Monday, October 26, 2009

Keeping the Faith

A simplified chart of historical developments ...Image via Wikipedia
For me, faith is more about a journey than it is a static thing or even a destination.  Life has to be lived forward but seems to make sense best when looking backwards.  Yesterday at church we sang "Amazing Grace".  I've always loved this song. I've probably sung it several dozen times over the decades.  But, almost every time I sing it it takes on new and deeper meaning for me.  Yesterday, these  lines struck me differently yesterday than they ever had before causing me to ponder where I am on my faith journey, what has stayed the same and what has changed.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.


Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

I don't know so much about it being Grace that taught my heart to fear.  Maybe that was a necessary part of the journey and it was because of Grace that I had all of that fear.  I was certainly full of fear at one time.  Fear put into me by religion.  Fear of an angry god who created me with the desire to torture me eternally.  Fear of not being good enough.  I always "believed".   At first I believed exactly what I was taught.  From the time I could talk or understand human speech, I "believed".  But, for me yesterday, when I heard "the hour I first believed", it was the hour when I was around 40 when I finally really "believed" in the nature of G-d, the inescapable love of God to steal a phrase from Thomas Talbott.  Not until I truly understood what Grace is were my fears relieved.  The dangers, toils and snares were the dangers toils and snares set before me by religion; the impossible task of living up to a code they told me I could never live up to.   And the task of loving a god who created the vast majority of humanity for the ultimate purpose of tormenting them for his "glory".  I knew I could never love that god no matter how hard I tried and since He could read my heart, I just knew that even though I "believed", I really was damned.

The past few days I've been having a conversation with my friend Kansas Bob and my friend Mike.  We like to think each of our stories, our paths is completely unique and, in some ways they are.  But, what I find really interesting is how much alike so many of our paths are.  I think everything Bob believes today I believed at one time.  I'm guessing everything I believe today, Mike probably believed at one time. But, today our beliefs are very different.  Bob is a Christian who takes the Bible much more literally than I do and as a result has a pretty different set of beliefs.   I look at Bob and see where I once was. Mike was a pretty fundamentalist Christian.  But, Mike is now an atheist.  I look at Mike and see where I sometimes think (fear?) I might be headed.  Most of my universalist friends have left the IC (institutional church) and wonder why I bother going Sunday after Sunday.  Not only going to church but going to a struggling church and serving on the (voluntary) staff of the church.  Sometimes I find myself wondering the same thing.  Yesterday, during the talk back time at church, someone pointed out that she learned that we can be in church with people who don't share the same beliefs and that is OK.  I said that, for me, what binds us together is not our beliefs but our values. What makes us "one" is our desire to see justice done in the world, our respect for every single human being on the planet because each human being is made in the "image of God" (or put in less Christianese terms each human being has a spirit that is of equal worth).  Interestingly, when I brought up that I think it's our values that bind us together rather than our beliefs, our pastor said that he finds that "thought terrifying" (I'm pretty sure that's the word he used).  I sat to wait to see how he would explain that.  What I think I heard him say was that, as a progressive pastor, he finds it difficult to put together a sermon that speaks to our common values and our common belief in a still speaking God while remaining true to the traditions and the "faith".  I guess as a professional clergy man that's really important to him.  To me, not so much.

For me, it's just the opposite that terrifies me.  When people are bound primarily by beliefs, what happens when those beliefs change?  What happens when a historical, archeological or scientific discovery changes what we know about something?  What happens when beliefs change, and beliefs are the only things binding people together, are excommunications,  people being labeled heretics, denominational splits, crucifixions and wars.  What brings Mike, Bob and I together is not our beliefs.  What brings me together with the people of Nexus is not our beliefs.   Our theological beliefs are very different.  What I've observed is as long as we are discussing values like justice, compassion,  human dignity and unconditional love, we're OK.  When we're talking about acting out of those values, we're OK.  But, when we start talking about beliefs, we begin to get divided.  Over the last few days, as Bob and I have been wrestling over the hypothetical eternal fate of Satan and his demons, Mike pointed out (rightfully so and probably with his eyes rolling back in his head), that it's just easier to not believe in Satan (and God) than to try to figure out what we believe will happen to a being that Bob definitely believes exists, I think almost certainly doesn't exist and Mike doesn't believe exists.  Really, the more I discuss this kind of stuff with Christians, the more I think about chucking the whole Christianity thing in. 

I said earlier that I look at Mike (my atheist friend) and wonder if that where I might be headed.  I think not though.  While I certainly don't believe many of the things I once did, I cannot see ever actually chucking the whole thing in.  To me, it's abundantly clear there is a "G-d", there is something from whence we all came and something that ties us all together. There is something to which we will all return.  That I know as much as I know anything.  I don't think there a binary reward system set up so that when we die we go to either eternal bliss or eternal torture.  But, I do think that what we do here matters and I want to share that with people who believe the same thing.  I don't care what they think about the Trinity, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or the Immaculate Conception.

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11 comments:

Don said...

