What Passes for Faith

NOTE: I’m on vacation this week in North Carolina, so I haven’t been writing a ton, but I stumbled across this short thought on faith, and thought I’d pass it on. As usual: enjoy, comment, and share. 

 

Let’s face it: if you want to fake something, “faith” is a pretty tempting place to start.

Faith: it can’t be seen, and currently the very concept is so confused and diluted that it’s pretty easy to just throw out an idea or two and slap a title on it that says, “faith,” and you’re in business.

(Maybe I’m doing that now?)

In my context, “faith” can easily be confused with:

  • going to the “cool church
  • signing on to the correct political agenda
  • seeking tight and easy answers to issues, ideas and concepts that are more easily represented by mystery and unknowing

Too often, faith actually seems like a journey or quest into certainty and control, rather than what it seems to be in the Bible…

… which is actually a journey into uncertainty towards a release of control.

It’s even more ironic when you consider that perhaps two of the most destructive drives—all the way back to Genesis 1—in our human nature are the drive to *control* and the drive to be certain, to “know“.

What’s more, sometimes I think that our faith leaders in the West are complicit in this confusion. We sell certainty and control through a variety of different mechanisms. Let’s face it: it’s easy to do, and it keeps people satisfied.

But I suspect some of us (clergy included) suspect, even hope that there’s something more hiding on the other side of all this apparent concreteness.

And, again, we need it. We need something more than this false security. Look around at our culture: we are still dominated by agendas that lack compassion, that seek domination, power and control, that are still primarily concerned with “yes but what do I get out of it? How do I protect my Kingdom?”

I think the message we hear from Jesus in the Bible takes issue with this perspective, and I wonder (a) if “Jesus people” even want what He wants (and let’s face it, Jesus wants a lot); and (b) if we church leaders are willing to go the extra mile to point people towards this deeper way of living.

I’m not excluding myself from this conversation: I know how hard it is to offer up everything to Jesus, and I confess that sometimes I also balk at this offer to surrender my selfish desires. And I also know that sometimes this Gospel doesn’t always sound like—on the surface at least—”good news” to the West, a culture that is build on more and more and more and radical individualistic freedom.

“This may cost you everything you think you need” is a difficult sell.

“The reward waiting for you after you have freed yourself from your desires is unbelievable, but unfortunately largely unseen” isn’t much easier.

And that’s what faith is.

For me, from what I’ve seen and heard and discovered in the few truly “holy” people I’ve encountered in my life, what passes for faith is a gentle detachment and acceptance of life on life’s terms, and an unencumbered dive into the mystery of life, and God.

It’s beautiful to behold, and I’d like to experience more of it in my life.

 

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Moses and Me.

What does God owe us?

Do you ever think about the way Moses’ story ends? There’s something about it that connects with me on an almost unconscious level, probably due to my attraction to bittersweet, melancholy stories…

Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, as the LORD had commanded him. Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. He said to them, “Listen you rebels! Should we produce water from the rock for you?” Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice. Out flooded water so that the community and their animals could drink.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you didn’t trust me to show my holiness before the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land that I am giving them.” (Numbers 20:9-12 CEB)

“The LORD was angry with me because of your deeds and swore that I couldn’t cross the Jordan River or enter the wonderful land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. I will die here in this land. I won’t cross the Jordan River. But you will, and you will take possession of that wonderful land.” (Deuteronomy 4:21-22)

To summarize:

  • God appears to man (Moses) in a burning bush and says, “I want to release my people from slavery, you go do it.
  • Man resists.
  • God insists.
  • Man resists, but hesitantly begins, and courageously speaks “truth to power”.
  • God acts.
  • Man watches miracles happen, culminating with the freeing of Israel.
  • Man faithfully leads nation through the wilderness, interceding for them, judging their disputes, and keeping their complaining in line.
  • Man makes mistake, and God tells him he will not enter the promise land.

For me, I don’t focus on the mistake/punishment part of it; that just doesn’t seem to be part of the equation. What does fascinate me is Moses’ faithfulness to the vision, and then the (apparent) acceptance of the fact that he will not be a part of its completion.

I wonder how easy it was for Moses to release that dream. 

I think a lot of us confuse what God has promised to us with what God has promised.

We like to add pronouns—“I”, “me”, “mine”—then we get very attached to them.

