Losing Faith VII: Trading It In

This is the seventh post in a series called “Losing Faith”. All posts can be viewed HERE.

As mentioned in the first post of this series, it was a blogging friend who originally dispatched this train of thought for me. He observed how travel had played a part in the unraveling of a faith he once held.

I would echo that sentiment with an alternate angle.

TREASURE OF TRAVEL

farawayExposure to faraway lands and interactions with the folks of those places have led me to lose much of my faith as well—particularly faith in my culture, in popular Western thought, and more specifically in myself. However, those undoings only served to intensify my felt need for some form of Anchor, some Foundation upon which to construct.

There is a special pleasure to deconstruction. Who has ever carried a tool more fun than a sledgehammer? But at some point, there is need for some skilled builder to enter the scene. Creating rubble is fun, but it hardly provides a place to live.

This is my metaphor. others can grasp at their own well-fitted images. But for me, this is glove-like.

For I love to play the cynic more than most. To feign enlightenment through critique, this is the safe and satisfying life of the skeptic.

At least, it is until it isn’t.

Safe or satisfying.

My travel experiences and other life-tastes have at times fed that cynical, skeptical streak with a fresh spread of questions and rebukes toward the status quo that had both nurtured me and numbed me up to that point. Some of this caused me to grow; some just caused me to grump.

When it comes to religion, Christianity in particular, I often chuckle. I can recall a handful of conversations where speakers in attack mode unveiled their “faith-destroyers” to me. Typically, these “questions” ended with periods, rather than question marks. But punctuation aside, the tone carried a whiff of superiority silently declaring that the statement being made was surely news to me, and perhaps everyone else who ever “mindlessly” fallen into faith. In fact, it appeared certain to at least one in the room that surely no human in history had ever formulated this ground-breaking assessment of reality.

Feet in SeaNow to be sure, I learn things every day, from sources and angles of every sort. But these types of encounter cause my chuckle to rise because they suppose shallowness.  To discover that my feet touch the sand on the bottom hardly means that I’ve plumbed the depths of the sea.  It merely means I can touch where I am.  To crucify Christianity for its smallness when the “great big world” enlightens is one form of losing faith.  To move my feet in pursuit of deeper and purer waters was mine.

Though I didn’t foresee the amount of seawater I’d have to swallow along the way!

I SAY THAT TO SAY THIS

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI can state with confidence that the faith I have lost along the way was a small faith.  Perhaps that is exactly why I lost it. It is easier to lose coins than cars.

In exchange for my feather-weight faith, heavy on its need for certainty and control, I am receiving a more substantial faith, rooted in dependence upon the eternal Spirit of God and a recognition of my need to keep step with Him.  This need is driven by neither fear nor threat, but by the simple recognition that moving out of rhythm with the beat that drives the universe is clumsy and costly.  I would rather sync myself to sink myself into the groove awaiting those whose stride is guided by the All-of-Life-Giver.

LOSING THINGS

I hate losing things. Misplacing keys or phone drives me almost mad. Part of that is driven by the fact that I am typically very careful with my things, seldom losing track. So when I do, it cracks my composure. Losing my faith, even the small version, has felt like that. It had grown dear to me; it was worn and comfortable from years of use.

But it no longer fit.

Perhaps it never did.

Losing Faith (Part VI): Less than Certain

NOTE: This post of an ongoing series titled, “Losing Faith”. Previous posts can be seen HERE.

certainty

I love certainty.

Great comfort arrives when pieces fit snugly together. If I have must have letters, let the I’s be dotted and the T’s be crossed. If I must have ducks, let them be in well-straightened rows.

That said, it’s easy for me to enjoy the opening chapters of Scripture. Genesis 1-2 contain the poetic telling of the world’s origins. In three words: Creator calms chaos. A state of lightless emptiness receives form and fill. Perfect pieces are shaped and snapped into one another. God called it good, and my order-loving self rejoiced.

However, Yahweh’s demolition skills are also exceptional when He notes the need. Genesis 6 begins the story around Noah, in which God unravels the intricate stitching of the Creation account. Re-creation is preceded by un-creation. I can sketch this logical need with clarity, but I failed to consider what such swirling floods would feel like when my own feet were swept away by the current.

Faith and Certainty

You see, the trouble is that faith and certainty are mutually exclusive. The quest for one endangers the other. More than that, the demand for one executes the other. The term “faith” is found 400+ times in the Bible (depending on translation used). In turn, one could reasonably conclude that certainty is therefore not a central experience to those who desire interaction with God. He has never dealt in that currency.

When Jesus called his first disciples, we read that they left behind nets and fathers and tables and what-not. They had no idea where Jesus was taking them or what would unfold along the way, but they held no illusions that they could both stay and go. There is no option of receiving without releasing.

Over the last few years, God has asked me to release my mind.

