It’s ok to Doubt

Church is often the riskiest place to be spiritually honest. – Pete Enns

I don’t think it’s possible to be spiritually honest without acknowledging the reality of doubt and its part in the journey of faith.

I know there are many people in the church who have their doubts and questions about it all. I also know most of these people wouldn’t feel comfortable coming out and being honest about those doubts for fear of being told they lack faith or that they must not be true Christians. If church is your community, where your friends are and where you’ve spent many years, if not all your life, then risking the loss of that in any way is scary. (there are those looking at the church who are interested in coming in but fear rejection because they can’t embrace everything that the church seems to hold so tightly – but that is for another post)

It’s ok to doubt. It’s ok to question. Yes, doing so is very uncomfortable. Being open to the possibility of being wrong or having misunderstood is not a pleasant process. Maybe you’re not wrong but for some reason are questioning and aren’t certain if you are correct. Not knowing what will happen when you come out on the other side of your questions, is a very, very, scary place to be.

Some deal with their doubts by anchoring themselves deeper in their tradition’s accepted beliefs. They may even become fierce advocates of the faith, numbing down their own true sense of everything and putting on a mask of certainty and anger toward anyone who would question their belief or dare to offer any alternative way of thinking.

Others will see their doubts as a lack of maturity or the result of sin in their lives. They will humbly tow the party line and feel guilty about having those second thoughts. They will repent. They will keep going, sincerely pursuing Jesus and hoping their doubts eventually go away.

When it comes to faith, certainty is not necessarily a mark of spiritual maturity. One can trust God without being certain at all.

There are different things that cause people to doubt. For example, doubt can stem from the thought that the foundation for your belief system mostly rests on a book that was written and compiled centuries ago, in a land far away, by people whose understanding of the world was very different than yours. It’s normal to doubt when that very same book, ever since its contents were gathered, has been the object of debate by many sincere individuals trying to figure out what it “truly and clearly” claims. It’s normal to doubt when scientific discoveries and what we learn about how the world works seemingly contradicts the Bible.

If God is all that the Bible makes him out to be, and If, as the Bible claims, God is capable of anything (except of course creating a rock he can’t lift – Isaiah 67:1), then I think it’s safe to assume that he knows who I am and where I am on this journey (Psalm 139). If he is love, his love does not depend on my ability to perfectly understand and master “correct doctrine”. God is not diminished by my inability to understand him. My lack of knowing, my inability to fully comprehend and even my certainties do not change what is true about him. This does not need to make me insecure. Those who are the most ardent, and sometimes arrogant and angry, defenders of “the faith”, can be insecure individuals who find it difficult to handle the idea that something they hold to be true may not be true or that absolute truth about God may not be something we can handle.

If you are someone who has doubts and simply likes to ask questions, to say that “the Bible says it, I believe, that settles it,” doesn’t really settle anything. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

What is one to do? Pack it up and walk away or embrace doubt and let it lead you into a deeper and honest pursuit of truth and the One who claims to be the Truth? Can faith grow amid doubt? Does following Jesus require certainty?

I Know Nothing of Calvary Love

I know. It’s harsh.

Most of us appreciate a good inspirational quote now and then. We share them on our Facebook page or via our Twitter feed. I do it. It might be an encouraging or thought provoking quote from a book we’re reading or something we heard. Christians really like to quote dead missionaries and theologians. Many of these quotes are wonderful and are worth noting and pondering.

But.

Many of them, while they seem nice at first glance, are rather concerning and problematic. Interestingly enough, while the person posting them usually means well and intends the quote to be a gospel affirming quote (in the Christian context), they are not always that great. Of course, much of this depends one’s definition of “gospel affirming”.

Here is an example of a quote that came up on my Facebook feed today. Have a look at it, then I’ll tell you what I think about it.

If the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, then I know nothing of Calvary love. – Amy Carmichael

First things first. I have no idea of the context in which this quote was originally said or written. It could be that my reaction would be tempered if I had the full context. But I don’t and no one who reads the quote does either. All we have is the quote as it stands.

I think it is bad. Actually, to be honest, I think it is a damaging quote. I can see the potential, but stated the way it is – Yuck.

Now, if we could point the finger at someone who is constantly characterized by everything mentioned in the quote I guess someone could argue that this person has not yet tasted Calvary love (which, for the record, means Jesus’ love shown in what he said, did, and, ultimately, his death on the cross).

However, the quote seems to suggest that any one of those traits would mean an absolute lack of knowing Calvary love. Nothing. Nada. Rien du tout.

So then, I know nothing of Calvary love.

