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28 February 2007 @ 09:48 am
Frederick Buechner quote...  
I found this passage today and a lot of it hit home for me. I thought some of you all might appreciate it as well, if you haven't read it already...

"If anybody starts talking to me about religious commitment, I may listen politely, but what I'd like to answer him with is a few monosyllables that don't bear repeating here in the midst of the holy community. If you tell me Christian commitment is a thing that has happened to you once and for all like some kind of spiritual plastic surgery, I say go to, go to, you're either pulling the wool over your own eyes or trying to pull it over mine. Every morning you should wake up in your bed and ask yourself: 'can I believe it all again today?'

"No, better still, don't ask it till after you've read the New York Times, till after you've studied that daily record of the world's brokenness and corruption, which should always stand side by side with your Bible. Then ask yourself if you can believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ again for that particular day. If your answer's always yes, then you probably don't know what believing means.

"At least five times out of ten the answer should be no because the no is as important as the yes, maybe more so. The no is what proves you're human in case you should ever doubt it. And then, if some morning the answer happens to be really yes, it should be a yes that's choked with confession and tears and ... great laughter. not a beatific smile, but the laughter of wonderful incredulity."

right on, brother.

any related book/author recommendations by our illustrious community members?
Jayspartakos on February 28th, 2007 04:23 pm (UTC)
Meh. Can't agree.

I am not going to claim my faith never wavers, or that I never have any doubts. But if you doubt spiritual truths simply because sometimes the world sucks, I have to wonder how strong your faith is.

The no is not as important as the yes, to me. It doesn't prove you're human...believing in Christ, if anything, makes us MORE in touch with our humanity. All that garbage he talks about that supposedly "should" make you doubt is called "man's inhumanity to man", and for good reason.

I guess I'm not fully clear on why he thinks being wavering in your faith is a good thing. Faith that is not tried and not examined is not true faith, I wholeheartedly concur. But he seems to think that unless you're constantly changing your position, you're not...I don't know what he thinks you're not. Not sincere? Not honest?

If he was trying to say, "Don't be a afraid to have doubts", I agree entirely. That's not the same thing as what he actually SAID, which is that you should only faith about half the time.
Father Pepper Spray of Forgivenesslogodaedaly on February 28th, 2007 04:38 pm (UTC)
Agreed. As important as doubt is — and no less conservative a commentator than Benedict XVI has written movingly on the necessity of doubt — Christian discipleship should not leave us at a fifty-fifty probability of believing in the Gospel. We can (in fact, we must) take the world's brokenness seriously while believing the Gospel.
Sly Wicked Mister Wolfmister_wolf on February 28th, 2007 04:55 pm (UTC)
So what is the cut-off between doubt and unbelief? WhenI feel doubt, it tends to lead to unbelief, because I feel I've already failed, so why bother to lie to myself?

Man, that came out sounding way more bitter than I intended. =:)
Father Pepper Spray of Forgivenesslogodaedaly on February 28th, 2007 05:46 pm (UTC)
I don't really see it as an opposition between doubt and unbelief so much as between doubt or despair and hope. Belief makes it an individual thing, whereas with hope, it is not an individual's responsibility to "pump themselves up" enough to believe — rather, the community rests in the hope of Christ together. We may despair a little, but good Christian community ought to keep us pointed in the direction of the Gospel, hoping that while the arc of the universe is long, it still tends towards justice. (King)
Sly Wicked Mister Wolfmister_wolf on February 28th, 2007 06:45 pm (UTC)
Ah, religous community. I've always had trouble with that part.
Sly Wicked Mister Wolfmister_wolf on March 1st, 2007 12:12 am (UTC)
But seriously, this seems like a very extroverted view of things. To me, community seems like a secondary thing, a thing I have a great deal of difficulty relating to or placing myself in. It becomes, essentailly, a cluster of individuals, and it is very hard to imagine a place for myself in that.

