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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Faith in an Age of Disbelief

As with the late George Michael, you "gotta have faith." But "faith" is not the same as believing something. Those are two different experiences, and many people these days seemed to have confused the two. And even worse, would rather believe than have faith. Belief is trivial. Faith is everything.

A person can believe any manner of silly things. You could believe Donald Trump is a good president. You could believe the earth is flat. You could believe white people have it tougher than black people. So what? Just because you believe them does not make them true or even useful. For example, most people who steer boats don't drive as if the earth is flat. So believing the earth is flat is not even a useable belief.

Belief is just trying to make yourself feel better about stuff you know nothing about. You have no idea what makes a "president," so you believe Trump is one. You don't want to understand how science works so you believe it is not true, and belief satisfies your laziness. You feel some disparagement, and assume someone is to blame, so you choose the person of color, or a sexual minority as the reason for your failure, rather than try to investigate why something didn't go your way. Scapegoating depends wholly upon belief to succeed.

Faith is a completely different thing than belief. In fact, it is not a "thing," at all. Faith is a relationship established between participants depending upon trust and love. We can even use an inanimate participant to show what I mean. I have "faith" in gravity. I don't believe it. I have faith in it. What that means, to have "faith" in gravity, is that when something drops I trust gravity will work, and whatever dropped will fall. And I love the consistency of gravity. It always works, and Hollywood wouldn't have had to develop CGI if it didn't. You could have a participant, say a helium- filled balloon, be designed to counteract gravity. But the very existence of the helium-filled balloon is proof that you trust gravity will work. In general, I trust gravity will work. I also assume, although I have no evidence for this assumption, that gravity trusts me. So gravity and I have a "faith" relationship, not a "belief" relationship. It doesn't matter what I believe about gravity, I just trust that when my pen rolls off my desk, gravity will work.

That's why faith is so much more important than anything you choose to believe. It has to do with how you live, not how you think you live. Or believe. Beliefs are ephemeral, mystical, and in most cases childish. Belief has one use only: to push us into ever greater awareness of our dependence upon faith. Those who "believed" we could fly, have strengthened our faith in gravity. Those who believed we could conquer disease have emboldened us to to trust in vaccines. Belief is the realm of poets and mathematicians, faith is where the rest of us slog in our day-to-day lives.

All that I've said about the relationship between faith and belief, also applies to faith and disbelief. You may not believe in gravity, but I don't see you jumping off buildings. Most of us live our everyday lives just fine with gravity. (And on an added note for the scientists, most of us live just fine with Newtonian physics, as much as we might believe Einstein was correct.) Disbelief, therefore, does not mean that you do not nor cannot have faith. In reality, you probably have more faith because you trust some participant in reality more than any beliefs. And the trust and love you have with that participant is what frees you to believe or disbelieve something.

This is why Christians have "faith" in Jesus Christ as the Son of God rather than "believing" it. (It is one of the great tragedies of English language that "fides" in Latin cannot be translated into a verb in English. That's why Christians say the "believe" all the time, even though "fides" means faith. The great Marine Corps slogan semper fi means always "faithful" not always "believing." Interestingly,  when the Reformers suggested a slogan about this concept of trust in God, they used sola fide, faith alone, rather than belief alone. Faith is the preferred Christian understanding of one's relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. One of my predecessors use to call it the "regal relationship." {Joseph Sittler}) Believing is the ultimate transitory nature of reality. Faith is the everlasting value of trust and love in reality.

So go ahead, believe or disbelieve anything and everything you want or don't want. As the Apostle Paul noted years ago, what's valuable, or as he thought, salvific, was "faith." Not belief. "For by grace you have been saved by faith..." (Ephesians 2.8) No belief necessary. You just gotta have faith.

May your table be full and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Fourth of July in the United States of America


One thing I notice, especially when the 4th of July holiday falls on a weekday, is that the rest of the world just thinks it's Tuesday. Maybe a few ex-patriates had some hotdogs on the beach in Belize, but most of the world seemed not to care that the United States celebrated a "birthday" of sorts yesterday. This makes me wonder why we celebrate it all? I mean, think of your own birthday.

Because of the date of my birthday, I rarely celebrate it. There are too many other things going on in December, and my birthday has often fallen through the cracks of people's schedules. I have had some memorable birthdays, like when I turned 19 or 30 or 46 (The Year of Bourbon), but I have had many birthdays where it is just a regular day. (I do like it that many of the bars and restaurants I frequent, have a special on my birthday. I especially like when the server says it must "suck to have a birthday today." Makes that free dessert taste all the better.)Image result for birthday cake

Image result for fourth of july

Imagine if no one stopped what they were doing to celebrate your birthday with you? Would you celebrate it anyhow, even if no one sent you a FaceBook felicitation, no one sent you a card? (I'm giving England a pass on not sending greetings these past few years.) I mean, if a birthday means nothing to anyone but you, what does a "birthday" mean?


But we celebrated the 4th of July and people seemed to make it relatively unscathed. The fireworks are curious to me as in a time of supposed economic downturn, there's a lot of money spent of them. Perhaps we're not as poor as we get on?? That leads me to my favorite experience of yesterday.

As we were walking back from our town's fireworks display, the people in front of us were talking excitedly about what they had seen and heard. The children talked about the many colors, and the tallest girl said she liked the red, white, and blue ones best. The younger boys loved the boom, and how they could feel it. Mom and Dad just laughed, and kept warning them to stay on the sidewalk. What made overhearing this so special was that they were all talking in Spanish.

And that's why we celebrate the 4th. We celebrate it not because others recognize it or that we even enjoy it, but rather because the USA is one place where you can celebrate political freedom no matter what your mother-tongue is.

I re-read My Antonia by Willa Cather the other day. One hundred years ago, on the very lands I am sitting on right now writing this, there was a huge amount of language diversity going on, but everyone was united in trying to survive. We know now that the Native Americans, a monument of one famous Native leader is a mile up the hill from me, were decimated to help others survive. We also know that a good deal of luck allowed people to survive where others did not. But we all want to survive. And we'll probably do anything within our grasp to try and make that happen. That's what we celebrate on the 4th, we survived another year. Technically, it's what any birthday is.

That's why Jesus of Nazareth is so interesting. (His culture didn't celebrate birthdays. No cake for Jesus.) His survival was all about giving away health, life, and love. He survived by dying. How can you celebrate that? It turns out that he discovered a way to survive that did not involve marking time by yearly celebrations, but rather by marking time with love to someone else. You see, for Jesus, what mattered was not how many years you lived, but rather how many years you loved. May the same be true for us all.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.