Shuck and Jive

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

8 comments:

  1. A movie that spoke to me at a pivotal time in my faith was, oddly enough, "Dogma". Now it does have quite a bit of gratuitous violence, scatological and sexual humor (and Jay & Silent Bob) and is not for everyone. But there's a brilliant exchange (one among many) between the main character, Bethany, and Rufus, the resurrected thirteenth apostle (who thinks he was omitted from the Bible because he's black, played by Chris Rock).

    Rufus: [Jesus] still digs humanity, but it bothers Him to see the $#!% that gets carried out in His name - wars, bigotry, televangelism. But especially the factioning of all the religions. He said humanity took a good idea and, like always, built a belief structure on it.

    Bethany: Having beliefs isn't good?

    Rufus: I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can't generate. Life becomes stagnant.

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  2. Thanks Flycandler,

    I like that last quote from Rufus!

    Did you know that from memory?

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  3. I have to admit I used IMDB, though I always remember "...it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier." Sooooooooo true.

    It also fits into my reading of John 1, using "idea" as a translation of the Greek λογος. Not that Christ changes, but that Christ is alive and dynamic, not static and stubborn.

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  4. "It also fits into my reading of John 1, using "idea" as a translation of the Greek λογος. Not that Christ changes, but that Christ is alive and dynamic, not static and stubborn."

    Thanks so much for both your comments in this thread flycandler. I really resonate with your words. And I now have a new movie to watch as well ;-)

    Godbless

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  5. I never realized that the apostle Thomas was viewed so negatively in the Chritian tradition John.

    I think he has been given a bad rap.

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  6. Rob,

    I don't know about others' experience of Thomas. But he has been dubbed "Doubting Thomas" and that wasn't a compliment!

    Thanks for all your posts!

    And thanks to Flycandler for all your posts, too!

    You two have raised the level of discourse on Shuck and Jive!

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  7. I love the movie, Ron, but again, consider yourself warned. It does have a lot of violence, poop, sex jokes, and drug jokes, in between remarkable dialogue about faith and religion. Stellar performances by Linda Fiorentino, Selma Hayek, Chris Rock, Alan Rickman, Jason Lee, et al. Fabulous cameos by George Carlin, Janeane Garofalo and Alanis Morissette.

    Other favorite lines:

    Serendipity (Hayek): "Leave it to the Catholics to destroy existence."

    Serendipity: "Ever been to a Catholic mass? It's like bad sex-up, down, up, down, kneel, leave. And the whole time you'd rather be watching TV. You people don't celebrate your faith, you mourn it."
    Bethany: "So if we're so wrong, then what's the right religion?"
    Serendipity: "When are you people going to learn? It's not about right or wrong - it's a question of faith. It doesn't matter what you believe in - just that you believe."

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  8. Also, John, Thomas is one of my favorite characters in the Bible (I even said so in a questionnaire on a religious website once).

    Yes, growing up, Thomas was often looked on with, if not scorn, then self-righteous pity. All the other apostles believed, why not Thomas? Why couldn't he just shut up and believe without asking so many questions? We would join the teacher in her haughty chuckle when Jesus gave his famous "gotcha" line ("stick thy finger here").

    It wasn't until years later that I heard a good sermon where the pastor admitted that of all the apostles in that room, he identified best with Thomas. I've thought about it ever since, especially during Lent and Easter.

    He's almost the personification of our own doubts and fears about faith--the "what if I'm wrong" phenomena. He also illustrates an emotion all to familiar to those of us with Scots-Irish or Lutheran roots (lucky me, I have both): the feeling that no silver lining is without its cloud. We think that any good news has to either have some horrific catch or just be plain false. Why shouldn't Thomas have the same reaction to the best Good News of all?

    In line with all the "Dogma" dogma, I also think that the other apostles probably didn't really believe it either, but forced themselves to embrace the idea. The rest is history.

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