Trying to Talk Sense

Trying to Talk Sense June 4, 2018

Editor’s Note: Listen as this former pastor expresses both humor and frustration while trying to get through to people.   Sometimes it’s just not worth it – except for the fun of writing about it later.


By Kenn Nielsen

Albert Einstein is said to have defined stupidity as performing the same experiment over and over and expecting different results.  I am afraid I will have to plead “guilty as charged” in my attempts to use scholarship and reason in my pastoral ministry.

I spent years trying get my congregation to understand that the Theory of Evolution was not the antithesis to faith that they thought it was. The Genesis 1 poem described a gradual process, where what was created on the first three days acted as corresponding homes for what was created in the next three days. The “Science of Ecology” literally meant, “Study of the Home.” Yeah, I know. But it was all the ammo I had in my theological gun at the time.

I was finally ushered into the wisdom of silence when I stumbled into the snare of a Facebook troll, who interrupted a conversation I was having with a friend about GBLT rights, specifically regarding marriage: “It’s against God’s law,” he wrote. I saw an opportunity to enlighten one of god’s wayward sheep.

“I suspect you are referring to Leviticus, which also prohibits tattoos and Ham and Oyster suppers the church uses as a fundraiser,” I declaimed. “The best Jewish scholarship now says that Leviticus was a set of personnel policies for the Levite priests, and not incumbent on the people as a whole.”

“So, we have another preacher who doesn’t believe the word of god,” he shot back.

Now it is true that I did not believe the Bible was the word of god. It has human hands all over it. But I did believe that there were some nuggets here and there in it that could help people make sense out of life’s chaos. There was also some fool’s gold that led to more chaos, and I thought my duty as a minister to set him straight.

 “How does that follow?” I asked.” I spent four rigorous years of study in seminary, spending several thousand dollars for the privilege. I’ve continued that study as my job for twenty-eight years since.”

“Too bad you spent all that time and money to be wrong,” he taunted.

Well, there was nothing left to do but throw in the towel and admit Einstein was right.

“I’d like to match wits with you, but I never fight an unarmed man,” I replied, and signed off.

Luckily, I am married to a delightful woman who has always provided comic relief from such drudgeries of pastoral ministry. She is a computer genius, but sometimes small, everyday details can escape her. The following conversation took place a year before I retired.

“Kenn, how do you spell prescription”?

“Look it up”

I haven’t got time.”

“Oh, all right. P-r-e-s-c-r-I-p-t-I-o-n”



“It doesn’t look right to me.”

Well if you know how to spell it, what did you ask me for?”

“Because you know everything.”

“I do not! I’ve told you, I know a lot about nothing.”

“Every time I type it, I get red-lined by spell check.”

“How did you spell it?”


“Honey, it is not spelled the way a New Yorker pronounces it.”

“I know, but it just doesn’t look right.”

“OK babe, I’m going to have to punt on this one.”

“Can I ask you one more question?”


“Do we want a prescription to the Washington Post?”

Why do I feel like I’m sitting in a Church Council meeting?


Bio: Kenn Nilsen is a retired ELCA Lutheran minister, who came to unfaith by reading the unholy trinity of Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins and witnessing the hypocrisy of the institutional church. He lives in a notch of the Bible belt, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, with his freethinking wife of 38 years, Dee. He currently creates furniture out of lumber he reclaims from decrepit barns and buildings around the Valley. As his picture suggests, he is happiest when canoeing the storied Shenandoah River.

>>>>>>By Ferdinand Schmutzer – archived copy (image), Public Domain,



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  • Jim Jones

    > Well, there was nothing left to do but throw in the towel and admit Einstein was right.

    “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” – Albert Einstein quotes from

    I’ve figured out some of the puzzle of religion but there are still bits that are confusing. Clearly the childish stories and claims are a good fit for the human psyche, and for people who despise thought. They reject other information quite violently.

    “A few minutes thought could solve the problem but a few minutes is a long time and thinking is hard.”

