Tag Archives: faith

Is Doubt Essential?

Lesley Hazleton

No time for my own post, since it’s my busiest week at work, but I highly recommend this TedTalk, in which Lesley Hazleton says this:

Like fundamentalists of all religious stripes, they have no questions, only answers. They found the perfect antidote to thought and the ideal refuge of the hard demands of real faith. They don’t have to struggle for it like Jacob wrestling through the night with the angel, or like Jesus in his 40 days and nights in the wilderness, or like Muhammad, not only that night on the mountain, but throughout his years as a prophet, with the Koran constantly urging him not to despair, and condemning those who most loudly proclaim that they know everything there is to know and that they and they alone are right.

And yet we, the vast and still far too silent majority, have ceded the public arena to this extremist minority. We’ve allowed Judaism to be claimed by violently messianic West Bank settlers,; Christianity by homophobic hypocrites and misogynistic bigots; Islam by suicide bombers. And we’ve allowed ourselves to be blinded to the fact that no matter whether they claim to be Christians, Jews or Muslims, militant extremists are none of the above. They’re a cult all their own, blood brothers steeped in other people’s blood.

Excellent!  Check it out!   Continue reading Is Doubt Essential?

Have Unspeakable Doubt?

FPC

“I’m not all that sure I believe in the virgin birth.”

“Really,” I said, raising my eyebrows in surprise.  “Why not?”

Not an unusual conversation, certainly.  But close your eyes and picture one of those silhouettes on a news show, speaking in a voice that’s been digitally disguised to protect the identity of the speaker.

“Well,” said the silhouette, “that’s not exactly something you say if you feel called to be God’s minister in the world.”

I smiled a rueful acknowledgment and waited.  I don’t know how many others this minister confided in, but even now, years later, I feel privileged that this person I respect so much was honest enough to admit to questioning the faith we share.  It is one of the dialogues that has shaped my own faith journey.

I thought of this conversation again today when a friend of mine called and asked how I was doing.  She knows that I’ve been wrestling with why God suddenly took a close friend who was making a difference in the world and yet left my mom in a nursing home, trapped and confused inside a body debilitated by two strokes.

Having had the wind knocked out of me by my friend’s death three months ago, I have regained some equilibrium.  For me, it always helps to dump the unanswerable questions on the floor and wade through them with people I trust to understand.  I told my friend that my only certainty sometimes is that the Spirit is in the muck with me.  I study the holy texts of my faith every day, as best I can in my limited understanding.  Ultimately, I’ve decided to leave the details of what happened 2000 years ago and what will happen after I die up to an unfathomable God.  I can’t control either of those things, so I’ve decided that I will live my life as abundantly as I can for as long as I can.

“Funny you should mention control,” my friend responded.  She shared that she heard a sermon at her church recently where the minister explained that we must give up control—and that it’s not in our nature in the modern world to give up control.  She said, “So what am I supposed to do—quit my job and sit on my butt and wait for God to put food on my table?”

I laughed.  We both knew how ridiculous that sounded and that that isn’t what her pastor meant.  And like all human beings, we understand the struggle to find balance in a faith full of contradictions.

She laughed.  “I do struggle with that.  You and I are going to have to sit down over a bottle of wine some time and talk about all the questions.  I just don’t get why things like Sandy Hook happen.  And if God doesn’t answer our prayers to keep that from happening, why do we pray?”

“I know,” I said.  “For me, all I really know is that praying somehow brings me closer to that Spirit that is in us all.  And I know that every single time I’ve cried out, I’ve felt that Presence, and I can’t chalk that up to coincidence.  And when I cry out, I’ve seen the face of God in the people who love and comfort me.”

We both admitted that we pray we are never tested in the way the Sandy Hook parents have been.  It’s hard to breathe when I think about that.  Would I still cling to my faith?  I honestly don’t know, and I pray that I never have to find out.  But I do know with certainty that if the unspeakable happened, I’d see the face of God in people of any faith and no faith who would gather ‘round me and wrap me in their arms, just as they did ten years ago when I had cancer.