Brian- We have so many of the same feelings and beliefs. Perhaps one must go to the edge of atheism (or perhaps into Atheism) to find that we really do "believe" in Source. I have felt that way exactly. I challenge you to read Spong's latest (and maybe his last) book, "Eternal Life: A New Vision", Chap. 9 and 10 will separate the "believers" from the "non-believers". I saw the video you posted some time ago and it confirmed to me that this man is way ahead of his time and possibly has more to say to Christianity and to its followers (from within) than any other writer,speaker.

Don said...

I went back and read your post again and fully agree that you are on a continuing journey with no resting place. One thing you said particularly struck me. Not sure how you intended it, but it was this:

" To me, it's abundantly clear there is a "G-d", there is something from whence we all came and something that ties us all together. There is something to which we will all return."

Is this not the perfect definition of "separation theology"? That we came from over there where HE is and someday, we will return to that place, where HE is. Again, I'm not sure that's how you meant it, it's just how it came across to me.

Like you, me and the "Gita", I want you to get Spong's book and tell me how you read ch.9 & 10! Blessings brother!

brian said...

Don,

I have read a couple of books by Spong. Based on your recommendation, I will add this one to my list. It'll be a couple of months before I get to it though.

I'm inclined to believe that we did come from "there" and will return to "there". But, I also believe any separation is more an illusion than reality. We certainly experience the world as individuals. But, I get the feeling that, in a very real way, we are all "one".

Peace,
Brian

Joe said...

We are not "one" seeking justice for all. You and I and many others want us to be "one" but I do not believe Man will ever achieve it.

okiedragon said...

Religion is evolving - most don't practice human sacrifice today but it was common as dirt 6 centuries ago. At one time the Christians were compelled to invade the Holy Land and kill Jews and Muslims in search of the Golden Chalice. 60 yrs ago a nation tried to destroy the Jews - now the Jews seem bent on destroying Palestinians and vice versa - yet they live side by side here in the USA with much less drama.

It seems normal to have your religion evolve - mine evolved into Atheism for a period of time - 5 years - it cleansed out the OT God of war and the NT God of hell's destruction. Now I beleive in God without the aid of the Bible, Bhagavad Gita, or the Koran. God is one with all humans - we are one race despite the wonderful variation of color and culture. But we still have those who must have their demons to blame their ills on instead of accepting that most of our problems are made by our own choices. And there are those who give God the glory of having created a hell so they can believe that justice is served - these are nothing but beliefs - not reality, not God, not where we are headed as a single race of human beings.

Eventually human hatred will rid itself of itself. More will realize that God isn't some big sky daddy who killed anyone in a flood or created a hell - a creator of the entire universe and beyond, a being that doesn't resemble us puny humans at all. We have come a ways - not a long ways - barely out of apedom we are but God's watching and we are evolving - individually, in small groups and in larger crowds. Joe, if you can - all of mankind can - seriously - and right now I think we humans are just almost backing up from where we should be headed - politically, economically, etc - we seem to have taken steps way backwards - but seems that there is always dips along this path of this planet.

brian said...

Joe,

You're right. In some ways we are very split. But, I believe that, underneath, there is something that ties us all together. Some of us just don't realize it (yet).

Alex said...

My partner has an auto immune disorder, which basically means her body has turned against itself. That doesn't mean she is not one, that one is just dysfunctional and therefore unhealthy. I am a christian that no longer really identifies as a theist nor athiest. right now I feel that god describes that which is greater than the sum of the parts of the whole of reality... something/one really inconceivable, but I value the traditions of christianity as they point to a reconciliation of people/creation (like a healing) and redemption (people can change and community can be established) therefore when discussing beliefs I try to abide in the resonation that the stories create and listen truthfully even as another may try to speak literally (assuming of course that there are ultimately shared values).

annie said...

good thoughts brian. although i was raised a universalist and never believed in 'hell', my belief was yet rooted in the traditional christian religion. now, rather than relying on what the bible says ABOUT God, i have come to place the entirety of my faith in what i have come to believe of the Divine Nature. God is Love, God is Light, and in him is no darkeness at all.

UncleJesse said...

Brian,
I wish a simple song could bring me back. I'm on the verge of agnosticism, and my wife isn't happy with me. How can a relationship work when one is grounded in tradition and stability and the other is always searching?
Jesse

brian said...

Uncle Jesse,

Wow. That's a tough situation. But, I can tell you my wife's faith and mine are definitely not the same. The important thing, I think is how committed you are to each other and to other human beings, not what you "believe". I don't try to talk my wife out of what she believes and she doesn't try to convince me to believe what I no longer believe.

I think the whole idea of faith has been really messed up by modern people. I'm actually working on a blog post about that very thing that I hope to have completed soon.

The problem my wife and I still face is what do we do with this thing called "church". But, the fact that we might believe different things is something neither of us intends to let come between us.

UncleJesse said...

Thanks Brian,
I just want her to be happy. It's hard for me to fake our prayer times, bible studies, quiet times, and all the other church things.
Looking forward to your new blog post.
Jesse