We build whole theologies that say, “God will promise me amazing things.

But even at the beginning of the whole operation, God doesn’t specifically promise that He will do great things for Moses:

“Now the Israelites’ cries of injustice have reached me. I’ve seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. So get going. I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:9-10)

He does promise to do things through Moses.

God does want freedom for His people, but some of us will be called to be Moses: we may start the journey, and lead people through the wilderness, but our part will be done before the journey is complete.

Of course that doesn’t mean we won’t get to see amazing things: manna, instruction, guidance, flames, and clouds. 

But it does mean we have to get used to surrendering our pronouns.

We are so used to fighting for our dreams and for spiritual “visions”, but that’s not always the point. God may want to indeed do something amazing, but the role we play may not be the one we think.

“Then the LORD said to Moses: “This is the land that I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I promised: ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however you will not cross over into it.”

Then Moses, the LORD’s servant, died—right there in the land of Moab, according to the LORD’s command. The LORD buried him in a valley in Moabite country across from Beth-peor. Even now, no one knows where Moses’ grave is. (Deuteronomy 34:4-6)

One of the great acts of art in a life is to be able to release our dreams, and be able to throw ourselves into God with no preconceived notions of “crossing into the promise land.” To be able to say, “God there is a great unknown out there, but I will choose life with you—even without any promises of success or “good things”—over anything else. It’s the mark of greatness, of a very high level of surrender and spirituality…

 

 

It’s Still About Surrender

By Jan Jacobsen (http://www.worldpeace.no/THE-WHITE-FLAG.htm) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jan Jacobsen (http://www.worldpeace.no/THE-WHITE-FLAG.htm) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Soul-work is hard.

Since my Sabbatical began, I’ve been going inside myself to see more, learn more, and ultimately heal more.

What I’m finding hasn’t been pretty.

For now, I’ll spare you most of the gory details, but this one thing has been coming up, over and over again. This one aspect of my life that, even though it is essentially Christianity 101, I have managed to radically lose sight of. 

It’s the idea of surrender.

It’s the question of who is ultimately in control, not just of “my life” but of the pieces of my life as well.

Does that make sense?

Long ago, I’d bowed my head to the idea that my life is in God’s hands, but what I’m coming to terms with now is that even though I’d done that on a grand scale, on a day-to-day scale I still very much prefer to remain firmly in control.

And that wasn’t working anymore.

Right now, seemingly everywhere I look in my universe I see evidence of how I’m attempting to play God and stay firmly in control of people, situations, ideas, myself. When I can’t (because, um, I’m not God), it brings up such destructive thoughts and ideas.

I’ve really come to understand Paul’s words: “I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?” (Romans 7:24 CEB)

Fortunately, I’m also on the road to understanding the second half of that thought: “Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Even though I thought I’d gotten this a long time ago, I’m learning (again?) that the beginning of freedom and peace is to release of the idea that I control anything in the first place.

If I could, I could save myself.

My job is not to control anything—it’s to cultivate the deep presence of God within me, through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Guess what #1: it feels like dying. 

Guess what #2: dying is what we’re called to do in order to let Jesus live his life through us. 

For me right now, the only anecdote to pathological control is to seek God ruthlessly each day and cast myself on Him.

I’m finding that this doesn’t occur in a shotgun prayer as I hurriedly get in my car.

It doesn’t happen between shots of espresso.

It doesn’t even necessarily happen in the moments of desperation when I’m careening off track.

It happens in slowness. Stillness. Purposeful silence. Prayer. Meditation.

Which is, I guess, the way it’s always been.

God is our refuge and strength,

a help always near in times of great trouble.

That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,

when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,

when the waters roar and rage,

when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.

There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city,

the holiest dwelling of the Most High.

God is in that city. It will never crumble.

God will help it when morning dawns.

Nations roar; kingdoms crumble.

God utters his voice; the earth melts.

The LORD of heavenly forces is with us!

The God of Jacob is our place of safety.

Come, see the LORD’s deeds,

what devastation he has imposed on the earth—

bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world,

breaking the bow and shattering the spear,

burning chariots with fire.

‘That’s enough!

Now know that I am God!

I am exalted among the nations;

I am exalted throughout the world!’

The LORD of heavenly forces is with us!

The God of Jacob is our place of safety.

(Psalm 46)

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