You see, there are times when the praise of others elates me.

There are times when the blame of others depresses me.

There are times when I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself.

There are times when I love to be loved more than I love to love.

There are also times when I love to be served more than I love to serve.

I get it. It is quite freeing to be able to live daily without feeling the need for the praise of others or feeling depressed when blamed or criticized.

It is also freeing to love for love sake and not expecting something in return.

And yes, there is also great joy to be found in serving others.

Why then does the quote rub me the wrong way?

It’s the end of the quote that ruins it for me. To have issues with those things means to “know nothing of Calvary love.

You know nothing Jon Snow

(image found at giphy.com)

N.O.T.H.I.N.G.

Really? Is that really true? Nothing? Not even a little something? No baby steps? No figuring things out? No growing? Nope. Nothing.

If being perfect is required so that it can be said of us that we “know Calvary love” then we’re all pretty much screwed.

(Side note – what does it even mean here to “know” Calvary love? Does it mean having a perfect understanding of it? Who can even claim that!)

The potential. I think the quote has potential if only it had been worded a bit differently.

Something like:

If the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, there is freedom in Calvary love.

Or maybe:

When the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; when I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; when I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, Calvary love compels me to find my identity and rest in Jesus.

Or:

If the praise of others elates me and their blame depresses me; if I cannot rest under misunderstanding without defending myself; if I love to be loved more than to love, to be served more than to serve, it is a reminder of how much I still need to know and grow in my understanding of the depth of Calvary love.

But to say that one knows nothing! Such a statement is over the top and, not to mention, not really gospel affirming.

How about you? What do you think about the quote? Do you have some insight that might help us here? Have you ever come across a quote that somehow just didn’t sound quite right?

Sorry, missed it. Was gazing into my awesome phone

gazing into my phoneRecently I have become more sensitive to the sad reality of how technology, while providing me with much appreciated advantages, is also robbing me of much more than what I get in return.

I am certainly not the first to bring this up and I know it can spark much worthy debate. I love technology as much as the next person and I do appreciate having it on hand.

We could discuss the upside of holding mini computers giving us instant access to pretty much anyone and anything, but this is not about that. It’s mostly just a conversation starter about something else.

While our smart phones and tablets allow us to be instantly aware of what is going on in the world, not to mention who is eating what and where, they are also stripping us of our ability to be connected with what is going on around us, right here and right now.

I’m not saying we should stop using our phones and various screens but I am convinced that many of us are in need of some serious re-assessment of how much and for what purpose we use them. Mostly though, we need to take a step back and have an honest look at everything we are missing out on while we’re busy looking at the latest text, tweet, Instagram, snapchat, Facebook, email, sports update, news report, ect. And for what exactly?

How much have I really gained reading the Facebook status update of a long lost friend (God bless them) when in the process I miss what is taking place right in front of my eyes in the lives of those with whom I actually am doing life with!

“Sorry son, I missed that great move you made. I was reading what one of my college buddies I haven’t seen in 16 years was having for lunch.”

“Yes. Hmm.” I say, nodding my head, half listening, while my daughter tells me about her day.

“Yes honey, I know you’ve got a lot going on right now but if you could just let me get to this text message and I’ll be right with you,” I tell my wife hoping I’ll also have time to squeeze in a short clash royale battle.

I’m not suggesting we get rid of Facebook or stop following long lost friends. No. I think it’s pretty cool that we can stay ‘in touch’ that way and I have discovered some pretty good eating spots thanks to Facebook updates. But let’s face it, while it’s great to be informed about what our friends are doing and what is going on in the world, it is not always very significant information for us in the moment.

We’re addicted and we can’t stop. It’s like our screens are mini masters holding us with an invisible chain. We’re their slaves. It’s almost as though we can here our screens talking to us : “Look at me. Touch me. Don’t put me down. Bring me with you. Don’t look up. Just one more minute. Never mind them, look at everything I can do for you. Please hold me. Take me with you. Don’t let me go.”

It’s a challenge. It’s hard enough to set limits and clear guidelines for our own use as adults. Multiply that by 100 when trying to set limits for kids who think their screens are the best thing in the world.

If there’s ever to be a zombie apocalypse, I would say this is pretty darn close to being it. Maybe we need Daryl to put an arrow through some of our screens.

I’m generalizing and exaggerating but some re-thinking needs to happen. If my smartphone or any other screen is a thief robbing me of precious moments in my day to day life, I want to keep it in check.

