Frontier

This is for Rick (and anyone else, of course). What started out as a paragraph became several, and maybe a bit too abstract. Sorry if I rambled too much. Just some thoughts.

Many think we are just selfish relativists who want to have our free will without any responsibility or consequence. We are seen and described as non-committal, apathetic-yet-verbose idealists whose primary desire is to buck the system to conform to and justify our own fleshly desires. We are perceived as having near-demonic repulsion to the holy absolutes handed down by wise, God-fearing prophets, teachers, and/or apostles. We may be seen as naïve. Or if we demonstrate that we are not naïve, we are declared as bitter malcontents whose hearts have been darkened by such sins as pride or rebellion.

These are some of the justifications given for declaring many of us heretics, among many other descriptors. And we know these all quite well. In spite of this, and not merely in quick reaction to it, I think the best way to respond is with words such as those spoken by Dean Thomas Ferret, one of the first Protestants who was burned at the stake during a Scottish inquisition: “I am confident my cause is just in the presence of God, and therefore I am not concerned about the consequences.”

I use that quote not because I piously think of myself or others in similar position as martyrs. I wouldn’t dare compare myself to someone who was questioned by an established regime of Christians who were so confident in their specific form of faith that they felt it okay to literally judge the faith of others. Okay, well, maybe I would. Because in the same way that it has been happening for centuries within Christianity, people have felt so determined to defend “the” faith, or at least their form of it, that they have named “their” faith “the” faith. And to this day the inquisitions live on, albeit softly, through various forms in all denominations of what the Catholic church has progressively re-named from “Inquisition” to “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” the task of which since 1965 has been defined as “furthering right doctrine rather than ‘censuring’ heresy.” And I think such soft-pedaling is disingenuous.

Regardless, what I want people to know is that most of us really are, on a heart level, confident that our “cause is just in the presence of God.” And while some might say that one who is sincere can still be wrong, which just makes one sincerely wrong, I think the crux of the matter is that Christians have come to define a relationship with God with too tight of terms, including “right” and “wrong.” I know this may get into the whole relativism-versus-authority debate, but I’ll avoid that by just pausing to say that one way I have come to define my faith is with the same words of those who established the Christian Biblical canon: “This ‘seems’ right to us and the Spirit.” In other words, it’s all a guess. A hunch.

Whatever label some try to put on me, I am holding fast to this proposal: Faith is not faith if it doesn’t involve uncertainty. If it doesn’t involve some trepidation, mistrust, struggle, fear, blindness, and dare I say, doubt, it’s no faith for me. And if my version of God is a god whose deadly “justice” needs defense, that god must die, because he is apparently too weak to stand on his own. And if, in order to further the legacy of such a faith, I must reject any perspectives that question, deconstruct, or defy established doctrines, that’s a legacy not worth continuing.

So these views might make me an outsider of sorts. A wanderer. A lost “prodigal.” But in this sense, I’d rather wallow and share slop with my fellow pigs than return to a house that promises an inheritance. Because, in this case, the inheritance is conditional upon my acceptance of too many house rules based on imagined certainty, and such an inheritance, in my view, is fools gold. And many have made that house and that inheritance into more of a self-proclaimed kingdom. But it’s an insular kingdom, an incestuous monarchy.

For these reasons, I am content with my wandering. But I am intentional in wandering. It’s part searching and part enjoying the ride. Part sailing, part motoring, and part drifting. Part communicating and part staying silent. And a lot of listening. A lot of sniffing the air and licking my finger and testing the breeze. And occasionally putting one foot in front of the other, not on a staircase that brings me higher, but on a wilderness trail with lots of blind turns. And I’ve grown comfortable in the discomfort of that. Confident in the contradictions.

It’s like I’m suspended somewhere in-between, but not like walking a tightrope, trying to traverse from one side to the other and calling it a success. More like the neon suspended in a glass tube, happy when the twilight comes. The time when the world occasionally realizes that night and day are different for each time zone. Because that’s when I begin to see that I’m not the only welcome sign in our lonely town. With each flicker of light here and there, little signs popping on, I’m reminded of the beauty in the art of divine randomness. It’s the beauty of holy chaos. Reds and yellows and all sorts of colors blinking on, some in steady, predetermined  patterns, some of them stuttering for a while until they’re warmed, and some haltingly flashing, barely humming in their own discouraged dimness. But we all light up our own little portions of the solitary road, letting travelers know that they are welcome to stay a while, to exit the busy highway and rest.

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7 Responses

  1. Dear Peter: Here’s a quote: “I know that when we apply our intellect and heart to seeking the truth and Him, that He answers us.” Yet you left the Catholic faith, (which offers the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist), without really knowing it. It seems from your post that your feelings about being Catholic were the reason you left, yet you say it is important to apply intellect to faith. I happen to agree with that, which is why I became Catholic at age 42 after spending many years in various denominations and emergent churches. I also think intellect without the “obedience of faith” (as Paul puts it) can be deadly.

  2. Where did you learn the phrase “holy chaos” or did you just make that up? Not to be fundamental about it or anything, but scripture does say, ” God is not the author of confusion” and chaos is confusion, no? So how can chaos be “holy?” I don’t think it can. But my point of view adds to the conversation, does it not?

  3. I just wonder about feelings. It’s nice to have good feelings, but are they truly an accurate guide to God and His ways? Maybe, the “acting on feelings thing” is one of the reasons you say you’ve been branded a selfish relativist? Not everybody wants to rely on feelings. I know I didn’t when my dad said he felt like leaving my mom for another woman. I know I shouldn’t when I open the refrigerator too many times and then I can’t fit into my pants. Oh well, we persevere. Everyone does have free will.

  4. I just wonder about feelings. It’s nice to have good feelings, but are they truly an accurate guide to God and His ways? Maybe, the “acting on feelings thing” is one of the reasons you say you’ve been branded a selfish relativist? Not everybody wants to rely on feelings. I know I didn’t when my dad said he felt like leaving my mom for another woman. I know I shouldn’t when I open the refrigerator too many times and then I can’t fit into my pants. Oh well, we persevere.

  5. Not all who wander are lost 🙂

  6. I like this article. I think it’s intelligently and honestly written. I personally grew up in Catholic church but rejected all that as soon as I got on my own. I became a Christian 4 years later through the Vineyard churches. I am with you that church has erred in being dogmatic, unforgiving, and harsh concerning differences of belief and practice. If we’re really secure in our relationship with the Father, then why do we get so defensive in disagreements? Jesus never called us to die for any particular theology of Him. He called us to give it all for Him. For Him, a person… the most wonderful person ever. Then, the differences b/w us get worked out in love and humility. I encourage you in your thinkings and journey to go full bore for Him, the person, and don’t allow anything to distract you. I know that when we apply our intellect and heart to seeking the truth and Him, that He answers us.
    Peace.

  7. Very brilliant. Truly typed.

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