Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Believing or Beholding

With all the problems being experienced by the Episcopal Church, a divide being created by debates over biblical interpretation and doctrinal affirmations, I found this paragraph from Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church interesting and challenging.

"I had become an Episcopalian in the first place because the Anglican way cared more for common prayer than for right belief, but under stress even Episcopalians began vetting one another on the virgin birth, the divinity of Jesus, and his physical resurrection fro the dead. Both in Clarkesville and elsewhere, the poets began drifting away from churches as the jurists grew louder and more insistent. I began to feel like a defense attorney for those who could not square their love of God and neighbor with the terms of the Nicene Creed, while my flagging attempt to be all things to all people was turning into a bad case of amnesia about my own Christian identity. My role and my soul were eating each other alive. I wanted out of the belief business and back into the beholding business. I wanted to recover the kind of faith that has nothing to do with being sure what I believe and everything to do with trusting God to catch me though I am not sure of anything." (Leaving Church, p. 111).

Barbara offers an important plea that may resonate with many who find themselves put off by calls for doctrinal certainty, and yet want to share in the presence of God. It is a call to recognize the presence of doubt and the need for space to walk through that doubt in safety. I'd be interested in hearing from readers how they feel about this statement.

4 comments:

Dennis said...

"My role and my soul were eating each other alive. I wanted out of the belief business and back into the beholding business. I wanted to recover the kind of faith that has nothing to do with being sure what I believe and everything to do with trusting God to catch me though I am not sure of anything."

I feel this way a lot. I feel this way right now, as a matter of fact. It's very easy to be pulled into discussions that are focused on right belief, and I'll admit that I am, more often than not, willing (if not eager) to be pulled along. Right belief is important, though it isn't the only thing that is important, or by any means the most important thing. Given the theological diversity within my congregation, I'm always reminding them that it isn't what we believe about Christ that binds us together as Christians, but the presence of Christ. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that, too.

We lost a dear friend sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning; she was a veritable beacon of God's love and grace. She came to us from a Wesleyan church, and we were scheduled to have a long conversation about why the DoC allows the ordination of homosexuals.

Tonight we're going to have a little Ash Wednesday service with ashes begged from a Methodist colleague. We'll talk about Lent; we'll have prayer for the sick, including anointing with oil. We'll receive the imposition of ashes, and reflect on Lenten themes. No matter how differently people see things, we'll still manage to be one congregation, and feel a connection to the Church Universal. We'll remember our friend, and the questions she had will fade in the bright light of her love for God's people. They won't go away, but neither will they define the life of the church.

DaNutz said...

Barbara is an excellent writer. She has a wonderful way of making me feel comfortable in my struggle to sort this stuff out. I got to hear her and Marcus Borg in a casual dialogue last month talking about one of the common problems they hear in their churchs. The problem is that people so often tell them:

"I can't say the creeds"

Their response was that this shouldn't be a problem if we can look at them metaphorically. The next comment they hear is:

"well enough, but the stupid guy next to me actually means it!"

Both authors thought that was a silly way to approach faith. Why do we always need to have people around us that believe the same things? I confess that I still struggle with this problem.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

What I take from Barbara's comment is that as clergy we're often caught between where we want to go and where reality lies. Like Dennis, I have a congregation that is diverse in its understandings. I have to be patient, because I didn't get to where I'm at over night! Fortunately, for me (and for my fellow Disciple Dennis) I needn't worry about saying the Nicene Creed (not that I find it impossible to do), I just don't have to do it in a non-creedal church. But even if the creeds aren't written, doesn't mean they're not there --as I found out once as a professor and then later as a pastor. Thanks for the comments! I hope more will come.

Mystical Seeker said...

Count me in as one of those who can't say the creeds. I sat there in stony silence when I attended an Episcopalian church and the recitation of a creed was part of the service. Marcus Borg says he has no trouble reciting them because he sees them as metaphorical. But I couldn't relate to that.

That being said, I did like Barbara Brown Taylor's book quite a bit, and she has a lot of interesting things to say about the nature of faith and what it takes to be in the clergy. She also raised a lot of questions about the nature of pastoral "calling".