Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Reach Out and Touch Faith


(Conversations with Bob! Two middle-aged preachers wondering what it's all about. My turn!)


Thanks Bob for your last post. I appreciate what you said very much. Communicating is nothing if not a challenge! Words mean so many different things to different people. Faith is a difficult word. We think we know what we mean when we use it, but it has so many nuances. I like the way the Brief Statement of Faith used the word 'trust' rather than 'believe.'

I don't think you misunderstood me. Trust and/or faith is not constant with me. One of my professors at Princeton, Karlfried Froehlich (who studied under Barth) once told the class, to paraphrase from memory:

"Sometimes I awake and I believe strongly and other days I do not."
He was obviously a man of deep faith, it seemed to me. My appreciation of him increased when he said that. It was honest. Faith or trust is not something I can generate from willpower. That is why I find the need for external affirmations. Like Martin Luther would say, "I remember my baptism."

Yet periods of doubt are also gifts in a sense. These periods whether brief or lengthy can be winter experiences. They are, to use the terminology of Matthew Fox, via negativa or letting go. The season in which the spiritual path of letting go is celebrated is winter. It is a time in which nature is readying itself for growth in the spring. We don't see it, but it is active in its dormancy.

Letting go is the time to clean the house of beliefs that may have lost their function to help us grow. As more than one mystic has put it: we need to let go of God to find God (or to allow God to find us).

I grew up in a tradition that did not have room for doubt. Doubt was seen as sinful. The example of the great sinner was Doubting Thomas. If you doubted, you needed to repent and believe more. I no longer see it that way. Thomas is a spiritual hero for me now. Jesus made a special appearance for him. His doubt wasn't the end of the story, of course, but it led him to an experience of the Risen Christ.

I also used to think, in part do the teaching of my tradition, that you got faith at a particular point in your life. At one point you were "not saved" and now "are saved." Then once you "had it" it was yours for your whole life. Folks debated whether or not you could "lose it." I don't worry about that debate anymore. I find now that faith and trust or salvation (wholeness) is a process with many ups, downs, curves, and dead ends.

Johnny Cash said he was a C- Christian. I resonate with that. I am C- at best. I go to the abyss now and then. I see the darkness now and then. I admire folks who have a strong faith and trust and never seem to doubt, but I am not them. I am OK now with my C- grade. It is part of who I am. It is the spiritual DNA that I have been given.

Sometimes I have a Depeche Mode Personal Jesus.
At other times a Marilyn Manson Personal Jesus.
And yes, at times a Johnny Cash Personal Jesus.

Here are the lyrics:

Reach out and touch faith

Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who's there

Feeling unknown
And you're all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I'll make you a believer

Take second best
Put me to the test
Things on your chest
You need to confess
I will deliver
You know I'm a forgiver

Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith

Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who's there

Feeling unknown
And you're all alone
Flesh and bone
By the telephone
Lift up the receiver
I'll make you a believer
I will deliver
You know I'm a forgiver

Reach out and touch faith
Your own personal Jesus
Reach out and touch faith

I question and I wrestle and I challenge and often am not sure of much of anything. Nevertheless, I keep showing up. I think I have grown spiritually, even though I know there is much more growth left.

Blessings,
john
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