Introduction to A Voluptuous God: A Christian Heretic Speaks by Robert V. Thompson

My father, who is a World War II veteran, often tells us stories about the war. We’ve heard many of them so many times that we could provide the punch lines. Recently, however, he surprised us with a new story. He told us about a time when he and his buddy were lying in a foxhole and began taking fire. They were both pinned to the ground by incoming bullets whizzing overhead. My father looked over and saw his buddy lying there, shaking uncontrollably.

“Hey, Joe!” my father shouted, “Are you all right?”

Teeth chattering, Joe yelled back, “I’m scared to death.”

A few days later, my father and Joe were walking through a shoulder-high trench. Their assignment was to look for enemy soldiers in the trench and take them captive if possible. If capturing them alive was not possible, they were to kill them. Joe and my father walked gingerly through the trench, rifles pointing ahead, ready to fire.

They soon spotted a lone German soldier crouched in a crevice in the mud. He was trembling so violently he could scarcely hold himself together. Joe and my father motioned to him to stand up. When the soldier realized they weren’t going to shoot him, his countenance immediately changed. He stopped shaking. The German soldier went through a transfiguration.
During the telling of this story, my Dad’s eyes got bigger, his mannerisms became more animated, and the tone of his voice altered. “It was amazing. I can see the change in that soldier’s countenance to this very day,” he said.

We all sat silently in the living room for a little while before I asked, “Dad, what did you experience when you looked into that soldier’s eyes?”

My father was surprised by the question. He paused and thought a moment. Then he looked up and said, “Compassion. Yes, I felt enormous compassion for that German soldier.”

A Voluptuous God: A Christian Heretic Speaks reaches out to the place from where the heart is beckoning as we search for universal truth. It wrestles with what it means to be a spiritual being on a human journey. It offers questions and asks the reader to respond by exploring the innermost recesses of the heart, where we belong to God and each other. It is while wrestling with the questions that God is revealed as the mystery that defines and redefines life.

A Voluptuous God shares the message that spiritual truth is something we discover within ourselves as we experience life. It is our connection to life.

This book celebrates the rich Christian tradition of free thinkers and seekers whose voices have often been stifled by those in positions of authority, or muffled by the dominant religious ethos of the culture.

A member of my congregation, who has had several harrowing life experiences, likes to say that religion is for those who want to go to heaven, whereas spirituality is for those who have been to hell. I think she is distinguishing between religion of the head and religion of the heart.

Religion of the head involves thinking about life’s questions in order to come up with answers. Religion of the heart is about seeing our innate and unalterable connection to all others as both the question and the answer. The heart is a compass that points to specific experiences that carry universal meaning, beyond doctrinal formula.

Heretics are people who deviate from the norm. The word heretic comes from the Greek word haireses, meaning “to choose.” Heretics choose a path that differs from the norm. Jesus was a Jewish heretic, and Christianity began as a Jewish heresy.

There is a story in the gospels of some teachers of orthodoxy who confronted Jesus, saying, “We understand your disciples are picking grain and that you are healing people on the Sabbath, our holy day of rest. Don’t you know that’s against the beliefs and rules of our religion?”

Jesus replied, “People were not made to serve the Sabbath; the Sabbath was made to serve people.”
This was heresy.

To be a soldier and to feel compassion for the enemy in time of war is an example of what a heretic does. Soldiers are trained in military dogma, but the heart cannot be trained, only opened. My father received a flash of spiritual insight in that trench in Germany. No one could tell him what to believe, what to feel, what to think. The feeling of compassion just overwhelmed him. When he saw that trembling enemy soldier, no verse of scripture came to him, no Christian doctrine filled his head. He found himself caught up in a moment that transcended religion, culture, and political ideology. The heart took over and became the arbiter of his experience. He was living through his heart during that moment in the trenches.

Religious orthodoxy is the inevitable result of thinking exclusively from the head. The heart is always a heretic, however, and its natural inclination is to upend the status quo. The heart sees the human race as one, regardless of belief, doctrine, religion, class, or sexual orientation. Distinctions of “us-versus-them” dissolve when we see each other through the heart. Heretics know that the mystery of life cannot be shrink wrapped, the beauty of life cannot be limited to canvas, and that the quest for meaning requires taking risks and making sacrifices. This is why heretics refuse to allow those in authority to speak for them.

The heart is a heretic because it seeks unity of spirit, not uniformity of thinking. To listen to the heart is an act of conscience; to open to it is an act of courage. To take whole-hearted action in our daily lives means we have the power to transform not only ourselves but also the world we live in. Inevitably, heretics are people who think through the heart.

While rooted in the Christian tradition, A Voluptuous God affirms that truth is found in other religious and spiritual traditions, as well as in the secular expressions of human experience. This is why I have included references and stories from a variety of religious and spiritual traditions. There is one truth and its manifestations are multiple.

I invite you to join me on this journey of discovery. I hope this book will open you to your questions. And I hope that your questions will spring out your own experiences, and lead you to new and deeper places of connection.

In this regard, I believe the poet Ranier Maria Rilke is right. When we love the questions, in some inexplicable way we live ourselves into answers we never could have imagined.

This excerpt is from A Voluptuous God: A Christian Heretic Speaks, published in September 2007 by CopperHouse, an imprint of Wood Lake Publishing, Inc. You may pre-order the book today:
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ISBN: 978-1-55145-558-7
ISBN10: 1-55145-558-7