Saturday, December 12, 2015

This Crazy Thing Called Faith

What do you have faith in? Anything? Nothing? The usual?

Are faith and belief the same thing?

I have been reading some stuff on faith, and more importantly (at least to me) doubt. How do they fit, relate, contradict each other?

Faith is a journey for sure. Anyone who claims it for an end is selling themselves and God short. Oh sure, the evangelicals of the rightie-tightie persuasion will affirm in loud and clear voice that they have no doubt. The louder and more vociferously they announce it signifies but the true terror they live in that they won't be believed. Think, thou protest too much.

We believe in God. We have faith that God is worthy of that belief. Blasphemy? No, just honesty. The fundamentalist is incapable of such honesty, because fear rules them so fiercely. Fear that if they allow one smidgen of doubt to be recognized, God will surely abandon them. Such a God they create.

To believe means to choose to accept certain propositions and doctrines. It doesn't mean that you don't question them, incessantly in some cases, but question them we do and must. For we are thinking beings, thinking about another thinking being. We are the creation of that being, and we long to understand.

The Church, by long and troubled contemplation announces the doctrines and creeds that it concludes reflect true belief. That of course doesn't mean they actually know true belief at all, but they have a worthy history that allows them to claim some superiority, since no one can match the amount of time it has spent on such issues.

Still, the Holy Spirit blows as it will.

We are urged as Catholics certainly, that nothing should supplant our earnest, well-thought out, well-prayed through conclusions. Yet, we are then assured that in most cases at least, the Church should be respected and looked to as more likely to have found truth than the average person's paltry attempts. All Christians should at least agree that constant attention to the big questions are in order. We cannot and should not give over this responsibility to any institution, no matter how benevolent it appears.

In the end, faith is personal, dependent upon the developed relationship between Creator and creation. The Church offers it's expertise and experience, but the walk is ours.

Faith is lively when it is full of questions and in tension at all times. We wish a God who "knows" the outcome of life, yet we cling to our need to be free to make choices ourselves. We want the assurance and safety of a universe all wrapped up and tied with a bow, yet we rebel at any notion that the game is "rigged and fixed."

We are growing with God. Perhaps God is also growing, learning, and adjusting. We certainly are, or should be. When we spake as a child, our notions were childish. As we grow into our personal and collective adulthood, we should begin speaking as an adult, and our thinking should grow up as well.

In any case, what once concerned us is solved, and then a bit further along, something else concerns us, and we struggle once again to bring into agreement new insights and new conflicts. We reread scripture, looking for clues for our new questions and perhaps some old bugaboos.

We let it be when we are fragile and weak, we push on boldly, sure that both God and we can take it, when we are strong. We live in grace, offered, rejected, ignored, toyed with, fondled, left until tomorrow. We are after all human.

I struggle with many issues. I find myself in extreme disagreement with my Church on many issues. That leads to a "go it alone" attitude. Yet Church is also community, a concept reflected countless times within sacred writings, as well as in the Trinity itself. We don't do faith rightly it seems alone. We cannot nod and smile as we sleep in on Sunday, assuring ourselves that we are "spiritual" not religious.

Religion is getting a very bad rap these days. Everywhere you look, the extremists within faith traditions use this powerful tool to entrap followers into their rigid thinking, "doing it for God" so we claim, all the while we seek our own ends, be they belonging, power, money, or misguided assurances of ultimate truth and finality. So many need to KNOW, to be certain.

The need for this certainty leads to the  radicalizing of  sacred books into manuals for extending one's beliefs to encompass all comers, willing or otherwise. It leads to fundamentalism and its inherent limitations. One must reject any possibility of doubt, for doubt means failure. Doubt is no faith. So they say.

But of course this is not true. It is just convenient. It serves to prevent the exodus of disaffected believers or to their maturing, if lucky. It keeps them docile, malleable, lead able. We need to grow if we are to do more than give glib responses to creedal demands.

