Tag Archives: faith

photo: stone shadows (and leaky faith)

“Many people, especially spiritual leaders, try hard not to show any leaks. They talk as if every word they say is dependable and complete. Airtight. And they want you to accept every letter of every word and repeat it after them. Yet the sure sign of spiritual insight is a leaky source…

What we’re looking for is not a system of belief but the leaking out of beliefs — an emptying of self that the New Testament calls kenosis.

I began my spiritual journey knowing everything with certainty. In a Catholic school I was taught the catechism, questions and answers that were simple and pat. As time went on, and as I read spiritual masters from history and around the world, my belief began to leak. At first I was worried. I shouldn’t be leaky. But the hole in my vessel only grew larger. More of my understanding and belief trickled out. My certainty became weaker. For the first time, I developed a capacity for wonder.”         -Thomas Moore

 

kernel

Advertisements

practice what you preach

“Most good things have been said far too often—they just need to be lived.”  –Shane Claiborne

It’s been bugging me for a long time, actually. But it has taken that long for me to give voice to what the ‘it’ is that has actually been nagging at me.

I remember having the conversation out loud for the first time, about ten years ago. I say out loud because it had been rolling around in my head before then.

shoes“What happens next?” I remember asking a friend of mine, in the midst of a conversation. Upon seeing his blank stare at the question I realized a bit more explanation might be helpful.

“I mean, so much of what you hear in sermons is all about what you ought to believe or ought to be doing—but when you get there, then what? It feels as though so much of preaching is about convincing—once I’m convinced, then what?” Still the blank look. Clearly the question had some more percolating to do.

About three years ago I ran into the quote from Shane Claiborne. Most good things have been said far too often—they just need to be lived.  Exactly.

I used to have this problem—I’m getting better at it, though not entirely cured—that I’d go to the library and check out a stack of books. I would be excited at the prospect of reading them. Sometimes I needed a bag to put them in, there were so many. But inevitably, the two weeks or, if I renewed them, the four weeks would come and I would have not even made a dent in the stack.

The same basic premise gets played out in other areas—if I have new running shoes, then I’ll actually start running again. As a teenager very involved in my church’s youth group, I reasoned that if I had a new Bible with cool maps in the back and various study notes, then I’d actually read it regularly.

Around the same time as the ‘what next’ conversation I remember telling my therapist that I thought it would be good for me to run a marathon because I felt as though I lacked self-discipline. She looked at my (then) workaholic, driven, over-achiever-self sitting there on her couch and gave me a blank stare not unlike my friend’s.

What I tried to explain to her was that the thought of setting out upon a goal that could not be accomplished easily or overnight, but had a clear destination and proscribed route to get there, was very compelling to that part of me that continued to ask, “What next?” and “Is there something more?” It was tangible, definable, and required me to act—and not just think—bit by bit, if I were to be actually run all 26.2 miles.

Recently I was on a backpacking trip in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with a friend and a friend of hers. Over the course of the seven days we spent many hours in silence as we hiked over passes and walked through valleys.  One day on the way back from a 14 mile day hike I asked Katy, whom I had just met at the beginning of the trip, about the yoga practice she had made reference to earlier in the week.

“I’ve been practicing now for seven years,” she said. Over the course of the next five miles she shared what her practice meant to her, the basic tenants of practicing yoga, and the fact that she had even moved to a new apartment to be closer to the yoga studio. Though as a schoolteacher she does not have a lot of extra income, she’s been on multiple yoga retreats to continue to refine her practice.

“That’s what’s missing,” I thought to myself. That’s the link between the ‘what next’ and the Shane Claiborne quote, the library books checked out but never read, and the disciplined plan of the marathon—the actual practice of a faith that for me had for most of my life been relegated to the realm of belief. That was what I had been longing for, what I couldn’t find a language to express, but that I sensed I was missing.

But what might that look like? What would an embodied, practiced faith, do differently?