Also, what is the value of doubt supposed to be?
lucy66 on March 3rd, 2007 02:36 am (UTC)
Well said!
The community is really very important.
Since there is a lot of negative experience of Christian community here, I can clarify by saying it is important to be in a community with a spirit of faith, hope and love (and not divisiveness).
gyntselagyntsela on February 28th, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC)
When I was still in an extremely conservative church environment, I had problems with doubt--I felt like it was some huge failure on my part, that I couldn't believe enough, which then meant I wasn't good enough.

But when I came out of that environment, I found peole who said that doubt is necessary, even good for a Christian life. These people had come to new understandings about God *because of* their doubt. And I had been doing the same thing, but rejecting it because it wasn't what I had been taught in the prior environment. But as I talked with and listened to more and more theologians, ex-conservatives like myself, friends, etc, I found that many of them also had the same reasoning.

And combining that with my own nature and with the "doubting Thomas" of the Bible, well, I have to say that I, too, now believe that doubt is essential. It keeps us honest, it keeps us real. It is not a failure, but a desire to know more, to learn more, to make sure I am on the right track.

Peace. :)
Sly Wicked Mister Wolfmister_wolf on March 1st, 2007 12:14 am (UTC)
My problem with doubt is that I do feel it keeps me honest, but it is very difficult to have any kind of beliefs when one is consistent aobut that honesty. It is possible to have a relationship with God, at least in terms of a consistent search, but that searching seems hostile to any organized religion, which always comes across to me as a set of certainties that I can't lend my support to.
gyntselagyntsela on March 1st, 2007 02:43 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it is hard. I've been struggling, too, with trying to worship communally while knowing that I don't have the same certainty about things as my fellow congregants do. I've also struggled because I feel a call to some sort of ministry, but I just can't see being a pastor and getting up in front of people and affirming all kinds of things in which I don't really believe. It just seems really...hypocritical or something, to me. I think, instead, I'm going to be a college chaplain--teach some theology, do some counseling, and do a little bit of worship leadership with the students.

People from my church are always asking after my husband and myself when we're not here on Sundays, and sometimes we don't come just because that's not what feels right to us. But how do you explain that to people who have gone to church every Sunday for most of their lives?

On the other hand, I do often find my doubt refreshing, because it does lead me to new insights and keeps me from growing stagnant in my faith. It *makes* me question, and by questioning I can work out the inconsistencies in my life and in my faith.

Jayspartakos on March 1st, 2007 06:14 am (UTC)
Unbelief begins when you allow doubt to overpower the evidence that made you believe in the first place. Whenever I feel doubts, I try to remind myself why I first turned to Christ. That, and the reassurance of the Holy Ghost, at least keep me putting one foot in front of the other.

Doubt becomes unbelief when you let it control you. You can always choose to believe, in spite of your doubts. And God can help you...remember, ask and ye shall receive.
Sly Wicked Mister Wolfmister_wolf on March 1st, 2007 12:16 pm (UTC)
Unbelief begins when you allow doubt to overpower the evidence that made you believe in the first place.

Evidence? Man, I believe 'cause its what they taught me when I was little. I've spent my whole adult life trying either to believe something else, or at least find a reason to believe, but no dice.
Jayspartakos on March 1st, 2007 04:40 pm (UTC)
Friend, I say this as gently as I can: you never really believed. You were moving on blindly.

But if you want to believe, then you can open your eyes and find a reason. My church compares faith to a seed...if you can exercise even a particle of faith, nourish it with prayer and righteous living, it can grow and flower.

When I say "evidence", I'm not talking anything you can take into court. I mean those things that make you want to believe. The things that speak to your soul and say "yes, this is right".

