Faithful Doubt

Most of my life I seem to have gathered a salon of friends teetering on the narrow straights between faith and doubt.  Many could easily second the sentiments of a friend who recently told me he has spent the last year desperately hungering for God, only to conclude that it’s hard to have a relationship with a friend who doesn’t talk back.  This is troubling. 

 

Almost equally troubling is the tactlessness with which the “faithful” reply.  I’m keeping a list of all the pithy and pointless, utterly inane and useless pieties that I hear spat back at doubters.  It’s not that the comments don’t come from a helpful place, a good place, but rather that they all tend to discount the sacredness of the nebulous space that faithful doubters find ourselves in. 

 

But the Dark Night of the Soul, the cry of “My God, why have you forsaken me?” has a rich history, to say the least.  The founder of the faiths final words are ones of questions…not of certitude… Many of the Christian mystics, who affirm God’s intimate presence, have pointed to these intense moments of question and absence as the very crucible of God’s faithfulness.  It is no surprise those times of deep suffering and love cause growth.  However what is surprising is the feeling of helplessness and often silent hopelessness that goes with it.  Still, there is a vast array of experience and theology along the lines of what the orthodox call, kenosis—or emptying.  Make no mistake; this is exactly what doubt feels like—emptiness. That is the word one hears most often listening to faithful doubters… “I feel empty”.   

 

It is here that the mystical tradition can offer us some help…They would offer that this sense of emptiness, this feeling of forsakenness, comes from a place of union with God.  As Pascal hinted at, the void we feel is simply the evidence of object that was once (and shall be again) there. The absence is a sign of the presence. 

 

This is sort of like when I would visit Jessie as we were long distance dating. The weekend was wonderful, but the week after was simply hell—it was even worse than if we hadn’t seen each other.  In that case the feeling of absence and of longing was evidence for the having been present. And it was the drive to once again be with her.  This tense place, of having not yet fully realized intimacy, is actually one of the most exciting (though frustrating) relational places we can be.

 

I guess what I’m saying is something that I deeply believe…those places…those areas of intense longing, and unfulfilled or perhaps even disappointed silences are far closer to the divine presence than we imagine.  They are the space of faithful doubt—where we long to touch his hands, his side, and there…there in that place we do…

 

I’m not saying one should, or does, exist there forever…but the lover who knows this place for a time is more inclined to cling to the arms of the beloved all the tighter in the journey ahead.

 

Real Rude

A young disciple was once very rude to a traffic policeman as he drove his Master home one night.  In self-defense he said, “I’d rather be myself and let people know exactly how I feel.  Etiqutte and politeness is nothing but a lot of hot air!”

“True enough,” said the Master pleasantly, “but that’s what we have in our automobile tires and see how it eases the bumps.”

I’ve always thought that the phrasing, “get real” is rather idealistic.  I mean, which reality?  There are so many at any given moment.  “Be yourself!” is another one of those hype-idealized demands.  What does that mean?  Which me? The color you bring out of me, or my wife, or as I sit in silence, or as I scream and fill the air with noise?  The myself of yesterday, of 20 minutes ago, of the future? Which one?

And so in the end, maybe “being real” is simply being faithful–not to your positive or negative feelings of past or future, but to the person you are invited to be, the person you are being changed into, the person who is the Beloved of God. 

So yes…by all means…let’s be Real.

Meditation of My Honda Element

There’s something incredibly self satisfying about plowing through 6 inches of snow with my Honda Element. This beast is an all-terrain-juggernaut. It was built for carving through ice, bull dozing across African tundra’s, or jettisoning up Andes-like-cliffs.  This is justice.  My boots gush snow all over the rubber(ish) interior, but I’m not disturbed.  You can’t get this thing dirty. I’ll just hose it out later.  It’s interior designers crafted it to withstand the dust of Saharan storms or Amazonian mud trenches.  This is righteousness.  My machine is finally fulfilling its rugged purpose as all 7 cup holders carefully contain steaming Starbucks coffee’s.  

I know what you’re thinking.  “A HONDA ELEMENT?!” Yeah.  A frieking Honda Element.  It is Sparticus. It is Hannibal in the Alps.  That’s why I bought it.  I saw the commercial with snowboarders hi-fiving and saying words like “bro” and “rad” while all ten of them packed into the Faux-Steel silver milk carton with wheels.  I’m one of the ones who get it.  These machines weren’t made for alloy rims or sub-woofers blaring gansta gansta. They are for reconnecting to the soil.  Believe it.In my world of manucured sculptured lawns and garden gnomes, I’m ready for the abominable snow man. That’s what this about baby. It’s about my pup-tent Jimmy rigged between a lone pine-tree and the gaping cavern of my hatch-back trunk space. It’s about looking down at my hairy chest and NOT feeling any particular need to have it waxed.  

