I spoke on "Jesus for Skeptics" yesterday at North Avenue Presbyterian in downtown Atlanta, then on Wednesday plan to speak again on the same subject, at Grace United Methodist in North Augusta, South Carolina.
North Avenue Pres lies in the shadow of the Bank of America building, tallest in Georgia at 1000+ feet, or would be if Joshua got the sun to budge a bit. It's also between Georgia Tech and Emory universities, and generally speaking, right smack in the middle of everything.
After the morning service and before the meeting, I strolled north to Georgia Tech. Downtown Atlanta is built on a long ridge, which probably made the city a little easier to defend when Sherman's army was camped about there Georgia Tech now lies, outside 4 mile long walls thrown up in defense. The football stadium, where Tech (says a sign) won four national championships, is surprisingly small, wedged liked a Roman coliseum between North Avenue and other parts of the campus.
Back to church, and then another foray into Atlanta perpendicular to the last, along Peachtree Street. (No actual peach trees were in evidence, however.) Three quarters of a mile up the road, among the skyscrapers, and across a sidestreet from the Federal Reserve Bank, stands a stately home, later subdivided into apartments, in one of which (number 1) Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind. Now I understand what "wind" she was talking about -- up on the ridge, in winter, you do get exposed to the breeze, even with all the tall buildings. In between two of them I found a frozen pool of water -- it's been cold at night.
But of course Gone With the Wind is really about nostalgia, about the fact that life never stays still, and that was, never comes again. This is poignantly clear from the modern vista of downtown Atlanta itself. The city appears to be doing well (although the Bank of America building is two thirds empty and getting emptier, they say): clean new condos, people going to shows and restaurants and strolling the streets. But very little of the old Atlanta even of Margaret Mitchell's day, still less before General Sherman came to town, remains in sight, and of course all the people who built up the Old South, and their culture, their arts, their hobbies, are all largely gone, almost as completely as the Indian nations that they, in their turn, mostly displaced.
After meeting Ben Devan, who is completing his dissertation on the New Atheism at Emory for lunch yesterday (he started it at Harvard), I had a walk around the campus. Beautiful rock, the marble surface of the buildings in the quad. It's a slightly hilly campus, which means the prospects tend to take one by surprise, with odd angles. Emory was founded by the Methodists, and Ben is in fact developing a Wesleyan approach to the New Atheism.
We started at 4 in the afternoon, with a relatively small, but very engaged, audience. One person asked about Freud's thoughts about religion. Others, who were working with Chinese intellectuals at local campuses -- some 50 had come to Christ! -- were consequently interested in what I said about China.
North Avenue Presbyterian Church is a very interesting congregation. About the same size as my parent's home church of Westside in Seattle, it is a racially and socially diverse congregation, with whites, blacks, and Chinese in particular. Like Westside, North Avenue is evangelical and also thoughtful in its approach to life and ministry. A privilege to be invited to share.
I also look forward to visiting Grace UMC in North Augusta, day after tomorrow. But now, I think I'll head north myself, and see if I can find the Appalachian Trail before it gets dark.