I lived the first sixteen years of my life as a Catholic, but it would be foolish to say I "believed" in Catholicism...I never even really tried. Catholicism never stirred my soul the way my present faith does.
Sly Wicked Mister Wolfmister_wolf on March 1st, 2007 09:07 pm (UTC)
I dunno, man. I've been searchign fo ralmost 20 years at this point. Middle age is looming. Prayer? All the time. Righteous living? Well, not perfect, but monogamous, sober and good-citizenish, at least. I kind of think if I were going to find anything, I would have seen it by now.
parodieparodie on February 28th, 2007 05:22 pm (UTC)
I think that truly confronting "man's inhumanity to man" can and will lead to wavering faith - only a disconected reading of the world would lead to a permanent belief in an omniscient, omnipotent and loving power. A wavering belief seems more real to me, more connected and more honest.

However, more importantly I think the part of his point that resonanted with me when I read this was in the first paragraph: "If you tell me Christian commitment is a thing that has happened to you once and for all like some kind of spiritual plastic surgery, I say go to, go to, you're either pulling the wool over your own eyes or trying to pull it over mine."

Father Pepper Spray of Forgivenesslogodaedaly on February 28th, 2007 05:49 pm (UTC)
Well, I don't think anyone but crazies would suggest anyone can get to a "permanent" belief in God — we are, after all, human.

But there is some truth in what you're saying — a life lived in Christian hope is somewhat disconnected from the "reality" of the visible world. That is, such a life believes that more is going on in the world than we can readily see. The "more connected" life you're talking about takes the world at face value — awful things are happening, and no spiritual realities are at work to counteract that. I totally understand why people end up feeling that way, but that's not what the best of Christian faith has to offer.
parodieparodie on February 28th, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC)
What I meant is, I think, a bit different from where you're headed. Let me try again.

As a priviledged North American who doesn't need to worry on a daily basis about where I will find food, shelter, security, etc, I can afford to try to live my life in a (faux-)"spriritual" way, and to think very lofty things about God and being loved by God while not really needing to face the true horror of the world around me. When I do turn to, say, the NYT (or a homeless person on the street, or my friend who is being rejected by his community, or ...) and honestly try to see Christ in each person, I cannot but be shaken to the core by the terrible things happening in the world.

Now, this can serve to reinforce my commitment to seek justice and bring the hope of the Gospel into the world - but to ignore the fact that it is _very_ troubling, and _very_ terrible is to deny my humanity. And when I face that kind of distress it is hard to see God's hand in a world where people starve to death, people die because of other's battles for power, etc.

I am reminded of a documentary I saw recently about Bishop Oscar Romero (the movie is called "Romero" -- highly recommended, though wrenching).

I wonder if you're not getting stuck on the ratio mentioned in the quote - whether it's 5 out of 10 or 2 out of 10, or you're just in a place where you're not currently struggling with that, I think that there is an underlying "truthiness" to what is being said.
Father Pepper Spray of Forgivenesslogodaedaly on February 28th, 2007 08:52 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure you really read my comment. If one takes the Gospel seriously, one must certainly be very troubled by what is happening visibly in the world. That suffering isn't fake. But that doesn't mean that one's faith in God must also be shaken, or that people who hope strongly that God will eventually bring about perfect justice don't take injustice seriously.

Doubting God's justice consistently, as Buechner is talking about, is problematic. Claiming that doubting God's justice consistently is a virtue is simply false.
Your Best Nightmare: religionpretzelcoatl on February 28th, 2007 06:31 pm (UTC)
That's what sold it to me. From my experiences as a Christian, the people who don't seem to flaunt their beliefs around and seem more likely to actualize them by doing positive things are not the "born again" people but the "born again and again and again" people.

This isn't to say that people who identify themselves as "born again" aren't capable of practicing this-- I've encountered a couple myself-- but I do have to wonder if something is up when my friend who identified himself as born again and tried to convince me being a Lutheran is wrong also came to me for spiritual advice on a couple occasions.

I don't agree with it entirely, but I definitely did agree with that part. :)
Jayspartakos on March 1st, 2007 06:32 am (UTC)
*shrug* It depends on how you view God. My belief in an all-loving, all-powerful God is not impaired by the fact that the world is full of fallible human beings who are neither all-powerful or all-loving. It's the downside of free will.

