A rundown of the post-election mess through the lens of teenagers. I (Stuart) attended a recent denominational youth conference with my daughter and experienced a race-related mess that could have been averted. Will Christians ever learn how to do the right thing instead of covering their own asses? Probably not. We’ve also got the second part of the Unchurching interview with the great Richard Jacobson. Join us for the talk about balancing faith in the face of institutional trappings. There’s always hope, but, that’s usually on the path least taken.
If you want to make something like cookies or pancakes, there are always essential ingredients that you’ll find common between most recipes. Eggs, flour, and oil are among those that you’ll find over and again. When it comes to believing in something greater… I assume we’d get a wild spectrum of answers of the essential elements depending on your religious upbringing or current indoctrination.
I stumbled upon this piece of paper (pictured above) a few weeks ago on the floor at church. I can only assume it’s from a child, but I found it absolutely fascinating, beautiful… and genuine.
There were three key ingredients at play here: honesty, faith and Doubt all mixed together. I believe that these ingredients are absolutely essential for one’s spiritual journey.
I was raised Southern Baptist and in that vein of Christianity, “knowing” was always paramount… but not in the spiritual sense. It was more about intellectualism. You have to know all the right facts and those facts would bring you closer to God. Doubt had no place because the belief was all about possessing information much like you do when preparing for a test. You study hard and hopefully get a good grade.
But in faith there are no grades, right? The Southern Baptists would agree with that statement in theory, but in practice, that’s another story. When it comes to grading, one quick way to lose points is being too honest and/or doubting. Let me exactly qualify what I mean by grading. There’s no overt scale at play, but there is a significant amount of judgment happening by the other church members and clergy. You’re judged on what you say, how you look, what you do and what you think. You need to look and act like the rest of the herd in order to be accepted. It’s more of a social construct than a religious practice. Over my career, I’ve worked for a spectrum of Christian brands: Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist and non-denominational. These rules apply to all of them.
Now, let’s return to the picture. I think there’s a reason that Jesus mentioned the faith of a child in Matthew 18, and he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Children are filled with wonder, but they are also filled with questions. Incessant questions. As a father, I’ve experienced this wide-eyed curiosity firsthand. Initially, it annoyed me. They saw me as the answering machine. Over time, it changed. I’ve learned to love their questions. Actually, their questions have changed and stretched me.
To proceed in this conversation, let us add a few clarifying definitions to this conversation. I’ll inject some varied voices into this as they may help to define these terms.
Honesty by Ayn Rand
“As the refusal to fake reality, honesty consists in a deliberate, principled renunciation of any evasion, distortion, misrepresentation, or artifice. In essence, honesty means not pretending.”
Faith by Pete Rollins
“The word “faith” is a much-misunderstood term. In contemporary discourse, it often means the act of believing in something that lacks empirical evidence, something that one affirms through intuition, the interpretation of a particular personal experience or the interpretation of a publicly observable phenomenon. However the term, in its more theological sense, has much more in common with a particular way of living.”
Doubt by Lesley Hazleton
“Consider that doubt… is the heart of the matter. Abolish all doubt, and what’s left is not faith, but absolute, heartless conviction. You’re certain that you possess the Truth — inevitably offered with an implied uppercase T — and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness, by which I mean a demonstrative, overweening pride in being so very right, in short, the arrogance of fundamentalism.”
To cultivate any healthy, spiritual community, we have to realize that doubt and honesty are just as essential as faith. If you eliminate one, the rest fall by the wayside. To embrace this idea takes courage and risk, which is why it rarely happens. Belief in anything always brings with it risk and the unknown. Think about love, for instance, there is no guarantee. But the reason we risk things for love is that the rewards, the upside, is worth it. When you love others and take on faith that they love you… it takes courage.
When it comes to the church, risk left through the back door long ago. Then soon after that, courage joined up with it in the parking lot. Christianity without risk and courage isn’t a movement anymore… it becomes an institution. Jesus didn’t come to set up institutions, they were one of the reasons he railed against the establishment. Institutions survive by keeping themselves afloat. Their existence becomes all about themselves and people become secondary. Now, again they may argue that fact in theory, but their practice says otherwise.
Why does this matter? Well, it’s everything. If the foundation from which you operate is fundamentally flawed, then the outcome won’t be what you want. With each passing year, the institution looks and acts less and less like the one who started the movement. The question to ask here is, does the church today look like Jesus?
But all is not lost. It doesn’t take much to right the ship and I’d wager to say that embracing a mixture of honesty, faith, and doubt is the key.
The first step is allowing doubt to breathe. It’s essential in this journey forward. Antionette du Liger de la Garde Deshoulieres once said, “seeking to know is only too often learning to doubt.” The fear is that doubt leads to more doubt, but in truth, if you pair doubt with belief and honesty, beautiful things can happen. Sure it’s a risk, but nothing great is ever accomplished without risk. It also takes courage that God is at work in the lives of others which is one of the basic beliefs of Christianity.
Looking back at that picture I found, I want there to be a place where that child can grow on their spiritual journey while expressing their doubts and questions in a safe environment. For the church to look more like Jesus, we must realize that belief needs to have a mixture of honesty, faith and doubt cultivated with one another in a loving community. That’s how we transition from an institution back to a movement. It’s how we return the beauty and mystery to Christianity.