That sentence is begging for misunderstanding.

What I Do Not Mean

I am not speaking of believing blindly, of tossing aside one’s discernment, or becoming foolish or reckless or stupid. Our brains are glorious gifts, capable of shocking possibilities. I am certain that God wants them used to their fullest potential, and I am set on faithfully stewarding the one in my skull.

God’s nudge that I “let go” wasn’t a prompt to stop thinking. It was a loving lesson delivered vividly multiple times in the past four years. Even the slowest student starts to soak up a message after that type of immersion. What did I soak up?

My mind holds me back.

Trust me when I say that arriving at those five words required a climb-Mount-Everest type of trek for this fellow. Far easier to type it than to travel it.

Speaking of Typing

typingSurprisingly, the act of typing provided one of the breakthroughs. There is a sweetness to hitting one’s typing-stride. Keys are clicking, phrases are forming, and Creation ex nihilo is unfolding. My dust hands, tapping on Steve Job’s handiwork, are forming a never-seen-before reality. Wow!

But I have noticed something. I make more typing errors when I am thinking about the task. When eyes survey the keyboard, mistakes increase. Typing, at its fastest, happens more quickly than my brain can track. Demanding a mental log of the actions taking place is akin to tying an elephant to a Ferrari’s back bumper. Within this task, better to check the brain at the door and let muscle memory dating back to high school typing classes (Yes, I am old enough to have had typing classes!) carry the load. For here, my mind holds me back.

Typing is not the only such realm.

A Knowing Beyond Knowing

Within the spiritual dimensions, the mind—with all its power—can actually serve as anchor rather than compass. The demand for certainty is an inside insistence of one’s own sovereignty. Nothing in this post is a criticism of philosophy or science or religion or any other intellectual discipline. This is simply a statement of surrender from one man whose spiritual experiences have long ago left his head spinning. There is revelation beyond reason, and there is life above logic. And if one wishes to engage on those levels, his grip for control will have to break. One cannot stay and go simultaneously.

Mystery is the gap where Divinity lives. Strive ruthlessly to eliminate that space, and you will bulldoze the residence of the Divine in your life.

Or He might hijack the bulldozer and head your way!

1273bulldozer

 

Losing Faith (Part V): Invaded by an Uninvited One

This post is the fifth in a series on Losing Faith. All previous posts can be seen HERE, if context might prove helpful.

Somewhere near the end of our time overseas, we were home to visit. I must have been expressing some aspect of my changing perceptions on the Christian life. My slightly-older, significantly-wiser friend responded with a question.

O_Come_Holy_Spirit_by_LordShadowblade1“You’re not a cessationist, are you?”

The term felt awkwardly unfamiliar upon my ears, and my face must have said so. He clarified.

“You don’t believe the gifts of the Spirit ended with the New Testament, do you?”

For the first time, my mouth stated with my spirit had long sensed.

“No, I guess I don’t.”

This confession surely sent a unseen tremor through my tightly-wrapped-in-rationalism faith—a suspect form of faith, if there ever was one.

A Spiritual Sprinkling

Far more recently, it has dawned on me that my past version of a “Christian worldview” was actually a thoroughly naturalistic view, with a side order of God. According to Wikipedia, “naturalism commonly refers to the viewpoint that laws of nature (as opposed to supernatural ones) operate in the universe, and that nothing exists beyond the natural universe or, if it does, it does not affect the natural universe.”

abstract-word-cloud-for-naturalism-with-related-tags-and-termsMy particular version of naturalism was more personal in nature than Wikipedia’s. I have always been suspect of evolution as an adequate theory of how life originated, and I have long voiced that life’s richest realms are (relationships, art, love, dreams, morality, emotions, and more) fall somewhere beyond the horizons reached by verifiable facts.

My naturalism was a mutant.

I was convinced enough that God was real that He HAD to be part of my diagram, but I had no idea how to position the I AM within my tidy sketch.  So I simply placed Him on the fringe, where He wouldn’t mix up the other pieces.

And He had grown tired of that treatment.

Breaking Me by Breaking Free

In short, I have been forced, by a growing list of experiences and encounters, to acknowledge that my largely logical and rooted-in-reason approach to life is an insufficient processor for the reality in which I live. Its substance is too superficial, and it lacks the weight to grapple with life as I now know it. My former framework held fast so long as God respected my boundaries and operated within the office I had set up for Him. When He began to interact intimately with me and to surprise me through the lives of better-tuned instruments than myself, profound paradox unfolded. Logic imploded upon itself, as I was forced to admit my irrational inconsistencies, surely ever-present but now painfully exposed.

God of the Emoticon

In light of recent revelation, it would be intellectually irresponsible to insist upon the validity of my long-held worldview.