And so…once every 6 years or so (providing that a new commercial doesn’t convince me that my next car needs to have long distance flying capabilities) I will connect my image bearing beast of burden with its original purpose as I carve through fresh snow for 1.3 miles to get groceries from Safeway to last until the “Arctic Blast” melts tomorrow.  This is furious love.

…So God offers you a Gift…

Imagine that God speaks to you—we’re not talking about general revelation here, this is specific divine interruption.  He lets you know that he desires to give you a Gift, but because of “free will” it will need to be one of your own choosing.  Having said that you’re given two options:

 

1.) You can spend the rest of your life being absolutely certain about God, there will be no questions of faith or doubt. There will be an abiding sense of God’s presence and smile in all your ways…but everyone you meet will instantly begin to doubt the certainty of their own faith. They may or may not ever recover from that crisis.

OR

 

2). through you many of the wrongs in the world will be righted, justice and mercy and grace will be exhibited, the blind will see, the deaf will hear and the lame will walk…but you will cease to believe in God at all. You will even forget this conservation between yourself and the Most High…it will have been all in your imagination.

 

Which do you choose and why?

Taking the Leap

Simone de Beauvoire, the famous French existentialist, described a series of human reactions to “the anguish of freedom”.  What she means is that when faced by a panorama of choice, overwhelming option, humans have a tendency towards certain actions, because this is a very confusing place to be.  Without getting into detail she isolates five reactive categories:

1).  The Sub-Human–imagine a guy who pokes his head out the door one morning, sees his car, the bus driving down the road, a sidewalk for walking, and a bicycle laying in the grass.  This creates a set of options for transport.  But what’s he do?  He is so confused as to the correct or best decision that he closes the door and goes and lays on the couch, cracks open a cold one and turns on the TV.  He avoids choice.  The reason why she called this person “a little less than human” is because they are denying the most basic of human activities…choosing…the will to power.  By denying this trait and living in fear, they are escaping freedom and living in slavery.

2).  The True believer (my wording)–Faced with the paradox of decision and plethora of realities, this person throws away their freedom by essentially asking someone else (someone in authority usually) to make the decision for them.  This person asks God or political leaders or religious guru’s to choose.  “Tell me what to believe” they scream.  Rather than question through the endless minutia of this or that, they bypass it all and have another dictate.  Often, she suggests, the true believer is benign, but at worst becomes a fanatic or a fundamentalist…think The Inquisition or Nazi Germany. 

3).  The Niehlist–The end road of a true believer can often lead to dissapointment.  The authority let them down. The politician didn’t keep their promise.  The preacher was unfaithful.  And so anger, frustration, and crushing sadness results.  Where do they end up?  Back on the couch channel surfing.  But not out of apathy…rather, out of dissapointment.  They have ceased to believe because they believed so strongly.  You can always tell a Niehlist because they are in constant deconstruction.  They are the perpetual cynic, always critisizing everything but never spelling out an alternative.  Sadly, this stage forgets that reality is defined not by negative reaction but by positive momentum.  In other words…it’s easy to be against something…difficult to be truly for something.  Enter…

4). The adventurer–Realizing that all is meaningless, they grow tired of staying at home on a Friday night and instead invest themselves in (knowingly) meaningless activities or actions that feel good.  Their own personal pleasure or good will is of maximum importance.  The downfall of this stage is that this person ultimately becomes a slave to their own positive experience and they enslave others to accomplish their wishes.  (Pizarro and his conquest/massacre of South American’s etc…)

5).  Finally…The Passionate person–for me, I mesh this with Kierkegaard’s own belief in passion and the leap of faith.  It is the final stage of maturation in relating to the anguish of freedom.  This is a person who has wrestled with the complexity of the world.  They have understood rightly that there are NO inherent values around them…that nothing comes as prepacked answers.  They know, through hard fought experience, that all things are in many ways different but equal.  However…however…they choose a course.  They choose a path. They invest themselves, head first into one of the channels or opportunities in front of them, saying “I may be wrong…I might have this all amuddle…but THIS I believe with my life!  I will live into this reality!”  She says, in a beautiful turn of the pen, “at this final place of true freedom we arrive, where I concern others and I have concern for them as well”.  In other words this place of complete clear headedness committed to also assisting others to live in a clear headed way as well, no longer enslaved to the anguish of freedom.