Today’s lectionary reading is the passage from the Book of Acts where the apostles choose a replacement for Judas.  And do you know how they do it?  They cast lots.  I’ve read that passage many times, but it is only recently that I really paid attention to that detail.  These men—who have seen Jesus perform miracles, who should understand God better than any of us ever will—ultimately leave the decision up to chance.  I chuckle.  And I suspect I’m not the only one who finds humor in the stories of ordinary human beings in the face of the uncertainty.

I think again of that silhouetted minister, admitting doubts just as Thomas did and spending a lifetime in search of the answers–and along the way, being the face and hands and feet of God in the world in spite of all the personal doubts.

And I wonder what would happen if we allowed our ministers and our leaders and ourselves to voice the unspeakable questions that—if we’re honest—we all ask.

Speak.  Tell me the stories of your own questioning.

Why Do We Believe What We Believe?

This week I received an email from a former colleague who moved out of the country because of her husband’s job. She is missed in our office for her friendliness and her generosity in sharing her chocolate desserts. I can resist the run-of-the-mill donuts and left-over Halloween candy, but this woman’s hazelnut torte was a taste of heaven.

I worked with her for more than a year, and we took a yoga class together—my first venture into yoga. She encouraged me to take the class when I told her that my oncologist had been saying for years that yoga would be good for both my physical health and my ability to deal with stress. Because my colleague always seemed so centered, I took the class and learned from watching her and talking with her about how yoga helped her face life.

She cheered me on when I was accepted into a workshop with the editor ofNarrative Magazine, and she read the first chapters of my memoir and told me to be sure to stay in touch and let her know how my writing was going. So when I emailed her the link to my web site, I was surprised when she responded that she had passed on the link to some of her friends. Why? Because she revealed to me for the first time that she is an atheist—something I know only because she told me.

Her response really made me think. Would I have shared her web site had our positions been reversed? How many Christians do you know who would pass on a link to a site that explores the questions of atheists? And why didn’t I know that she was an atheist? She knew about my faith from my writing, but I had never asked and perhaps she had never felt comfortable sharing her own views.

I also have a family member who is an atheist. He’s a single father—a good father—of two young children. And one of my closest friends has struggled her whole life to decide whether she agrees with her parents, who taught her that no thinking person would ever believe there is a God. She is a teacher who has spent her entire career making a difference in the lives of troubled children other teachers have given up on.

These people have taught me that it takes a great deal of courage to admit to the world that one doesn’t believe in God. No matter how sterling the character of an atheist, most people fear them, disparage them, or try to convert them.

Faith, by its very nature, is a belief not based on concrete proof. And for most of us, faith is a response to what our parents taught us. We accept the beliefs of our parents because we see it in the content of their character and the example they set. We reject the faith of our fathers when we can’t reconcile what they say with the way they live. We live without much thought to faith because our parents didn’t consider it important.

So why should we feel threatened or indignant, why should we think less of a person of character because that person has rejected our belief system? We shouldn’t. I believe in God because there are too many things that have happened in my life that I just can’t chalk up to coincidence, because I have felt a Presence with me in both the joy and the muck, because I’ve seen the face of God in the people who’ve loved me and cared for me. This isn’t concrete proof, but it works for me. I chose Christianity as the lens through which I can best see God first because my parents believed in God—though one of the vengeful sort—but mostly because some of the most significant people in my life have shown me the face of God through their lives.

And while I believe in God in spite of being a victim of child abuse and facing a battle with cancer, I admit that I sometimes look at worse things that others have endured and hope I never have my faith tested in such a way. All of us have doubts about our faith, and I’m guessing that atheists do, too.

One thing is certain, though. In every way that counts, except for our views about the Eternal, my friends who are atheists are no different than I. They are people of character. And in a world where a lack of belief in God isn’t socially acceptable, they are, perhaps most of all, people of courage.

So come now, tell me stories of how your life has been enriched by someone whose faith is only in this life.