Here are a few simple steps I have taken to help myself: 1) at home I leave my phone somewhere I can’t see it all the time or be drawn to it every second; 2) I don’t feel obligated to reply to text messages and emails right away; 3) I’ve started reading real books (the paper kind) again; 4) on the bus ride home, if I’m using my phone it is to listen to something and I keep it in my pocket to reduce screen staring.

What about your screen time? What precious moments are you being robbed of? What limits have you set in order to avoid the trap of excessive screen gazing at the expense of true connectedness? Is there something worth thinking about here or am I just rambling?

 

Chaos On the Toilette

toiletteHave you been to the toilette in a public washroom? The ones with the sensors that flush after you move away from the toilette? Have you ever been occupying one of these when suddenly the toilette flushes while you’re still going? The loud flush, the high intensity water twirling around and rising in the bowl. Meanwhile, you are still sitting there in the middle of your business. In that second you find yourself inconveniently forced to make a decision. Stand up in a moment of panic or stay seated and risk the water rising high enough to touch your butt. Either way, you risk getting dirty. Not fun. The other day I experienced this ordeal (not for the first time) and it got me thinking about how life doesn’t always flush when it’s convenient.

Yes, as much as we like to live under the illusion that we can schedule and control everything, the reality is that at any moment the toilette of life can randomly flush and destabilize you. Life’s sensor is totally off. One moment you’re quietly taking care of business and the next you’re thrown a curve ball and left scrambling. The sensor is supposed to detect when I move away from the toilette therefore signalling to the toilette that it is time to flush. When I sit on that toilette seat I trust the sensor to do what sensors do. But life is much more random than that.

It’s a good thing to realize. Too much of what we buy into, whether it be via religion or the latest self-help book, tries to sell us a vain attempt at fleeing the randomness, the chaos and the pain of life. As though we could somehow actually escape those things and create for ourselves a life where the sensor never fails. We try and we try hard. Sometimes we even manage to fool ourselves with the illusion; until the toilet flushes unexpectedly and the water rises.

Happiness, deep abiding joy and peace, are actually found when we embrace the randomness and chaos of our lives. Whether it be the chaos around us or the one within us. Rejoice during the days when the sensor is working well but it’s when the sensor malfunctions that we can actually go into the darker corners of our existence, face what is there and own it, learn from it, grow into or out of it and find peace.

I’m reminded of Jesus when he says “I have come that you may have life to the full.” Interestingly enough, this life to the full, according to what Jesus says elsewhere, requires a certain taking up of our cross and following him. The notion of taking up a cross doesn’t sound very pleasant. It actually even sounds like death. Yet, if we are to take Jesus’ word for it, it is in some way the path to abundant life.

Today when you sit on the toilette, whether it has a sensor or not, think about that.

(bonus random thought : have you ever looked at one of those sensors and asked yourself if they have cameras in there?)

Epistemophobia

EpistemophobiaRemember when Galileo insisted the earth was not at the centre of the universe (a.k.a. Heliocentrism vs Geocentrism)? Maybe you missed it. It was a little while ago after all. What I find interesting about that little piece of history is the pushback Galileo received from the people of his time. Not only did some people within his own field react strongly but so did the Church. Of course, as we know very well today, Galileo was right. At the time people weren’t in much of a hurry to accept this ‘new’ knowledge as true.

The Church, for example, had this to say about it. They concluded that heliocentrism was:

foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture. (Source: Galileo Galilei – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Why is it difficult to accept that something we think is true may not be? Or that something we believe is true may be slightly different than we think? The Church figured that Galileo must be wrong because there are verses in the Bible that seem to suggest the earth is a the centre of the universe and doesn’t move (Psalm 93:1; Psalm 96:10; Psalm 104:5; 1 Chronicles 16:30). How can the earth revolve around the sun? After all, Ecclesiastes 1:5 clearly says that it is the sun that “rises and sets and hurries around to rise again.”

It reminds me of a saying that you’ll sometimes hear in christian settings:

The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.

Did the Bible get it wrong? In Galileo’s day they certainly didn’t think so and Galileo was treated harshly for it. But today, even the most dedicated christian has to admit that on this side of history, knowing what we know about our solar system, those verses are to be understood as expressing the human experience within the limits of the author’s knowledge of the world in his or her day.

So back to the question, why is it so difficult to accept that something we thought was true may not be? It’s unsettling sometimes. Especially in regards to issues that are more fundamental to our particular worldview. If I got that wrong, what else could I be mistaken about?

I was listening to a podcast on my way home from work this week and it got me thinking about this. Trey Pearson, the lead singer of Everyday Sunday, was being interviewed and he said something about knowledge that stood out to me.