For me, that final stage is the life of faith in our post modern culture.  As I look at the world today, and have been for the last 6 months, things have become incredibly grey. I have passed through each of the middle three points of progress.  From True believer, asking another man or set of men to dictate belief, to Niehlist, dissapointed in the institutions I had created and I had been given, to Adventurer caught in a reckless pursuit of my own priviledge.  And now, I stand on the edge of a great precipace.  Behind, the shadow lands of muddled thought and minimal action.  Ahead, the kingdom, God’s good dream rolling from the mountain tops that surround our valleys and even now which is beginning to encompass our cities, towns, neighborhoods, and families. 

Knowing, that we are easily as wrong as we may be right…not having to convince another person in the known universe…but finally at ease with the relationship I’ve been brought into. A Way of Peace and of Community and of Justice and of Compassion.  Life pursuing radical discipleship in the way of Jesus in submission to His words and actions, the best articulation of humanities collective and enduring theme: Divine Spirit inhabiting Human form.  This is hardly about a new narrative of beliefs, but actually a way of living an integrated spirituality.  Spirit as my relationship with everything around me. 

The Spirit is moving…she is stirring…and  we feel this in our lives, we KNOW that something (and maybe EVERYTHING) must change. Nothing can remain the same…and yet I alone am different, and I’m alright with that.

I’m taking the leap…I’m living into the Light I see.

Forgiveness

There’s too many books on this subject.  Too many Christian and otherwise religioussy books how to apologize, how to accept the apology, how then to cast the offense in the sea of forgetfulness (as god has done), and then how to never go fishing again.

Apostolic fathers start getting cited: “I consider it rubbish, forgetting the things behind”

So, the MO becomes “Get over it!” or “Deal with it!”  Honestly, neither of those makes much sense to me anymore.  They both represent a suburban understanding of “wrong”.  In the insulated environment where gossip represents a grievous offense and a sprained ankle or even the misfortune of cancer is seen as evil incarnate, there’s honestly little reason to believe in real good or real evil, real right or real wrong.  When the culture of our gospel is that of imperial security, it makes complete sense to strike the “antiquated” words good and evil, right and wrong, from our vocabulary.  Because of this understanding of evil, we can rightly tell people to “forgive and forget”—imagine holding on to the “offense” of someone’s tonal inflection, or being consumed by angst over being interrupted in conversation.  If these are the worst of our wrongdoings then we need to cease conceiving of evil at all…those things aren’t evil…they’re annoying…

But, for one horrific minute imagine a world outside of Suburbans, Hummers, sprinkler systems, bourgeoisie concerned armchair activists (by the way, that’s what I am), and then acknowledge genocide, holocaust, infants with aids mercifully aborted or cruelly incarcerated within death camp orphanages in which there is no hope for adoption, only a prolonged death, poverty, depraved hunger, child prostitution for the sake of survival…then…then say there is no wrong…then say there is no evil…  In that reality, and perhaps in that reality alone, one may truly begin to acknowledge the terror of the self perpetuating Fall of creation and the need for a Curing redeemer.  There, in those dank places, we begin to consider the greater implications of a caring creator, a savior king, and miraculous healing.  It is precisely in the violent face of real evil that good is challenged to truly embrace what it means to forgive….forgiveness, of which it’s said, “there is no greater miracle”.

Forget?  No, true forgiveness cannot, should not, forget the appalling injustice of what has occurred.  However, through the Divine intervention of resurrection Life the depravity of the Cross is able to be seen through new eyes.  It has been revealed in a new light.  The one who experiences the resurrection of forgiveness sees their memories transformed into new constructs, revealing grace and the power of God to transform us.  “In forgiveness the past is not forgotten, but it is remembered differently, recalled differently.  Nothing in the past has changed, but it seems like a different past; the situation has lost its burdensome weight.  The act of forgiveness changes the whole trajectory of a persons life and invites radical hope, faith, and love.”  (Rollins, The Fidelity of Betrayal). This resurrection from the death of wrong doing now can no longer condemn the injustice that has brought it such newness of day.  Instead, it can only embrace it. 

