Are We Lost?

In many religions there’s a fundamental assumption that settling down in certainty of faith is a sign of maturity. At least I’ve found this to be true in my Evangelical Christian heritage. Many who are established in churches imply, to those who are not, that one must precisely know what they believe and why they believe it, and if that’s not the case there is something spiritually wrong. In short, if one does not have their faith tied down to an anchor of certainty, they are lost. They then become a target of prayer, evangelism, and definitely a target of gossip.

Anyway, the thinking used to be that when youth left home, they might also leave the church temporarily. They might wander around a bit and experiment, but when they got a little older, when they got married, perhaps, they would return. Or when they had kids, for sure, because everyone knows you have to have your faith statements together when you have kids. And in the past, yes, they would usually come back. But that no longer seems to be the case. Many are not going back. Maybe I should say we are not going back. So where are we going instead? What has happened? Have we lost our way?

***

I spent a few years researching apologetics, the practice of defending your faith. There were times when, as a young short-term missionary/evangelist, even while confidently sharing the Gospel with “the lost” and artfully weaving arguments to win them over, I had my own questions in mind. Of course, I never paid them much attention, because that would have been opening the door to deception, according to our teaching. Well, it’s not that I never expressed my concerns. I certainly drove my family, friends, and professors nuts at times with my unending questions. But my questions were always tethered to a confidence in the fundamentals of my faith. That is, of course, until I started questioning the fundamentals.

That’s when the anchor line broke and my ship set out to sea. To describe the process would take too much space here, so I’ll just say that it was in fact, a process. A gradual stretching that at some point caused my chain of certainty to lose a link, and then another, and another, and so on.

The funny thing is that there are two ways to look at this un-tethering. When someone’s faith-chain snaps, does it represent an aimless drifting that will eventually result in (spiritual) starvation and death? Or is it freedom? Those two ways of seeing it are both represented well on bumper stickers. One says, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” While the other says, in the words of Tolkein, “…Not all those who wander are lost.”

For me, it’s been intentional. And for me, it is freedom. But, as another bumper sticker says, “Freedom isn’t free.” With freedom, when you have no visible boundaries, it’s hard to tell which direction you should go. You have to look hard for reference points. And you have to search for food and shelter. And, what can be the most difficult, it can get very, very lonely. You also may occasionally reach a port, where you assume you’re safe, where you might meet some like you. Some ports turn out to be wonderful places of nurturing and security, and others are downright dangerous.

Those who intentionally choose to cut their chains become exiles. Voluntary exiles. Some call us wanderers. But I think some are just innately born to explore, including areas of faith. So some call themselves explorers. Journeyers. And some are refugees, fleeing hurt and seeking hope. I call myself a pilgrim. (That’s why I’ve inked myself with the Latin label “Peregrinus.”)

There are many valid points and counter points to consider with this. For me, some quotes give me comfort in my perspective:

There are only too many men and women who think that, if they have scrupulously repeated the prescribed phrases, made the proper gestures and observed the traditional tabus, they are excused from bothering about anything else. For these people, the performance of traditional custom has become a substitute for moral effort and intelligence.” — Aldous Huxley, End and Means

In challenge to the idea that if people would only involve themselves in a solid Christian church and firm up their faith, their existential issues would resolve, Leslie Weatherhead writes:

Far more people are in distress of mind and body because they are starved of love than because their religious beliefs are in a muddle…. …Men have not found in [churches] an answer to their questions, the satisfaction of their need of fellowship, or adequate scope for their service to others. All this and much, much more they should have found in the churches, and the need for many [non-profit service] organizations would not have arisen if the churches had cared more for men and less for creed and ceremony.”

…And so, I suggest, that is why they set out as voluntary exiles in search of something more.