Walter Brueggemann, OT scholar extraordinaire, writes that the OT suggests a God in conversation with His creation. God asks questions. Humans lament, argue, deny, refuse, bargain, accept grudgingly. Look at the prophets and what they endured. How they begged to be released from the calling. Jesus cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" It is our nature, and perhaps God's as well.

I am in deep contemplation of many things again. I am returning to "churchy" things, if not permanently, then for as long as it seems good and valuable to me. Last week, we returned in liturgy to the opening chapters of Genesis. God, enters the garden and cannot locate his creation. He calls out "Where are you?"

That question hit me between the eyes, for it spoke to exactly where I am today. I am trying to figure out where I am in this world of faith, with all its troubling aspects. Some move to agnosticism--whatever God is or isn't is beyond me! or worse, atheism--"I'm taking the easy way out. If I can't prove God, than I'm going to forget it as impossible and not worth the time." Some struggle with the question, until some satisfaction is reached. Before a new question arises.

This is the way of faith. The right way of faith I would contend. I may be no nearer the resolution of anything, yet I feel the better for the trying. I feel clearer in my mind why I do or don't do, think or don't think, say or don't say things. It settles things for a time, even though I know the time will be limited.

God, to me at least, will always be such. Fascinating yet just out of reach. I will never draw a picture of God that is true or satisfactory. I will only in the end fashion? or uncover some notion of God that works for me at that time and place. That is all that is necessary. To know that this God is adjustable, to meet my needs, as I struggle to understand. is enough. That truth is enough today.

This journey is done in fits and starts. Highs and lows distribute themselves along a continuum of feeling presence to utter absence. I'm somewhere along that line at every moment. I feel okay with being in many places along it at any given time, and then wildly at odds with where I am, and ready t move.

I like thinking that God learns things. I love it that God doesn't pretend to know everything. I am okay if God can't fix everything, or maybe even nothing. Sometimes at least. God remains the moving target that I can barely get sighted in on before He surprises me once again.

I keep my bags packed. God tends to want to travel at a moment's notice. It's best to be ready.


  1. I came across your blog because of my googling existentialism and ennui. There's no returning to spirituality for me as the very idea of metaphysical yearnings are heresy of the natural world, IMO.

    My life began religious/spiritual and became disbelieving through gradual reasoning. What profiteth it a man if he believes in a Figure with no physical connection to this world and with only claims and possibly emotions to support its existence in a post-death world which again only lives on in claims and emotions of its purporters? To feel at peace despite the overwhelming evidence of non-existence post death and non-power of any god?

    Perhaps what should connect us is our humanity rather than our emotion derived faith. Do you find community in church? Or do you find a feeling of rightness?

    1. Each path is one's own. Owning that path seems to me the important thing. Ignorance or being unaware of the journey is the sad result for many. I say that to mean, that I judge not the journey of another (except when they insist on intervening in my life unasked), and if made with awareness, then it is where you are supposed to be I trust. I know many like you, some of them highly educated in faith matters. For some, like yourself, if I read you properly, it is a matter of "why bother with a god so disinterested that in years of trying I have nothing to hang my hat on that He listens, let alone helps me in some way."

      You suggest that faith motivates our emotions which would be better handled by recognition of our emotional connection to each other. I see one as fostering the other actually, and that God is that proposition--i.e., the go-between in our attempts to see ourselves as part of a greater humanity. Of course, when we do that, see ourselves as part of the greater, we are, IMO doing as God would have us do.

      I do think that religion fosters community, and that community is both essential and meaningful, for it represents our meagre attempts at the trinity, while at the same time, gives us the experience we need of sharing our emotional lives as members of a believing community. That community is composed of members at far different places along a spectrum. By our community we give them support for their journey, acceptance of their doubts, encouragement of their successful actions.

      For me, as well, the physical building provides support as well. I "feel" something in some churches that I do not in others. Some pastors leave me cold, while others excite me. At times, I can lose myself in the stained glass, other times, the people around me fill some void at some given time. It varies...

    2. I am warmed and enlightened by your response.


Speak your piece, but nicely