It was not that I thought the Christian church lacked in the area of practices—I remember enough from my Church History courses in seminary to be familiar with the desert fathers or monastics who separated from life in order to devote themselves to the practice of their faith.

But what about now? What about those of us who choose, intentionally, to remain a part of the world around us? What about regular, normal, day-to-day life? What about the time that happens outside of the four walls of the church, that happens in between ‘spiritual retreats’ in the normal messiness of life?

In the midst of this wondering I happened upon a new book, Finding Our Way Again, by pastor and author Brian McLaren. Though I’m an avid reader of McLaren’s work, I had no idea about this book.  The subtitle “the return of the ancient practices” made me realize that perhaps I’m not the only one that’s been asking these type of questions.

In a move reminiscent of the stack of library books and the study Bibles choc-full of colorful maps, I ordered the book on the spot.  I’m hoping that when Amazon.com delivers ‘Finding Our Way Again’ in 5-7 working days that perhaps I’ll find some of the answers I’ve been looking for over the past ten years.  Though, I’m wondering if the answer I’m seeking might just need to be lived.

scaffolding

 

The thing about scaffolding is, it is not meant to be long term.
 
On this particular summer vacation as a teenager with my parents we were doing somewhat of an American history tour. We had been to Washington DC, Monticello, and Mt Vernon, among other places of historic interest. As we traveled it became a joke, for all of the buildings and monuments seemed to be under scaffolding.  Needless to say, the pictures left something to be desired, as the beauty of the buildings themselves was hidden behind the temporary ugliness of the scaffolding which encased them.
 
The other day I was talking with a friend who was telling me about her current crisis in faith, as she put it.  Things just don’t seem to make the easy sense that they once did. And somehow, in the midst of the conversation about faith, we got to talking about scaffolding.
 
As far as I can tell, scaffolding has two main purposes. At first, it exists in order to be able to build something.  I am thinking here about architectural wonders such as the  great cathedrals that were built throughout Europe.  The scaffolding was what allowed the builders of these cathedrals to create these magnificent structures. Without the scaffolding they would have been left with something only as high or as grand as the ordinary human being could reach. With the scaffolding they were able to create something far above and beyond their own limitations.
 
The second purpose of scaffolding was the one I encountered in Washington DC. All those buildings had long ago been built, but were in serious need of repair and refurbishment. So, the scaffolding was put in place so that they might be restored.
 
In neither instance was the scaffolding itself the end result. It was simply a means to an end, a supportive structure that would allow for the creation of something far beyond the scaffolding itself.
 
Back to my friend, the crisis of faith—enter the scaffolding. 
 
What if what we have taken to be faith is actually just the scaffolding?  Sure, it is important. Sure, it has its place. But what if it is really meant to be in service to something much bigger, much grander, much more beautiful?
 
Before you condemn me as a heretic, let me explain.
 
Growing up in the conservative evangelical church I feel as though I was given all the answers, taught how the Bible made sense, learned how to argue my faith, told the difference between right and wrong, and learned that being a Christian meant that you did not do many things that ‘the world’ did do, such as smoke, drink, and have sex before marriage. So, growing up in the church youth group, my faith looked a lot more like a list of things you weren’t supposed to do, than anything life-giving. For my friend, now grown up and married with children, she had experienced the same sort of faith. Faith was that you did do certain things, like go to church each week, try to be nice to people, and live a moral life and also that you did not do certain things, like get angry, lie, or commit adultery.
 
Her crisis of faith came in when she stopped to look around and wonder if that was all there was. Because though the easy answers and clear list of right and wrong had served her well, they had gotten to the point where they were no longer enough. If that was all there was, then really, what was the point? 
 
This, of course, caused her great alarm. Was she turning her back on all that she had believed? Was God not enough for her any more? Had she out grown her faith? She was nervous even to voice these things.
 