Perhaps the most apt one-liners come from a 19th/20th-century French writer, Andre Gide, who devoted himself to intellectual honesty. My friend Spritzophrenia brought up this brilliant Gide quote:

Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”

But here’s my favorite:

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”
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17 Responses

  1. Trust is the anti-thesis to certainty. Certainty is the strongest wall to be knocked down if we intend to find our way home.
    Peace
    J

  2. Dave,

    Thank you for your thoughts. Sharon and I were discussing the difference between blindly following your parents faith and doing a little searching to figure I out on your own. I’ve read a little of what you’ve written on here and although I don’t know all your thoughts, I have to add that I believe Jesus’ teaching were never about a blind faith but about testing and learning for yourself. I think there’s a lot to be said about a person who chooses exploration…

    Your cousin,
    Jes

    • Sorry for the delayed reply, Jes. Thanks for reading and commenting. It sounds like you’re really just trying to be true to yourself and about yourself….Honest searching, wherever it takes us, takes us to the right place for the right time. Would love to talk with you guys more…Hope you come visit soon.

  3. absolutely loved this post…much of your writing resonates with me…nice to know there are others out there…

  4. Dave, and everyone:

    I think you’d really relate to Alan Jamieson’s work “A Churchless Faith”. He’s a believer who did his PhD on people who’ve left church but still have some kind of faith.

    http://www.reality.org.nz/articles/33/33-jamieson.html

    Also google “A churchless faith” for his book.

    He was surprised by what he found – had expected loss of faith, instead he often found strong faith, even tho a dislike and nonattendance of church.

    Warmly,

    Jonathan Elliot (spritzophrenia)

  5. All I can say is that I burst with joy when reading your blogs. I am so glad to journey alongside of you… even if we go it alone…

  6. You and I must be dealing with the same struggle, though you phrase it more elegantly than I could. It’s almost exactly what I’ve been thinking and writing about this week.

    We need to get together for dinner again, soon. New stuff to talk about. Well, same stuff as ever, just a new chapter in the book.

    • Definitely, we must get together again soon. Let’s plan it…(Although I’m not sure you want us guys to plan it.)

  7. Hi! Just read your post and was completely moved… found you through Bruce’s blog today.

    Can’t wait to read through your older postings.

    • Glad you’re here, Angela.

  8. Dave,
    I loved this; very meaningful. I really appreciate the resonance you provide for those of us who are walking similar roads.
    Bless you.

  9. My favorite is “I followed the road less taken. Now where the hell am I?”

    I like not knowing. Keeps life interesting.

    I severed my ties with church 6 years or so ago. As a worship leader, I constantly battled crap and politics, jealously and lack of integrity. But boy could we jam.

    I miss the music (not the cheesy, overly intimate lyrics) and haven’t done any music since then….in that only, do I feel regret.

    Nice post.

    • I miss the music too, Cindy.

  10. I’m forever thankful to my friend for referring me to your blog! I was emotionally touched by your post because it is exactly where my husband and I find ourselves.

    I love the Tolkien quote! I want to scream it from the roof tops, but instead, we are still living out this journey in fear (mild!) of our family and friends finding out we haven’t been to church in a year! I could write a book on what we feel and have gone through making a change like this. We were active in ‘traditional church’ for 30 years in leadership postions as well as pastoring.

    ~~~Those who intentionally choose to cut their chains become exiles. Voluntary exiles. Some call us wanderers. But I think some are just innately born to explore, including areas of faith. So some call themselves explorers. Journeyers~~~

    Your words very acurately describe my husband and I. We feel like exiles, but we are HAPPY exiles. Thanks for your honesty and keep writing!

    • Thanks so much for sharing, Teresa. So glad we can identify with each others’ story. It makes it all worth it when we discover we’re not the only ones.

  11. Ps: When you say “inked yourself”, do you mean a tattoo?

    I’ve inked myself with an old science symbol that means (to me) “Integrity”.

  12. Haha, glad you liked the Andre Gide quote.

    I really like this post, and your writing in general. But you know that 🙂

    Jonathan Elliot
    (from Spritzophrenia)

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