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to doubt or not to doubt

I doubt I’ll ever be done with doubt.doubt still

This business of doubt takes me to Abraham and the question of the οὐ.

“Without being weakened in faith, Abraham faced the fact that his body was as good as dead, and that Sarah’s womb was also dead – and yet, looking to the promise of God he did not waver through unbelief but grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God, becoming fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised (Romans 4:19 or there abouts).”

Here’s the question.

doubtDid Abraham face the fact of his own sterility and of Sarah’s barrenness or did he choose to ignore them? Did he fully traffic in his own reality?

It all depends on the οὐ. A good number of ancient manuscripts have Paul in Romans say οὐ κατενόησεν (ka-teh-noh-ay-sen = to fully consider, think about in depth, ponder at length) but a good number of them omit the οὐ (no, not).

Did he fully consider his condition, did he ponder in depth the obstacles, did he wrestle with doubt?

sometimes, for some, this is the problem...

sometimes, for some, this is the problem…

We can’t decide the issue based on manuscripts. The older English translations say he didn’t think about it, the more recent that he did, and that, having done so, he worked out his doubts into full assurance. Doubt was the grist in his mill of faith.

[Geeks, let me geek/greek out a bit more here, the rest of you can skip to the punch line if you wish; variant readings in New Testament manuscripts are rated on an A|B|C|D scale by Bruce Metzger (super Greek geek) in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament with A meaning the reading is virtually certain; B there is some doubt; C there is considerable doubt (a major shoulder shrugging moment); and D is maximized doubt – we really have no idea what the original reading was so we’ll just go with the least unsatisfactory reading – which is pretty much how we all vote in every election anyway. Metzger goes with no οὐ here, concluding that no οὐ fits better here because “Paul does not wish to imply that faith means closing one’s eyes to reality, but that Abraham was so strong in faith as to be undaunted by every consideration.” But still, Metzger puts the no οὐ reading in the “C” shoulder shrugging category. A doubtful reading about Abraham’s doubt. Too good. Geek session over.]

how not to pull your Bible out

how not to pull your Bible out

The thing is, we don’t need manuscripts to decide this. Abraham was a human being, therefore he had doubts. Plus the Genesis story leaves little doubt that Abraham struggled with doubts through his journey (anyone who asks the question, “How am I to know?” is struggling with doubt). Faith (whether of the religious or irreligious variety) is processing doubts by dealing with all of reality, rather than select portions of it. Anything less is more folly than faith.

The fact is, when Abraham was still Abram, he doubted before he faithed. He saw that crack in the wall of his polytheistic, cosmopolitan, commercialized reality. No matter what room, what town square, what marketplace, what temple, it was there. And then, one day, when he stopped avoiding it, stopped covering it, stopped ignoring it (and evidently this only took seventy-five years), the crack in the wall spoke. “Lech lecha.” Get going. Destination: Unknown. But I will show you. And it will turn into a party for the whole world.

Toxic doubt paralyzes us, immobilizes us, and turns us into hardened, bitter cynics who no longer see wonder nor listen for voices in the cracks showing up in the walls of our world. Doubt that serves as the flip-side of faith always gets us going and keeps us moving.

It’s so what we do with it – what we let it do with us.

What wonderful freedom not to fear the cracks through which light is beaming, but to let them speak instead.

What things unseen are just waiting to be seen if we aren’t afraid to listen and look?

What realities might be realized if we will fully plumb the depths of our own barrenness, of our own deadness, inertness, or that of our current belief system and settings, rather than numbing our brains and applying another layer of cosmetics one more time?

What indeed…

crack in the wall

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Faith, haverings

 

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doubt your doubt

Doubt can serve you well, doubts
if you train it.
It must become a way of knowing,
a good critic.
Every time doubt wants to spoil something for you,

ask why

it finds something ugly and demand proofs.
Thus tested by you,
doubt may become

bewildered and
embarrassed, even
aggressive.

But don’t give in,

demand reasons and
be persistent and
attentive every single time, and
the day will come when,
instead of a destroyer,
he will become one of your best

servants

—perhaps one of the most intelligent of those who help you build your life. ~ Rilke

———————————————————————————-

Rilke continues to confirm my suspicion that poets are ultimately the best theologians.

I doubt I’d label doubt as a virtue. But I doubt doubt’s a vice either

Like everything else, it’s what we do with it, isn’t it?

Taken as an emotional response, perhaps it would be best to treat it as we should every other emotional response: pay attention to it like a flashing red light on our dashboard and ask why it’s there.

We often say we shouldn’t feed our fears, and would perhaps add to that we shouldn’t feed our doubts. But perhaps it is fearing to face our doubts that actually feeds them and the fears behind them, all the more, shoving them down, caulking over them, whitewashing them with enthusiastic prayer and Scripture recitations or with enthusiastic postulations and Scientific recitations (depending on whether we’re talking about religious or irreligious faith). But in the end, they keep breaking through the walls we put up, the crack increasingly, consistently appearing in every scene, every room of our lives.

