Friday, October 16, 2009

This I Believe…

If you read the newsletter closely, you know we’re encouraging folk to join a congregation-wide project. We want everyone to write 350-500 words about why Christian faith matters to them.

It’s fashioned after the recent NPR series “This I Believe,” which in turn borrowed the idea from 1950’s Newsman Extraordinaire, Edward R. Murrow. The reason for this project is simple- sharing what you believe is HARD. We learned from reading Unbinding the Gospel that the biggest barrier folk have to sharing faith is finding what to say in the first place. Faith feels too close and personal to put into words. So we’re challenging ourselves to overcome that barrier, using “This I Believe” as a template.

The rules are easy: 1) Write350-500 words about what you believe, 2) Make it a story- not a sermon or list of beliefs, 3) Don’t try to say everything; pick one thing personal and specific. We hope to feature these weekly and anonymously (so don’t be nervous!!). And we pray this practice encourages more faith sharing, fosters greater intimacy in the church family, and helps us, by looking through each other’s eyes, know God better. Our first offering was in last week’s bulletin (Thanks!), and this week’s cWeeksider. But since I’m asking, I felt pressure to add my own:

I believe in mystery. I believe mystery resides deep in the heart of Christian faith. Or at least deep in my heart. It took awhile in my life of faith to make mystery a priority. I guess I once hoped that God could be fully understood, or proven, or held completely in mind. But then I met Dr. Wedell.

Dr. Wedell taught a class my senior year of college called, “The Idea of God.” Our major class assignment was to write thirty pages about what we, individually, believed about God. I’d grown up involved in church, so I thought my ideas of God were pretty well fixed and secure. But when I turned in the first ten pages, they returned covered in red ink. “Have you considered this…,” Dr. Wedell wrote. “I’m not sure that fits with the other thing you wrote.” And so on. It was a massacre. I began again.

Three days before the final paper was due, I walked into Dr. Wedell’s office panicking. We talked through my confused thoughts; I’d become aware, by now, that much of what I once considered certain and sacred now seemed wholly unbelievable. After fifteen minutes, tears began flowing. I cried, shaking with drama and angst, “I have nothing to say about God! I still believe, but have no clue any more who God is.” Dr. Wedell, rather than snidely write me off as a troubled young man, paused thoughtfully. Then he said, “Shane, I wonder if that’s what St. Paul meant when he wrote, ‘We are saved by faith alone.’ Maybe just knowing you have faith is enough.”

Those words suddenly became my words. My prayer. “God, I’m certain you’re out there. I think. Let my silent faith be enough.” Somehow, it seemed, that was enough. It was alright. Maybe it was preferable that I couldn’t prove or fully justify my faith. Faith still anchored me in some deep place. Mysteriously, faith remained my center.

Since then, I’ve learned new words to describe God. They seem adequate, for now. But that respect for the power of mystery in understanding God, which I learned in Dr. Wedell’s office, that remains central. Now I crave experiences when words don’t even pretend to capture everything. When prayer flows with little to no forethought, and becomes quickly overcome by something I can only describe as Spirit. As I’ve reflected more on Dr. Wedell’s Office, it seems like something happened similar to what ancient sages called ‘humility.’ Or ‘the fear of the LORD.’ Something. I’m still learning. But I no longer think one day I’ll finally ‘get it,’ discover the skeleton key. After all, it seems God has touched people all over the world for all time in all sorts of ways. How? That’s the ultimate mystery. I pray for the humility to respect that. Or rather, to celebrate that unbelievably-believable mystery.

Grace and Peace,