Friday, December 28, 2012

Courage and Faith…

The background picture on my laptop (aka- “the wallpaper”) changes regularly.  Variety is the spice of life, right?  Every new image, though, induces from me much soul-searching and anguish.  What do I find beautiful?  What matters to me?  What reflects my values?  Blah, blah, blah.  One might suspect that I put too much thought into an entirely insignificant decision.  I do.  I own it.  So I’ve decided to use it, instituting a personal policy several months ago to tie each wallpaper change to upcoming sermons.  A pictorial guide for what I hope to preach.

Turns out that doing this weekly proved too time consuming.  So I adapted, and now change the wallpaper as new sermon series arise, keeping one around for weeks.  I chose an expansive, verdant banyan tree when I preached on remaking Paradise in our midst.  In summer, when we explored interfaith spiritual gurus, I had whirling dervishes circling across my screen.  Now it’s time for another change, because the annual Cinema Sermon Series approaches.  I’m calling the 2013 version “More than Belief, Faith Is Courage”.  So what image evocatively depicts that idea?

Well, before I reveal my choice (isn’t suspense fun?), I should explain the concept some.  First, ponder common understandings of what “faith” means.  If someone said, “Describe your faith,” what would you say?  I’d guess most American Christians would respond with something like, “I believe in Jesus, God, and maybe the Holy Spirit…”  And should you follow up, “Tell me more about faith in Jesus,” you’d likely hear, “He died for sin, rose again.  That’s what I believe.”

In other words, for reasons too complicated for this letter to do justice, many equate the term faith with the concept belief.  As if they’re synonyms, we surmise that what we believe is the essential content of our faith.  Thus, “I believe in Jesus” = “I have faith in Jesus”.

But consider who you’d put on your laptop wallpaper if asked to select a favorite Champion of Faith.  You know, a religious hero, someone who impeccably embodies what “faithfulness” means.  Belief might be part of your decision, though would that be it?  Like, say, you chose Mother Teresa (and many would, for good reason), you’d have to acknowledge that for her, faith transcended belief.  In posthumously published writings, Mother Teresa revealed that for long stretches of time she struggled to believe.  She continued serving the poor, helping the vulnerable, cleaning festering wounds, all while aching with regret at sometimes lacking belief.  Still, I dare you to argue that she lacked faith! 

And Mother Teresa’s not alone.  Other faithful champions in Christian history wrestled with doubt- Martin Luther, Dorothy Day, Peter, Paul and Mary.  Ultimately, though, these blessed souls each showed the divine power of lived faith.  Not because they believed more muscularly than others- purely, rightly and always true- but because through every peak and valley of this complex life, every whipping wave threatening to maroon their souls on rocky shores, they held fast.  They dug deep.  Stared unblinking into the abyss.  Which is to say, they displayed profound boldness. Courage. 

And I wonder if that’s the more essential part of faith than belief.

So this winter’s Cinema Sermon Series movies will explore the theory that “More than Belief, Faith Is Courage”.  Again, we can’t neglect belief, but we can affirm its proper order.  And I think it comes after we nurture the courage to trust God and live for love.  FYI, the series’ movies will be The Hunger Games, Casablanca and The Shawshank Redemption, because in each courage proves vital.  And my wallpaper image for the series, my courageous companion in faith?!  It’s Martin Luther King Jr. surrounded by hundreds of marchers, faithfully demanding recognition from their nation that all people are created equal.  On those marches, some were mauled and clubbed.  Dr. King, of course, was murdered.  Yet also on those marches, faithful souls sang, “We Shall Overcome,” proclaiming that deep in their hearts, they certainly believed.  Though deeper still, courage burst forth.  Changing the world.  Inspiring belief.  Guiding our hopes for faithfulness still.  Have we courage to follow their lead?  To be champions of faith ourselves?

Grace and Peace,

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