Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Doubtfully Stumbling Towards a Bumbly Fumbling Something

Maybe it's because I now and again go back and re-read Paul Tillich.  I don't know.  But recently, I was reminded of Tillich's assertion that to integrate doubt into faith is not just necessary.  It's an act of radical existential courage.

"The element of uncertainty in faith cannot be removed, it must be accepted," he wrote, in one of his more lucid, less inaccessibly Germanic moments.  "And the element in faith which accepts this is courage."

This is sort of funny, I think, because just about twice a week, I'll read some earnest Christian or another talking about doubt.  Hoo boy, do we talk about doubt.

"I'm a Christian, but I'm really really awful in thus and such a way," they'll say.  "I try to follow Jesus, but here are five ways I have no clue what I'm doing."  "I wish I could say I truly believed, but in my heart of hearts I'm an aimless, struggling wreck of a human being."  "My church is a total mess, and here's why I can't for a moment believe it has a chance of survival."

On one level, I can appreciate this.  Of course we're all a mess.  It's my general operating assumption about most human beings, one that's empirically borne out in our complete inability to get our [excrement] together as a species.  We're selfish, confused, anxious, angry creatures.  Here, in this no-reason-it-can't-be-utopia horn-of-plenty world, we manage to both inflict hunger and war and interpersonal anguish on one another.

So yeah, I know, I feel you.  I've got my own things I'm working through.  We all do.  Sharing that on occasion is a good thing.  Keeps us real.

But what I hunger to know, honestly, is less about your dysfunction, and more about what's really and genuinely working for you.

Where is your joy?  Where is your lifegiving, hopeful place?  Where does God's Spirit move?  What makes you laugh from the sheer wonder of it?  Where are your creative, powerful moments of life?

Tell me those things.  Share them.  Teach me.  Tell me the good news.

Progressive Christians in particular seem to be remarkably bad at this.  We fret about church, about decline and bad things people have said and done to one another.  We spend our energies deconstructing ecclesiology and tearing down those we see as perpetrating injustices.  Church is terrible!  People are terrible!

We anguish over our personal doubts, dwelling on them, magnifying them to the point where they become the defining feature of our identity.

Is this doubt?  Absosmurfly.  Is this the doubt that manifests as the courage to transform both self and culture?

Is it the doubt that shapes our hope?

I don't quite think so.