I agree that faith is not an on-off switch, that you can permanently lock "on" Rather, it is a plant which grows from the tiniest seed, and can provide beauty and shade in a troubled world, but which requires constant nourishment. Sometimes it may wither a bit...water it and care for it, and it will always come back. The bright rays of the heavens help too. :)
parodieparodie on March 1st, 2007 06:56 am (UTC)
I think that aknowledging the moments of "withering" (or "wilderness experiences" or "desolation" or however you describe them) as moments of lack of faith does not make a faith less real or defensible. And suggesting that such moments might be caused by honest consideration of the world's events is not unrealistic, in my view. Do I see the world exactly like Brueckner? Not likely. However, neither do I find his point diminished by this argument of his.
Jayspartakos on March 1st, 2007 04:43 pm (UTC)
Oh I agree...moments of doubt do not make faith less real or defensible. But to call them virtuous is, to my mind...well, absurd. And to suggest that UNLESS you are having moments of doubt (he even suggests a threshold) your faith is dishonest...I find that slightly insulting.

To sum up...his overall point is well taken, his words could have been better chosen. :)
Sly Wicked Mister Wolfmister_wolf on February 28th, 2007 04:30 pm (UTC)
Funny, I was just reading this blog on a similar topic.
L'hibou de minervaowl_of_minerva on February 28th, 2007 06:39 pm (UTC)
I find myself praying often along with the boy's father in Mark 9:24, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" So I would say 'no,' and then make that part of my prayer to God.

When I was first coming to faith (I'm a Catholic convert), I also found this Karl Rahner quotation helpful:

"Hence when we say that one should learn from the experience of one's life whether Christianity is the truth of life, this does not demand anything which is beyond us. It simply tells us: ally yourself with what is genuine, with the challenging, with what demands everything, with the courage to accept the mystery within you. it simply tells us: go on, wherever you may find yourself at this particular moment, follow the light even though it is as yet dim; guard the fire even though it burns low as yet; call out to the mystery precisely because it is incomprehensible. Go, and you will find -- hope, and your hope is already blessed interiorly with the grace of fulfillment. Anyone who sets out in this manner may be far from the officially constituted Christianity; he may feel like an atheist, he may think fearfully that he does not believe in God -- Christian teaching and conduct of life may appear strange and almost oppressive to him. But he should go on and follow the light shining in the innermost depth of his heart. This path has already arrived at the goal."

From Karl Rahner, "Thoughts on the possibility of belief today," in Theological Investigations (1966).
Jayspartakos on March 1st, 2007 06:03 am (UTC)
Thank you for that scripture...it enlightened more of what I was trying to say.

The answer to "do I believe?" (I feel asking the question "can I believe" is pointless in the first place, since we can always believe if we choosee to) should, ideally, not be "yes" or "no". It should always be, "no, but..." or "yes, but...".

Do I believe? No, but I wish I could, and I want to. Help me.
Do I believe? Yes, but I can't help but feel doubts. Help me.

For anyone who has had belief, I honestly feel it's impossible to truly lose that. If you have even a particle of faith left, you can blow on that tiny spark and keep it alive despite the strongest winds.
Lady Megan the Formidable of Withering Glance: faith in Godmomof2girls on February 28th, 2007 07:45 pm (UTC)
I agree with the people who say you can't disbelieve just because of the world's brokenness. Think of all the times you've needed Him, and God has been there.

My first pastor told me once that the answer to "Are you saved?" is not "yes," but that it's an ongoing process. (He put it more eloquently, but I can't think of the wording right now.)
lucy66 on March 3rd, 2007 02:32 am (UTC)
I like the part about not being "spiritual plastic surgury," which doesn't allow growth and progress and aging.
But I have never woken up and thought "can I believe it all again today?"
I have woken up and wondered how I could praise God in such a world. . . but never if I could believe in God. I just do.
Is faith a choice? I don't think mine is.
& I know people who want to believe and don't (see Scripture ref from Mark 9:4)