What if God granted the media an interview?
There is a cult of celebrity in Western culture. It even thrives among journalists, where bagging the “big story” often means getting an interview with a famous person who has a reputation for never giving them. Former Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Jim Klobuchar spent years interviewing interesting people, both famous and invisible. While he never got face time with a president or a pope, he got to thinking a few years ago: What if I could get sixty minutes with the Big Guy! What would that be like?
The result was a “conversation” with the Almighty which Klobuchar “reported” in the pages of a book entitled Sixty Minutes With God. (See a review, below.) According to the current member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis, the conversation with God was inspired by a conversation with a fellow Lutheran. “I found myself having breakfast with Gloria Benson of St. Peter, Minnesota, on the Greek island of Santorini,” he said. “She and I were exploring some really deep religious questions and, at one point, she suggested I might want to have a similar chat with God. That helped inspire me to imagine such a conversation and, as a result, to write the book.”
For Klobuchar, deep theological questions have been his diet for decades. He admits his struggle with alcoholism, an addiction he has now gotten under control, helped shape his quest for truth. “I was a one-time Roman Catholic layman when, as a columnist for the Star Tribune, I first encountered a very interesting, out-of-the-box Lutheran pastor in Edina. I found out he was planning a tailgate party in the church parking lot on Superbowl Sunday. I thought that was worth a story.”
The interview that followed led to a personal friendship with the Rev. Bud Dixen, who knew alcoholism from personal experience. That, in turn, led to Klobuchar’s joining Edina Community Lutheran Church (ECLC) and forming a fast friendship with Dixen. (Years later, endorsing Sixty Minutes with God, Dixen wrote, “Jim Klobuchar scooped the rest of us. He got the mother of all interviews that so many of us wanted to do.”)
Said Klobuchar, “ECLC was part of my recovery (from alcoholism). I found that Lutheranism offered me a refreshing possibility to ask hard questions about faith and belief without apologizing for asking them. I’m very comfortable in Lutheranism. It’s interesting — and encouraging — for me to hear a conscientious Lutheran pastor grapple with real [faith] questions in the midst of a sermon.”
Klobuchar has spent years asking the big questions. “I found myself asking, ‘What do I believe — and how much do I believe?’ I’m an explorer and a discoverer. To find answers to my questions, I began buying books about God and theology — dozens of them.”
Putting questions directly to God in an interview was a natural outgrowth of the curiosity Klobuchar had honed during his years as a reporter. “I come at religion as an investigative reporter. The idea of sitting down with God interested me as a journalist. ‘Go to the source,’ they always say. I had questions piling up from all that reading I’d been doing. I wanted to know whether God was merciful or vengeful. (The Bible suggests some of both.) I had real problems with evil and natural catastrophes. Did God really want people dying in tsunamis and volcanic eruptions? Imagining an interview with God forced me to think through some things and sharpen my conclusions.”
He admitted the process of finding answers to life’s enduring questions is a work in process for him. “I start with the premise that we are no accident. I have to believe there is a God. But a lot of the answers religion often feels comfortable with sometimes make me uncomfortable.
“For example, as I suggested in my ‘interview’ with God, I think the idea of God’s divine intervention in human affairs is overrated. But as soon as I say that, I have to deal with what goes on when people pray. Does intercessory prayer actually change outcomes? You can explain a miraculous healing by saying prayer did it. But what do you say when the person you prayed for dies? I don’t dismiss prayer, but it may do more to change us for good than change God’s behavior. I know that I feel better when I pray. Maybe the benefit is that I’ve humbled myself.”
Questions about the efficacy of prayer lead, inevitably, to questions about God’s will. “I don’t know God’s will,” Klobuchar says. In his “interview” with God, he continually came up against this reality. God didn’t tip his hand much with the journalist, warning that, if he did, it might put all the theologians out of business.
He also faced up to the Lutheran paradox that Scripture announces salvation through radical grace but also warns of eternal punishment. “It troubled me. If God loves everyone, how can we imagine God will damn some people to hell? We may have to brace ourselves for the very real possibility that we’ll discover, when we get to heaven, that Hitler could be there.”
None of this is to suggest that the only journalist in history to succeed in getting an interview with God is turning cynical. Klobuchar is an active layman in his congregation. He continues to experience the powerful presence of God in unexpected ways. “It’s a powerful experience for me when I get the opportunity to assist in the distribution of Holy Communion to worshippers on a Sunday morning. It’s times like that when I know, without a doubt, that God is real, and making a difference in people’s lives.”
Jawing With the Almighty
Sixty Minutes with God: A Visualization by Jim Klobuchar. 2003. Paperback. 135 pages. $12. Kirk House Publishers, Minneapolis. www.kirkhouse.com.
Faithful readers of the Minneapolis Star Tribune came to know Jim Klobuchar intimately through the first-person interviews he conducted. Over several decades he wrote a steady stream of human interest, slice-of-life stories about real people. His following was immense.
In his later years Klobuchar, a seasoned interviewer, has decided to “go for the gold.” He arranged an interview with God (who shows up as a male for the conversation in this small book, although not quite as a “father figure.”) The one-time newspaper journalist peppers the Almighty with questions for a solid hour. The answers that come back sound essentially like what we imagine Klobuchar thinks God might say.
This is no standard brand deity. Klobuchar’s God doesn’t sound like a preacher, a potentate, or even someone’s Dad. He does more listening than talking and evidently taught Socrates everything he knows, because he uses the Athenian philosopher’s method for getting the author to think and rethink.
Any of us could write a book like this. Each of us would likely “create God in our own image” as we imagine what God might say to us. Klobuchar’s version is fanciful but, in significant ways, believable.
The publisher misspelled Mormon (as “Morman”) twice in headings, although the author has it right in his text. The bookbinding broke as this reviewer reached page 88. Those are small items, but annoying ones.
This little book could be a good discussion-starter for adult study groups.
— Michael L. Sherer