What if behind every crack of doubt there is the light of revelation waiting to get through, the light of an explosive epiphany waiting to be faced and embraced so that in the light of it we can sort out the good and the bad, the keepers and the throwaways.

What if instead of exorcising our doubts we need to allow ourselves to be exercised by them?

To stop fearing our doubts and keeping them in the shadows, to stop trying to escape to the next scene to avoid them, to embrace them as intelligent servants rather than pushing them away as feared destroyers – this is perhaps the greatest challenge of a life of faith.

Perhaps it’s the greatest challenge of being human.

crack in the wall

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Faith, Poetry

 

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dipper doubts

Spent some quality time with John the Baptist this week.

Actually, I like to call him “The Dipper.” Dipper isn’t a bad translation of the Greek word βαπτιστὴς that we refuse to translate. Don’t think it will catch on though. Particularly with Baptists.

Here’s a guy who before he was even born was handed a detailed prospectus:

You won’t drink wine or beer.

it may be da vinci, but I just don't see him this way

it may be da vinci, but I just don’t see him this way

You will be filled with the Holy Spirit right from the womb.

You will impact your generation.

You will be strong and yet will soften hearts.

You will attune your generation to the very heartbeat of God himself.

Quite the to do list (with one “to do not” item).

For a moment I could see this as a paint-by-numbers life plan, removing the mystery and suspense, the adventure of discovering all this for himself. Isn’t half the fun found in the invention and reinvention of ourselves? Of trial and error, of trying this, then that; of following a path that leads to a dead end, then finding one that opens up in a wondrous vista?

Then I saw instead a canvas being handed to John – a canvas with its own distinct texture and shape – along with a palette of paints for him to splash on it.

And splash he did.

Wild splashing by a wild man in a wild place.

And he seemed so sure of himself, his message, his vision. I don’t hear any quavering or quivering in his voice, no tentative calling, no tenuous pronouncements.

No reed shaken in the wind, this. More like a mighty oak withstanding all the winds beating upon it.

But then the oak is transplanted to a prison yard.

And there.

He doubts.

Did I really see what I thought I saw? Did it really mean what I was so sure it meant?

And rather than sitting on the question as it dripped with fresh raging doubt, he spoke it. Out of the prison yard it went, echoing through his followers to the very ears of Jesus.

“Are you the One, or do we look for another?”

There. He said it.

The Dipper was a Doubter.

And after answering John’s followers Jesus owns him. Right there. Publicly. He owns him.

Some solid lessons here in this tale.

Of the reality of our doubts and questions raging inside us, unexpressed, unspoken, as we put on that brave poser face.

Of what we can do with them instead.

Of how He responds when we do.

yes, sister aloysius, we all have doubt

yes, sister aloysius, we all have doubt

 

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wrestle

I need to be in community of some kind, and this is the community I know and am familiar with. But I am keeping my true self hidden for fear of being on the “outs” with nowhere else to go. What kind of community is that? I want the heritage, the security, the belonging – yet I’m secretly resentful that I need to keep so much of myself hidden in exchange for it. If I think about it too much, I realize that I’m trading a life lived out loud for approval and acceptance. That is the issue that won’t go away.

This is one of many responses to a recent post – “Why Do I Keep Believing?” The Biggest Obstacles to Staying Christian – on Peter Enns’ blog.

I like Enns’ blog for the simple reason he wrestles and he makes me wrestle.

In my former churched life I would have stayed away from his blog like the plague (okay, so when I left my former church life it was 1997 and I didn’t even know what a blog was, but that’s beside the point). And I certainly would have stayed away from a post like this that invites people to pour out their doubts, objections and obstacles. Or if I did read the post, I certainly wouldn’t have waded into that pool of swirling, toxic doubt. Surely it would consume or at the very least taint me.

where_am_iBut since it was posted, I’ve carefully read through each posted response, noting the common elements and themes, taking in the stories and emotions, and generally comparing notes.

Funny how we post anonymously before humanity’s critiquing eyes what is laid out on the table of our heart before the Divine that knows and loves.

Little is expressed in these responses that in thirty years of following Christ and pursuing vocational ministry I haven’t seen and felt in myself.
It was actually quite refreshing.

Before, I think I would have screamed, “Stop it or I’ll bury you alive in a box!” At myself as much as at anyone else.

Funny thing is that’s how all of these people posting feel or have felt: buried alive in a box.

I’ve felt that too. Still do at times.

Funny how we like our preachers, our mentors, our holy guides to have struggles…as long as they were all back then. Who doesn’t relish a juicy back story, the powerful testimony of past sins, moral flailings, doubts, searchings – all, now, of course, gloriously overcome and behind us. But present doubts? Present fears? Present suffocations? Not so much. For the most part acknowledging present suffocations leads to early terminations.

