Sunday, April 5, 2009

Faith, Belief, Practice

Please click on this link and read Mark Harris's essay on Preludium. Then return here for my comment.

Today we enter again that season of great mystery, Holy Week. The triumphant procession that begins today's worship ends with the passion of our Lord. For the rest of the week we remember that last week of Jesus's life here on earth, particularly the last supper before his arrest, his trial, and his execution.

In the end, that execution is not the end. The tomb is empty. There will be appearances of the Lord Jesus, that great mystery of resurrection of the body.

Meanwhile, we Christians will continue judging one another's faith, one another's beliefs, and even one another's practice. Are you a Christian or not? we ask. You made a speech and never once mentioned the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore you must not be a Christian. You don't believe that God required that Jesus die a bloody and terrible death in order to save us from ourselves and therefore you must not be a Christian. You have alternate ways of understanding the great mystery of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and you publish them abroad. You are not only a Christian but an apostate priest or bishop or presiding bishop. This group or another has the only correct understanding, faith, belief, practice and no one who strays from that way can possibly be holy, Christian, saved unless they repent and return to the correct way.

When I hear Christians speaking or writing or teaching in this way, I say, my God, Jesus wasted his life. He died in vain. He died to free us from fear. Instead, we visit fear on others in the name of Jesus, and call it salvation. For, if salvation is in any way conditional on us getting something, anything right, then there is no difference between the world before and the world after Jesus' death and resurrection.

I have written this before. I have endured comments couched in oh so condescending terms to tell me I have misunderstood, I have got it wrong, and here, we will set you straight. And still, I hear the call to freedom - freedom from being afraid of getting it wrong and, having not repented of my wrongful understanding, counter to the teachings of the church, of being damned for all time.

I do not understand what it is in us humans that so desires the death of another. I do not understand what it is in others that says, "This is what the scriptures say, this is what the church teaches, this is the faith once delivered for all time and it does not ever change and our faith, belief, understanding and practice must not ever, ever change without repenting of it and returning to right belief or we are damned." I do not understand that. Is God really like that?

For the thousandth time, I write of my conversion. I was lost in this life. My life was despair. One night I cried out, "No one loves me" and cutting through my thoughts the words, "Jesus loves you". And I replied, yes, but Jesus can't hold me when I'm alone.

My ungracious rejection of that love continued, while at the same time I tested It to see if It was real, if It meant it. Over the time of a year, I was less despairing, less self-destructive, less and less isolated from those around me. At some point I realized that even though much of my anti-social behavior had not changed, that love was still there. I understood from It that It would still love me, that I would still be acceptable, just as I was, even if I never made any changes in my life or repented or anything else at all. I would still be part of that Love that had calmly assured me of its presence that night long ago.

Over time, I had to come to terms of the implications of what I was experiencing and thinking. What about the perpetrator in my life? Well, said Love, he, too, is safe in me. And yes, that was the implication - if I was safe in Christ, so was that person.

This journey has taken me to places which some of my fellow faithful Christians would say are unChristian. They may be right. I no longer believe, for instance, that baptism confers salvation in the way I was taught - that salvation is available only to the baptized. Instead, I believe that baptism makes the baptized part of God's work in Christ to convey salvation to the world, by binding the baptized to being the unconditional love of God in Christ in the world, by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is definitely not the same as baptism confers salvation only on the baptized.

Regardless of how one reads the scriptures, and I take scripture very seriously, the journey to God is a mystery. God's way with us is a mystery. God in Christ is a mystery. The incarnation, the life, passion, death and resurrection are a mystery. If we are not free to explore that mystery freely, to get it wrong, to teach wrongly, to believe and practice wrongly and decide the next day to change our mind, or not, then I fear Jesus died in vain.

But for me, his death was not in vain. I discovered that God's love has no strings, no conditions, but just is. My work, as a baptized person as well as an ordained priest, is to make real, to the best of my frail ability, that love in the world. I fail at it miserably. It is that for which I repent, not my thoughts, or my beliefs or my faith or even my teaching, but for my failure to love as God has loved me. And still, I am loved. And so are you, loved equally to me, saved, hidden in the heart of God and in Christ's wounded side. This is the faith once delivered to the saints, that God in Christ is love.


FranIAm said...

I have read both Mark's post and your own and then sat here for a long, long time.

This will all stay on my heart as this Palm Sunday and Holy Week progress.

In my own RC church there is so much fighting, name calling and de-crying those who are not true to the letter of the Magisterium. My heart breaks every day.

Lois Keen said...

Bless you, Fran. I read your remarks often and my heart breaks for your broken heart each time. I think what Mark and I wrote are extended prayers for the in-fighting, name calling and institutional judgmentalism.

May you have a blessed Holy Week in spite of it all.

Song in my Heart said...

Thank you for this, it is far more eloquent and clear than some of my own attempts to say what I think might be the same thing.

Song in my Heart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Song in my Heart said...

Apologies for double-posting!

Barbara said...

Wow! And double Wow! Thank you. Thank you for Mark's piece that speaks more to me than you can possibly know -- or maybe you can. And thank you for once again sharing part of your story of who you are and how you are and what you believe. These both fortify my own beliefs with which I constantly struggle.