But what if the scaffolding of our narrowly defined Christianity was never meant to be the final point? What if this scaffolding of easy answers and lists of right and wrong was necessary for a time, in order for us to build a firm foundation and base, but was never meant to be long-term? What if in rejecting the scaffolding we are actually freeing the beautiful cathedral that longs to be exposed to the light of day and to the gaze of wonder?
 
On a trip to Florence, Italy, I saw some more scaffolding. This time it was on the Duomo, a beautifully ornate domed cathedral in the town center.  More impressive than the cathedral itself though, was the story of its creation.  When work started on the cathedral the technology to build a domed ceiling did not exist. But in what my guidebook described as the hubris of the time, they began construction anyway, figuring that by the time they got to the top they would know how to build the dome.
 
Hubris? Or faith?  For isn’t this what we are called to?
 
We begin with the scaffolding, building the walls, not knowing how it will all work out, but trusting that when we get there, we will know.
This essay was initially published on culture-voice.com

The thing about scaffolding is, it is not meant to be long term.

On this particular summer vacation as a teenager with my parents we were doing somewhat of an American history tour. We had been to Washington DC, Monticello, and Mt Vernon, among other places of historic interest. As we traveled it became a joke, for all of the buildings and monuments seemed to be under scaffolding.  Needless to say, the pictures left something to be desired, as the beauty of the buildings themselves was hidden behind the temporary ugliness of the scaffolding which encased them.

The other day I was talking with a friend who was telling me about her current crisis in faith, as she put it.  Things just don’t seem to make the easy sense that they once did. And somehow, in the midst of the conversation about faith, we got to talking about scaffolding.

As far as I can tell, scaffolding has two main purposes. At first, it exists in order to be able to build something.  I am thinking here about architectural wonders such as the  great cathedrals that were built throughout Europe.  The scaffolding was what allowed the builders of these cathedrals to create these magnificent structures. Without the scaffolding they would have been left with something only as high or as grand as the ordinary human being could reach. With the scaffolding they were able to create something far above and beyond their own limitations.

The second purpose of scaffolding was the one I encountered in Washington DC. All those buildings had long ago been built, but were in serious need of repair and refurbishment. So, the scaffolding was put in place so that they might be restored.

In neither instance was the scaffolding itself the end result. It was simply a means to an end, a supportive structure that would allow for the creation of something far beyond the scaffolding itself.

Back to my friend, the crisis of faith—enter the scaffolding. 

What if what we have taken to be faith is actually just the scaffolding?  Sure, it is important. Sure, it has its place. But what if it is really meant to be in service to something much bigger, much grander, much more beautiful?

Before you condemn me as a heretic, let me explain.

Growing up in the conservative evangelical church I feel as though I was given all the answers, taught how the Bible made sense, learned how to argue my faith, told the difference between right and wrong, and learned that being a Christian meant that you did not do many things that ‘the world’ did do, such as smoke, drink, and have sex before marriage. So, growing up in the church youth group, my faith looked a lot more like a list of things you weren’t supposed to do, than anything life-giving. For my friend, now grown up and married with children, she had experienced the same sort of faith. Faith was that you did do certain things, like go to church each week, try to be nice to people, and live a moral life and also that you did not do certain things, like get angry, lie, or commit adultery.

Her crisis of faith came in when she stopped to look around and wonder if that was all there was. Because though the easy answers and clear list of right and wrong had served her well, they had gotten to the point where they were no longer enough. If that was all there was, then really, what was the point? 

This, of course, caused her great alarm. Was she turning her back on all that she had believed? Was God not enough for her any more? Had she out grown her faith? She was nervous even to voice these things.

But what if the scaffolding of our narrowly defined Christianity was never meant to be the final point? What if this scaffolding of easy answers and lists of right and wrong was necessary for a time, in order for us to build a firm foundation and base, but was never meant to be long-term? What if in rejecting the scaffolding we are actually freeing the beautiful cathedral that longs to be exposed to the light of day and to the gaze of wonder?

