You ask, ‘Why is it the will of God?’ Evangelicals like me, we rely on emotion. If it feels right, if it must be right. But sometimes you just don’t feel anything. Then you have to rely on the brain God has given you. There is more than one way to get to the truth.”
Bill returned the favor by reminding me that in addition to the rationality of faith that appeals so much to me, faith has an emotional factor, too. Tears and theorems go together in faith, [Autocorrect changed theorems to thermos the first time; that’s sort of an interesting byplay on the relation of rationality and emotion.]
Bill and I were faith friends because we challenged and corrected and complemented each other. It’s a really good friend who will do that for you.
We live now in an era when there is very little rationality. Everything relies on emotion. If this makes me feel good, then it’s okay, even if it’s mean and disrespectful and downright dangerous for someone else.
I have always loved the song by Joe Brooks, “You Light Up My Life.” The lyrics and music work together in such a haunting and hopeful way. But I blanche at one line: “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.”
Bill Pruitt would say: “Of course it can be wrong, regardless of how right it feels. There is a whole lot that feels right but turns out to be totally wrong. There are times you just have to use that brain God has given you…”
I miss the wisdom of my friend Bill; he’s a conservative.
John Robert McFarland