    • Ssw Nilsen

      “Man is the noblest work of God. Who found that out?” Mark Twain

    • ElizabetB.

      Like the computer genius of the OP, this quote “just doesn’t sound like” Einstein to me. Freakonomics cites the Yale Book of Quotations as finding the earliest instance as “Attributed to Albert Einstein in Robert Byrne, … 637 Best Things Anybody Ever Said (1990)” and judges it apocryphal.

      May not be the case here, but the “internets” seem full of manufactured sayings that the originator attaches a famous, respected name to. As an old English major steeped in painstaking sourcing of everything, this sort of drives me batty. But —

      I can’t help noticing the parallel with what probably happened with the gospels : )

  • It is a shame (and has become dangerous in our society) that so many people believe the Bible is God’s word and not simply a collection of ancient writings that were selected by a group of men to promote a particular agenda. Had different books in the collection been vanonized, Christianity would look quite different.

    That Einstein quote is definitely true.

    • Ssw Nilsen

      Scary, isn’t it? To paraphrase Germaine Greer, “if that is god, I am against him.”

      • mason

        I came to that same conclusion many years ago. The Lucifer character of the Bible is quite a decent chap while Jehovah is quite the despicable creature and of course that includes the Jesus guy since “I and the father are one.” John (or whoever) 10:30

  • Mark Rutledge

    I don’t waste my time talking with fundamentalists–my old grand-daddy told me never to get into a pissing match with a skunk.

  • Geoff Benson

    “I’d like to match wits with you, but I never fight an unarmed man,”

    I like this quote. Think I’ll start using it.

  • Brian Curtis

    “The Word of God is whatever I say it is!” –every believer ever–

  • Linda_LaScola

    To Kenn (and others with knowledge of this): I’m surprised that ECLA Lutherans had difficulty accepting evolution. Aren’t they the “liberal” branch of Lutheranism?

    • Ssw Nilsen

      Some are, some ain’t. Two of the predecessor bodies were the American Lutheran Church (ALC) and the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). Lutheranism has always been a case of alphabet soup. The former was rural and conservative, the latter urban and liberal. Both are notoriously ossified in the past.The currents run deep to this day, and cause a few eddies now and again, over issues like Creationism and Gay marriage. Although the “official” stance of the ELCA is pro-Gay Rights and pro-Science, I happened to serve in an area where the folks respond to official pronouncements with a lackadaisical, “Say what you want, it won’t happen here (NIMBY)”

  • mason

    Kenn, So who was the first to end their belief in irrational Christian beliefs, you or your wife?

    and … how many years of your clergy time did you preach while believing the Bible was the word of God, and how many after you no longer believed that?

    Did you ever apologize to the FB concerned faithful troll who was just trying to chastise a wayward shepherd, for your curt acerbic witty exit from the exchange? 🙂

    • Ssw Nilsen

      Actually, my wife still harbors belief, but it is not the type that presses on others. She finds it a comfort. Behavior wise, she’s a humanist, but i don’t think she likes labels, including “Christian”. We amicably agree to disagree about higher ppowers.
      I was trained in seminary to view Jesus as the word of god (ala the gospel of John). The Bible contained the word of god, but it had been messed with by humans, some insightful, some downright crackpots. Somewhere, I’m not sure when, I concluded it was simply the work of humans trying to make sense of life’s chaos, and not succeeding very well. But they had their good moments now and then.
      In Norse mythology, trolls hid under bridges and jumped out to eat people when they tried to cross the span. The only way to stop them was to cut their three heads off. I try not to be quite so violent, so I just cut off the conversation. Mason, you should congratulate me for my self restraint.
      I gave up Facebook for awhile. It’s hard to soar with eagles when you work with turkeys. When I got involved with TCP, I began to fly high again!

      • mason

        Hmm … yeah, I see what ya mean. In the context of your Norseology you are a rather restrained and temperate Viking. Sounds like you and your sweetheart have a good amicable and loving relationship; that’s a real treasure in this life.

        You’ve added a whole lot to TCP and thanks for helping us fly higher!