Sunday, January 27, 2013

Faith and Certitude

I went to a reading last night, by Kelly Barth, of her hilarious–tragic–inspiring–thought-provoking memoir, My Almost Certainly Real Imaginary Jesus (published by Arktoi press — see my previous review of the book here). As much as I enjoyed reading the book initially, it became more vividly real as I listened to the author read her own words in the sanctuary of a church that had been one of her previous faith communities. At times, it was like being a welcome guest at a family reunion as she laughed with audience members who had shared many of the memories of the birth of this congregation of which they were all an integral part. As she neared the end of the reading, she commented that the book had been a ten-year project, that she had morphed spiritually throughout its writing, with a huge spiritual morph just as she completed the book. But (and I hope I capture the essence of what she said even though I can't quote her precisely) the Christian faith in which she was raised is still deeply rooted in her marrow—she is still "genetically" Christian, even though her current faith practice has evolved into more of a contemporary cosmology.

Earlier this week I spent fifteen wonderful minutes listening to Rev. Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of Kansas City's Methodist Church of the Resurrection, give the sermon at the Inaugural Prayer Service (see it for yourself here). As he reflected on the Inaugural theme—Faith in America's Future—he summarized that "It is this faith that calls and compels us to humility, and compassion and concern for the nobodies. It is this faith that helps us to discover the kinds of visions that are worthy of our great nation and worthy of the sacrifices we can make. It is this faith that sustains us when we feel like giving up."

So, Cindy, this is all well and good, but what is your point exactly in sharing these two experiences? I do have one. Really.

In my previous post I raised some pretty pointed and serious questions by my dear friend, Robert. We have been having dialogues like this since we were in fifth grade, and it is one of the great gifts of my life that we continue to be dear friends and continue to challenge one another to think "deep thoughts." I still don't have answers for him, but I am so very glad that he has challenged me to continue to question "why."

Listening to both Adam and Kelly this week have at least sparked some "reasons"—if not clear cut answers—to some of those questions.

As Kelly pointed out, there is so much about the cosmos that we just don't know. That comforts me. People who combine faith and certitude frighten me. There are many things of which I cannot be certain, but my faith is so deeply intertwined in my DNA, that it does continue to sustain me, even if I can't ever explain why.

Adam retold the story of Martin Luther King in a moment of great despair, ready to give up and feeling wholly unable to continue on. Then King described "experiencing the presence of the Divine," and he found the strength to carry on. I have had similar moments in my own life—weeping in a dark attic apartment in the weeks and months after my youngest sister died, wondering why God sent angels to people in the Bible to comfort them in their despair, while I was left to wallow alone in my grief and depression. Then, like "knocking a hole in the darkness" the phone would ring and an old friend would say, "I just wanted to call and see how you were doing."  

There are many things I don't know. Many questions I can't answer. Many circumstances I can't explain. But I have experienced the presence of something Divine—and continue to—and hear the voice of something much greater than myself in the voice of others. Rejection is just not an option for me. And yes, the Church is full of human people who often get it wrong—really wrong and cause a lot of pain and scars. But with the faith that is an inherent part of me, I am compelled to do what I am able to "knock holes in the darkness" where I may, to wrestle, alongside others, who are brave enough to ask the tough questions, and to show compassion for the nobodies—whoever they might be. 

God help me. 
But if I ever become one of those certain, unquestioning Christians, 
God help me more.

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