How I need this resurrection of memory, where all is the same, and yet everything has changed.  

What might the prophetic look like today?

Have you been left desolate suburbs and city streets?

Have you been withered away and wrenched apart great arctic glacial flow?

Do you fail to gather grain?

Do your crops of corn and wheat and hops cease to grow?

Where are your customers you tower’s of economy and produce, McDonald’s and Starbuck’s?

Where are the sounds of laughter or children running on the playground?

The streets are crawling with disease

The houses are caving in while the naked shiver inside

Does the sun scorch the forests and set them endlessly on fire?

Does the rain ever let up or the floods leave any dry earth?

What of the cars that once gathered supply?

They, abandoned, bring together no more.

What of the planes that littered the sky?

They, like birds of prey, are now extinct. 

How?

Why? Why do the nations rage and war for water as for oil before it? Why do kings and presidents and chairmen tremble for fear—like rat’s scurrying about looking for scraps of bread or a pinch of meat? 

How?

Why? Why do mothers abandon their children as they are born so that an early death will save them from a long life?  Why do father’s venture out of their walled stockade homes and not return? Why do young men—even young men—lose hope?

“I gave you empty stomachs in all of your cities

and lack of nutrition or any bread

And yet you did not turn back to me!”

                                    Says the sovereign Lord.

“I sent plagues among you, like Egypt, I killed your young men with the sword. I struck your victory gardens and private vineyards. I withheld rain in one place and sent to much to another. People staggered from town to town for water and did not receive a drink…still you have not returned to me.”

                                    Says the sovereign Lord.

“What have we done?”  the people ask, the religious beg to know their grievance. “Didn’t we seek you daily? Didn’t we memorize your words? Didn’t we study about your truths? Didn’t we worship you endlessly? Didn’t we gather at the right times? Didn’t we celebrate your Holy Day’s? Weren’t we passionate about you? Was there ever a time that we didn’t speak your name? Haven’t you been our all and our everything? Isn’t it true that we’ve accepted all this from your hand? Didn’t we sacrifice our lives for each other? Didn’t we love our fellow believers enough?  Haven’t our songs been filled with limitless praise and our gestures been full of abandonment to you? What about our adoration, doesn’t it mean anything to you?”

 

                                    Says the sovereign Lord,

“I hate—I despised your religious get togethers…I cannot stand your meetings…Even though you have brought me the offerings of your labors and the deep worship of your heart…I will not accept them…I have no regard for them. Take away the noise of your songs! I will not listen to your guitars or your piano’s or your drums.   You have lifted up the Messenger and forgotten His message.  You have adored Me but not what I adore. 

“Let justice roll on like a river and righteousness like a never failing stream!”

That’s your only way out. 

In that day I will restore your fallen cities. I will repair your broken walls and restore the ruins of your houses and will rebuild it as it was intended to be used…

is this the fast?

…getting noticed…

and that is what most of this is about…

we speak and long to be heard.

we act and need to be noticed.

we think and need to be thought well of.

by each other. by god. by anyone who will comment on the blog. by our friends. by our neighbors. and this is the heart of witnessing. “maybe someone will notice”…

what would it be like to go unnoticed?

what would it be like to go unheard, unthought of, unspoken about?

and in a world where i do all i can to build the number of people who read this blog…where i tweak it to make it visually, ascetically pleasing to your critical eye…where i write inspirational words and think motivational thoughts…where even when i’m being desperately honest, i’m so conscious that you…you…you are listening and watching my honesty…am i doing any of this for god? or for me?

“pride covers me like a disease, i’m surrounded god and i’m longing to be weak, U burn me deeper than i know…and my heart burns for you…and my heart burns for U…”

my people are busy at worshiping me, they love making new discoveries about me…as if they were a people who DID justice…they ask of Me “what’s the right thing to do?” and love having me on their side. but then they complain, “why do we fast, why do we worship God and U don’t look our way? why do we humble ourselves and U don’t notice?”

Well…here’s why:

Your bottom line is your own gain…it’s profit..

Your exploit the people who work for you, driving them to the lowest possible wage and not leaving enough for them and their families to eat off of.

You fast, but at the same time…you bicker and fight.

Do U think the worship I want is a day of humility? To put on a serious face and take yourself so seriously? Do you call that fasting?