And so we stuff the angst and doubts and struggles and try not to make too much noise as we scratch at theboxes lid of the box we find ourselves in. This boxed God. This boxed religion. This boxed book. This boxed life.

Do you suppose the very fact that we can’t and don’t openly acknowledge the struggle and allow others to do the same is what makes it all a box in the first place?

Why is it that we ignore the namesake of the entire Old Testament narrative? Israel. The holy narcissistic scoundrel who spent all night literally wrestling with God until he got a blessing (and a new name…and a new limp). Israel. He who wrestles with God and prevails and lives to tell the tale.

Why is it that instead of wrestling we are more interested in telling each other to lie down or line up?

Why is it our Bible studies create blanks we’re supposed to fill when all study, all thought, all pursuit of God and truth and life and spirit must of necessity create more blanks (and more blanks and more blanks and more blanks) that by definition are unfillable except by wonder?

As Enns states at the end of his post, “For those on the Christian path, looking into the dark places, honestly and courageously, is part of the deal (see Psalms or Ecclesiastes).”

Imagine that.

Jacob wrestlingWhat if instead of being religious societies of anonymous posters/posers quietly writhing and wrestling in our boxes we became open, blank-making communities of fearlessly self-confessed wrestlers with God?

Imagine that…

Dare I say it?

I wrestle.

Dare any of us say with Sister Aloysius in the final line of Doubt:

“I have doubts. I have such doubts.”doubts_3

What remarkable faith might we find in choosing the wrestling of faith that embraces its (and others’) doubt?

What deepening wonder me might discover in resisting all supposed or suggested easy religious or irreligious three count pins? (After all, it’s not like the religious have cornered the market on pat answers to fill in life’s blanks or in demanding that we lie down or line up!)

What might we discover if we embraced the tension in the prayer, “I believe, help my unbelief,” rather than whitewashing over it with strident religious or irreligious assertions, suppressing the doubts that arise because we are living, growing human beings?

What might happen if we accepted that we are all Jacobs wrestling with God and life and truth, and that that’s what we are supposed to be doing? And what joy could it unleash if we actually caught a glimpse of a Jacob-wrestling God who isn’t scandalized by our questions and wrestling, but who loves it?

I wonder.

doubts

 
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Posted by on June 1, 2013 in Faith, musings, Old Testament, Prayer, Religion

 

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here i am unraveling…

Idolatry of God
Just finished Peter Rollins’ latest book The Idolatry of God (see my review). Came across this script written by Stephen Caswell that was part of in ikon event Rollins describes. On a day when toxins are again asserting themselves within me like a Cylon resurgence; when I hear of the sudden death of a young son who was ice and cliff climbing as I listen to a father’s grief; when I walk through untold numbers of stories filled with pain as I stroll through hospital corridors; this bit about unraveling is simply exquisite. It is in unraveling that we finally commence raveling; as we are torn down that we are finally built.

Anyway, here’s a bit of unraveling…

Here I am unraveling!
It began with a doubt. A tickling thread, an element itching.

Not much, but at the time I wanted it gone; I prayed for it to disappear.
Unraveling. Some early questions coming out of the fray: How can I claim to know God?
How can I comfortably address Infinite-God in prayer? What is my faith made of?
This doubt was mocking me: “You live your family inheritance! You’ve invested so much you can’t let it go!
Your identity is tied up in Christendom—pull this thread and you will be nothing!” Mocking little dangling thread of doubt.

The thread. I couldn’t ignore the itch. Should I snip it off and pretend it never existed?
Or should I pull it and examine my reasons for belief? I decided I would pull it until it stopped.
My faith would find its form and still keep me warm.
It would stand up to the test. I would tug this thread and come out stronger. . . . I came out
weaker.
Every question led to another. Each answer was teased apart, showing its own presuppositions.
Every new experience I was open to and every stranger I met pulled at the thread. I was unraveling, and I was unraveling fast.
What would be left?

Filled with doubt!
Filled with failure!
Filled with uncertainty!
That’s how it started, this unraveling.
But unraveling and raveling, I was both. They mean the same thing.
I started to see that unraveling didn’t need the negative appendage, the un- prefix.
As if unraveling were to be avoided, to be considered the ruin of my belief, as if this dissection indicated the death of my faith.

My Christ-encounter had become meshed in interpretation and tangled
in my inheritance (church, theology, psychology, politics).
My “becoming-Christ” had become “Christian” (in all its woolen glory).
But instead of unraveling these threads to expose an embarrassed belief, this raveling disentangles
the web of confusing adornments and décor to make room for the next encounter.

Raveling. Disentangling, not collapsing. My faith didn’t unravel, it raveled.
They mean the same thing.
I learned to revel in raveling.
The questions proclaim more than the answers.
The searching confirms that there has been revelation.
The hunt for an unattainable treasure confirms that we have found it.
Tearing apart what I love is evidence that I
love it.

Forever doubting! Forever failing! Forever uncertain!
I am raveling…

unraveled_2

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2013 in Books, Faith, musings, Poetry

 

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