I’m reading the book, Wicked, by Gregory Maguire. It is the fascinating revisionist novel about the Land of Oz and the lives of the infamous Wicked Witches of Oz before Dorothy landed. Unlike L. Frank Baum’s circa 1900 writings and the 1939 classic film we all know and are terrified by as children, Wicked is not directed at children and is shocking in language and content. Still, I have found it rivetting.
It is a story (thus far atleast, I’m only halfway through) of the nature of evil and is chock full of religious, political, and social/cultural commentary and how each of these areas of life relate with one another.
In reading, Elphaba (the future Wicked Witch of the West and daughter of a Unionist Minister) makes this statement.
“My father taught me a lot”, said Elphaba slowly, “He was very well-educated indeed. He taught me to read and write and think and more. But not enough. I just think, like our teachers here, that if ministers are effective, they’re good at asking questions to get you to think. I don’t think they’re supposed to have the answers. Not necessarily.” (Wicked, 79)
Elphaba (yes, she is, even as a young student at Shiz University, green) is on to something here. She rejects her father’s ideology, but appreciates that he taught her to think for herself and not just to regurgitate accepted belief.
One of the more frustrating times in ministry is when, in conversation, or bible study, or other interaction, people expect me to simply give them the answers to certain questions and topics. When this happens I often want to laugh at the assumption that I somehow have the answer. But, often my reaction is much more somber as I consider the person who would rather be spoon-fed ready made answers rather than think, consider, and work out for questions and answers for oneself.
Jesus certainly never spoon-fed or even force-fed answers to people. If anything, he was overly intent on providing evasive answers to questions that led the listener to more questions rather than pat answers.
We are called to love our God with our mind as well as our soul and heart and strength. Faith is lived in tension. Rarely are issues simply yes/no or black/white. Just look at the proliferation of denominations for proof of that.
We in the church (and maybe in our schools and in our world in general) need to learn and teach how to think. How to ask questions. How to deal with opposing truths which are both true and yet live in tension with one another.
In my opinion, the job of a minister is not to claim to have all the answers and certainly not to attempt to give easy answers to questions that are posed.,
The job of a minister (I include all of you in this category by the way) is to help ask questions, help guide discussion, and make room for freedom within the context of congregational relationships to question, discuss, and search for truth and answers.
Let us dare to have the courage for the Holy Spirit to move in our discussions, through our questions to lead us whereever God wills. Let us dare to teach each other to think. Let us dare resist the temptation to answer every question.