On a trip to Florence, Italy, I saw some more scaffolding. This time it was on the Duomo, a beautifully ornate domed cathedral in the town center.  More impressive than the cathedral itself though, was the story of its creation.  When work started on the cathedral the technology to build a domed ceiling did not exist. But in what my guidebook described as the hubris of the time, they began construction anyway, figuring that by the time they got to the top they would know how to build the dome.

Hubris? Or faith?  For isn’t this what we are called to?

We begin with the scaffolding, building the walls, not knowing how it will all work out, but trusting that when we get there, we will know.

This essay was initially published on culture-voice.com

don’t believe in God

belief“Tell me why I should believe in God,” he said to me. It was actually a conversation over facebook chat.

“Tell me why I should believe in God.”

I’ve been a Christian my entire life. I grew up going to church. I’ve been to seminary. I’m trained to be a Presbyterian minister. I read books about God, Jesus, faith—I’ve read and own hundreds of them. Literally. My understanding of who God is and therefore who that tells me I am is probably the most foundational piece of my life. It’s not an insignificant part of who I am.

He knows all that. Which is why it was somewhat surprising to him when my response was “I’m not sure that I want to tell you that you should believe in God…”

I worry because I’m sure there are those for whom my statement will seem the utmost in blasphemy. You are supposed to be fit for ministry and you are not willing or able to tell someone why he should believe in God?!

My hesitancy does make me worry that I’m a heretic. But it’s a risk I’m willing to take. Not because I’m trying to be risky or edgy or cool. Not because I think knowing God is insignificant. In fact, there’s nothing I’d like more than for my friend to be able to know God. I’m just not sure believing in God is the way to get there.

I think the problem, for me, with the idea of believing in God, is that it has gotten so much baggage built up around it over the years. It brings images of the street-corner preacher beating someone into submission. Perhaps it’s unfair to associate believing in God with these negative manifestations of how that has been skewed.

But aside from that, believing in God makes it sound like it is something that I do, that I will into reality, that I make happen. I’m just not so sure that is the case.

So, what would I prefer for my friend? I would prefer that he know God.

In Spanish there are two words for know—conocer and saber. It is saber that one uses when knowing facts, details, or information about something. It is conocer that one uses when knowing a person, when having a relationship, when being familiar with another.

I’m afraid our knowing of God in the church today has focused overly on the saber aspects of knowing God—which are not bad in and of themselves. But this is only knowing about God. I think what we lack is the conocer type of knowing—the knowing God. We are so full of the knowing about that perhaps we think that we do know God.

Perhaps we don’t even realize that there is a difference between knowing about and knowing. But anyone who has been in a dating relationship knows the distinction between gathering facts about the other, versus truly knowing the other as a human being.

Knowing about may be a good beginning, but if the relationship goes on for too long simply at the level of knowing about, it will lack the vulnerability and the intimacy that it needs in order to deepen and blossom. Knowing about leaves us cut off from the deeper connection that we seek.

“Tell me why I should believe in God” elicits images of a list of facts or details or characteristics that would then somehow add up to be enough to overcome doubt and disbelief and tip the scales in the direction of belief. Perhaps that works for some people. It does not work for me.

The thing is, it is much easier to come up with a list of facts to memorize, data to learn, than to begin to explain what it might mean to know God.

It is also easier to know when you’ve accomplished your goal. Did you commit to memory the entire list of data about God? Or, did you recite the formula that will assure you that you have performed the right steps to prove your belief in God? It is like a to-do list that you can check off after having performed the necessary steps.

But to know God, rather than to know about God, is both more complex but also much richer and ultimately more fulfilling.

So, then, how does one not just know about God, but truly learn to know God?

I wish that I could give you ten easy steps. I wish that I could tell my friend what he needs to do to know God. I’m not sure that I can do that. Actually, to be more accurate, I’m not sure that I want to do that.

Perhaps denying the temptation to convince is actually a part of the telling…