God has revealed Himself as undeniably present. In a shocking twist, the Supernatural invaded my naturalistic worldview, the world view that handed Him a long list of all He could not do.

In response, He has broken the door’s hinges with a one-line declaration: “Your naturalistic view is not nearly naturalistic enough, for it fails to handle life as you now know it. You will recalibrate, or your head will blow up and your spirit will bellow against you. But it’s your choice, right? Because you’re so in charge of what’s real and what’s not. ;-)”

(Yes, God used a winky emoticon.)
Imagine the unsettling nerve!

God showed up in ways that I could not explain and began threatening a cozy worldview, which had safe—and harmless—spots reserved for Him.

I have not simply lost my long-held faith; it was ripped from my hands!

 

Spring Renewal

Last weekend, our church held a sharply focused prayer evening. It was aimed at last night, when we kicked off Spring Renewal 2013 with a night of significant worship and seeking of God. Full details of the event are HERE; if you’re in the city, it isn’t too late to join us.

The past week has been absorbed in the final preparations for this weekend, so no Six-Pack will be posted today.  Back to normal to next week. As well, my series of posts on Losing Faith will continue in the week ahead.

Blessings upon you, loved people!

Losing Faith (Part II): On the Road

These are unique days.

Between jet-hopping and mouse-clicking, one can interact with every view and value under the sun. Ancestors who were confined to the the village or the house where they existed from conception to death would be stunned. In fact, it is stunning, even to those of us living in this age. Never in history has the human mind had so much to sift and sort. In past days, the avenues for exploration were so inaccessible to the average person that it was simply expected that one’s worldview would remain largely unchallenged by outside voices because such voices may have been a million miles away, even if they were waiting just over the next hill.

These days are not those days.

Beyond the vastness of ideological terrain to explore, there is also a conviction today that the true failure is to not explore. Closed-mindedness is critiqued; narrowness is just plain nasty. And for today’s experience-hound, travel is the trophy to be hoisted. A worn passport is the diploma of choice for many, and I can personally attest to logging miles as one powerful, albeit luxurious, ingredient toward personal growth.

In my previous post, I alluded to the blog of my friend Nic, who has amassed a shocking number of air miles in his young years. He mentioned travel’s enormous impact on his spiritual journey, and I can hardly agree more.

I recall when I returned from Zambia in 1997. At 20 years old, I was living a dream of visiting Africa. After a month in the countrysides of Zambia and Zimbabwe, I returned home to Canada, a week late for my third-year of college. On the first evening home, I was asked to share about my trip at a church’s Young Adult gathering.

disorientationI recall being utterly garbled, hardly able to string two sentences together. So overloaded where my processors by the intensity of that trip, combined with the contrasting deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana that had dominated headlines on our way home, that I could hardly determine which way was up.

This has been travel’s consistent impact upon my life: Disorientation and destablization. At some point, we do reconstruct “life as we know it”, but its design cannot go unaltered. Revision and renovation are forced upon those trained by travel.

Life Magazine coverEven without leaving home, Steve Jobs felt this truth. The cover of Life magazine (July 12, 1968) featured a disturbing photo of two children from a war-torn region of Nigeria. More than one million people died there during that period, from Civil War or famine. At age 13, Steve found it impossible to reconcile the picture with the lessons drawn from his local Lutheran church. Steve’s biographer, Walter Isaacson, describes what happened next:

“Steve took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor. ‘If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?’

The pastor answered, ‘Yes, God knows everything.’ Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, ‘Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to these children?’

The answer he received was less than acceptable, and that conversation marked the last time Steve went to church.

What does a story like that tell us?

It tells us that it is possible for an unusually sharp mind to step back from God as a result of his interpretation of new information.

BobPierceBefore Steve Jobs was born, Bob Pierce was in China on an evangelistic effort with Youth for Christ. Witnessing extreme poverty and overt persecution in the late 1940’s, Pierce felt the same weight that Jobs or any traveller today can feel when confronted with such realities. But where Jobs was driven from faith, Pierce was pressed in farther, in the process, birthing the organizations World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse before his death in 1978.

What does a story like that tell us?

It tells us that it is possible for an unusually sharp mind to step toward God as a result of his interpretation of new information.

And you know what? Either movement can feel like the losing of one’s faith.

More on that in the next post.

Losing Faith (I)

Lost FaithMy friend Nic wrote this post several months back: Losing Faith.

I confess that it’s had me spinning some knotted thoughts in a mental back room since then. A few of them revolve around the lost faith Nic describes.  More of them center upon the faith that I have lost along the way.

So mark this post as a starting point.

If you wonder what one pastor’s faith-losses look like, come on back. If you know of others who are questioning or seeking or searching for how faith ties into real life, send them a link.

Now that I’ve put out the invitation, my back burner has officially been moved to my front burner!

Next post: The Faith I’ve Lost.