This is the kind of day I’m after:

break the chains of injustice, labor to get rid of exploitation on the job altogether, free those who are oppressed, cancel people’s debts. I’m interested in seeing you share your bountiful food (you know…the food that you eat so much of that you complain how stuffed you are from and how you can’t eat another bite, all the while others starve from lack) with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your own homes, putting clothes around the shivering ill-clad and being available to your own families (rather than going off on your exclusive spiritual retreats away from your household duties)…

DO THIS AND THE LIGHTS WILL TURN ON and your lives will turn around at once. You righteousness will pave your own way. The God of glory will secure your passage. then when you pray God will answer: You’ll cll out for help and I’ll say: “here am I”…

(there’s more…)

If you get rid of your upper hand seeking unfair practices

quit blaming victims,

quit gossiping about other people’s sins,

if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down and out,

Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness and your shadowy lives will be bathed in sunlight.

Then, I will always show you where to go…I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places…

I’m not going to say “God help us” or “wow, what a calling”…that’s still hanging out in the talk of the temple courtyards, in the chatter of the self protective insulated religious circles…it gives me time to keep it all hidden and not have to actually live into any of this…

This is God. This is where He’s going. This is where I’m going to…this is another Life…

Sodomy Anyone?

Then God said to Abraham “The cries of the victims in Sodom are deafening, the sin of those cities is immense. I’m going down to see for myself, to see if what they’re doing is as bad as it sounds…” Genesis 18:17-21

The cries of the victims…it reminds me of another crying out that happened that YHWH heard, “the cries of the oppressed who were enslaved in Egypt”…which He had compassion on…and through great and terrible signs brought them out of…God hears the cries of the victims and he reacts in compassion and judgment…but what, praytell, are those cries about? What are they doing that is so bad? Now…before you go THERE to the obvious response…try this one on…

The sin of Sodom was this: She lived with her daughters in the lap of luxury–proud, gluttonous, and lazy. They ignored the oppressed and the poor. They put on airs…”

Or another translation says

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and underconcerned.  They did not help the poor and needy.-Ezekiel 16:49

Woe.  Literally woe is me.

As long as I’ve read the Bible I’ve always understood that the sin of Sodom, the sin that prophets pronounce warnings to avoid, that Jesus talks about, that Revelation re-hashes, was something that I never had to worry about…something I never had to consciously avoid…I’ve been able to be detached from the indictment of their wickedness…”Not me…I’m not guilty of THEIR sin”…

But wait… Ezekiel says “THE sin”…not: “one of the contributing factors”…not: “a possible reason”…but under the inspiration of God, he lets us in on the directors cut version of why God judged them, on what exactly the cries were, and who the victims and the victimizers were…

Overfed…and underconcerned…ouch.

I’m guilty of Sodomy.

Lord…will you spare us if there are fifty innocent…if there are forty five…if there are twenty…if there are just ten innocent…would you spare us?

They ignored the oppressed and the poor…

but God, a just God–a righteous God–did not…he heard the cry of the victims…

Sadly, then and now, none of us are innocent and all of us are the victims.

Theology-a practical discussion on God

I ran across this quote while reading Leonardo Boff, the famous liberation theologian.  I love what it has to say about both the definition of theology (which has come to mean “meaningless argument between educated white alfa-males” to many wonderful Christians) and the aim or purpose of theology:

Theology, as the word suggests, is a discussion about God and all things as seen in the light of God. *It constitutes a singularity in our species that, in some moment during millions of years of evolution, the consciousness of God appeared. With this word, “God,” is expressed a supreme value, a final sentiment of the universe and life and an original Source from which all other beings came.

This God inhabits the universe and accompanies human beings. The sacred texts of religions and spiritual traditions testify to the permanent action of God in the world. He always acts in favor of life, defending the weak, offering forgiveness to the fallen and promising eternal life in communion with Him.

It belongs to the faith of Christians to affirm that God approximated Himself to human existence and made Himself man in Jesus of Nazareth. In this the promise of blessed union with Him is anticipated and will be the destination of all the beings of the entire creation.

Among the many functions of theology today two are most urgent: *how theology collaborates in the liberation of the oppressed, who are today’s “crucified Christs,” and how theology helps to preserve the memory of God so that we do not lose the sentiment and sacredness of human life which is threatened by a culture of superficiality, consumption and entertainment.* We should always unite faith with justice, where a perspective of liberation is born, keeping the flame of our sacred lamp burning so that it can feed the hope for a better future for the Earth and all humanity. ” Leonardo Boff

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