That is the interesting thing about knowledge. We are so scared of it sometimes ‘cause it might mean something is different than how we thought it was.

Are you Epistemophobic? Can you remember moments when you realized some fundamental things you had always believed were in fact incorrect? How did you feel? Was it a positive or negative experience?

Imagine Life Without Mirrors

I think it’s safe to say that among the things we take for granted, mirrors would make the top of our list. Just think about it for a second. What would you do without a mirror? How would you know what you look like? Ya, you could run to a puddle on a rainy day or take a walk to the nearest pond but work with me here. Just imagine a world with nothing we could look into to provide a reflexion of ourselves. Your face, the only one you have. The one you carry around with you everywhere you go. The one anyone but yourself can see clearly. The one you are touching right now. Yes, that one.

Without someone or something to provide you with a reflexion of your face you simply wouldn’t know what people see when they are looking at you. Even if you were to ask someone to describe you facial features you would still be left to ponder. What did they mean by that? When he said my nose is big, how big was he talking about?

There is really romantic book in the Bible where a young man and a young woman go back and forth telling of their love for one another. On one occasion the young man ventures into a description of the young woman’s face. Here is what he says :

Your eyes behind your veil are like doves. Your hair falls in waves, like a flock of goats frisking down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are as white as sheep, newly shorn and washed. They are perfectly matched; not one is missing. Your lips are like a ribbon of scarlet. Oh, how beautiful your mouth! Your cheeks behind your  veil are like pomegranate halves – lovely and delicious. (Song of Songs 4:1-3, New Living Translation)

I can imagine the young woman thinking, “oh honey, that is so sweet! Wait a minute. What do you mean a flock of goats? I don’t even like pomegranates!” She gets so caught up trying to figure out what her face looks like in light of that description, she totally misses the next part when he says her neck is like a tower and her breasts are like the twin fawns of a gazelle.

So you see, without mirrors, even with your loved ones best intentions, you are still somewhat at a loss as far as knowing what your face really looks like. In other words, mirrors are quite useful.

We’ve all looked into one at least once today. If you haven’t yet, maybe you should take it into consideration. Just to be on the safe side.

The main reason why we’ve all taken a moment today to glance at a mirror is because we are aware of our inability to see what is going on with our face and hair unless we have the mirror to reflect our image back at us. Interestingly enough, rarely will we argue with the mirror’s assessment. If the mirror reveals left over Nutella on the tip of my nose I’ll immediately do something about it. If my tongue can’t reach it, I’ll wipe it off with something else. One thing is certain, at least I hope it is, I will not leave the house without having obeyed the mirror which is telling me, “look Georges, you’re not quite ready to go out there yet. You need to take care of the smudge on your face.”

If I didn’t have the mirror I would ask my wife and she would most certainly, and lovingly of course, point out the Nutella still hanging around. Then I, being the good husband that I am, would immediately take her word for it and wipe it away.

We need others and we need a reflexion of ourselves in order to know what we look like.

I wonder what else about myself, my personality, my character and my habits I am unable to clearly see without the help of someone or something else? Or is it just my face?

Hello, it’s me

Guess who’s back? Did you miss me?

What do you mean “No!”

Come on, admit it. There must be at least some small part of you that’s has been wondering when I would start writing again. Right?

To say I’ve been inconsistent over the last few years would be an understatement. I’ve tried to pick it up again a number of times but have been unable to keep at it. I’ve had my reasons but I do miss putting thoughts on paper outside of writing sermons for church.

Recently as I’ve been reading Rob Bell’s latest book How to Be Here : A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living, it dawned on my how easily I can justify not doing things that I love doing. It’s easy to come up with excuses not to write and engage my thoughts with those of others. It’s easy to come up with excuses about why it’s better not to expose yourself. Someone might end up hating or rejecting you for it. You may lose something that you are holding onto for security.

One quote that particularly stood out to me in Rob’s book says that :

We rob ourselves of immeasurable joy when we compare what we do know about ourselves with what we don’t know about someone else.

You Have your life. And your life is not her life. Or his life. And his life is not yours and neither is hers.

Is there anyway in which you’ve been asking, what about them? When the better question is, what is that to you?

There will always be someone who is smarter than you. There will always be someone with more raw talent than you. There will always be someone more experienced and better qualified and harder working and stronger and more articulate and more creative with more stamina wha can sing better than you.

But who you aren’t isn’t interesting.

And who they are isn’t interesting when it comes to who you are and what your path is.

So here I am again for the first time. Maybe along the way I’ll write something that will strike a chord with you. I hope it happens often but that’s beyond my control.

Everything is an opportunity to think about something.