Tag Archives: faith

faith in two tenses


So just how do you pronounce the Greek word for “faith”?

It ends up being an example each time I teach the Greek alphabet to a new bunch of eager young minds. The Erasmian Pronunciation of Koine Greek technically provides two options for voicing the letter iota. The “i” sound as in “pick” or “wick” (technically the short sound of iota) or the “i” sound as in “peek” or “week” (which would be the long iota sound).

Choose the latter pronunciation and we have “peace-tiss” (or perhaps “peace-tease” –for some reason, I find myself really liking that option).

Choose the former pronunciation and we have “piss-tiss.”

It always gets a laugh.

It strikes me that these aren’t just two alternative ways of pronouncing πίστις.
They are two different tenses of faith.

Sometimes life is good.
Sometimes the pieces come together.
Sometimes we see promises fulfilled, prayers answered, dreams realized, visions fulfilled, purposes accomplished, desires blossom, and goals achieved.
πίστις. Peace-tiss.
Though perhaps it is more peace-tease for the simple reason that life turns, and often the turns are hair pins. And suddenly…
Life sucks.
There are more pieces missing than fitting.
Promises tease us like a vanishing rainbow; prayers return like Noah’s first dove – with nothing in hand and no place to rest their feet; dreams turn to nightmares, visions are blurry at best, purposes wither, desires shrivel, and goals become cruel jokes.
And all we’re left with is πίστις – of the piss-tiss variety.

Sometimes see our reflection in Teresa of Avila, traveling through the Spanish countryside with her mule, reforming Carmelite monasteries, doing God’s work. Upon finding herself thrown on the side of the road, covered in mud, she stood, pointing her accusing finger at heaven. “God, if this is how you treat your friends,
it’s no wonder that you have so few of them!”

There it is. Piss-tiss.

Piss-tiss or peace-tease.

πίστις is still spelled the same way, but it sounds and feels so very different. But it’s still faith. What a shame we’re generally only taught the more pleasing, happy pronunciation peace-tease, with short, vulgar sounding piss-tiss rejected, hidden away like an illegitimate child, sub-par and sub-spiritual. What a shame when both tenses of faith, both pronunciations of πίστις aren’t embraced, as James does in his wisdom:

“Is anyone among you cheerful? Let him sing songs (peace-tease).
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray (piss-tiss).”

Both are legitimate tenses, tones, modes. lenses of faith.
Both are crucial to spiritual life.
Both involve finding traction in life – in the good and in the not-so-good, on the uphill and on the downhill slopes of life, when you’re king of the hill and when you’re down in the dungheap.

Remarkable, how much can hinge on the sounding of a mere iota…


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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in haverings


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faith breathes

On the stairs she sits.
Weary, bleary.
Eyes reddish and puffy.
It’s been a long night – stretching over a year. And more.
The boy.
A violent, eternal coughing spasm
had finally sputtered out into

She could only place her hand on his chest
and pray
“God, let him stop, let him sleep.”
And he did.

Now in morning light she sits.
Coughing had revived and then sputtered out again.

“I don’t ask ‘why’ anymore. I don’t.
I know God is good.
I know God is love.
I know God has all power.
I know there is purpose even in this…but…”

And I told her she had just won a gold star for a perfect set
of Sunday School answers.

The reality is, faith has its own violent,
seemingly eternal,
coughing spasms.
And often sputters out to barely a
wheezing whisper;
no deep lung reservoir on which to draw;

But you’re still breathing.

And so is he.

And lying next to him on his bed,
bathed in sun’s rays
the boy and I breathe together and,
in a glorious moment that seemed to linger like
dust entranced by sunlight,
faith breathes from a deeper place.


each time I’m with Gid, I’d like to think I’m a little more Phin-ish…

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Posted by on September 14, 2014 in Faith, haverings, Suffering


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third law of theology


Yes. It’s a rule.

And it reminds me of my favorite statement ever by a theologian about theologians.

Theology – an enterprise that, despite the oftentimes homicidal urgency Christians attach to it, has yet to save anybody. What saves us is Jesus, and the way we lay hold of that salvation is by faith. And faith is something that, throughout this book, I shall resolutely refuse to let mean anything other than trusting Jesus. It is simply saying yes to him rather than no. It is, at its root, a mere “uh-huh” to him personally.
It does not necessarily involve any particular theological structure or formulation; it does not entail any particular degree of emotional fervor; and above all, it does not depend on any specific repertoire of good works – physical, mental, or moral. It’s Just “Yes, Jesus,” till we die – just letting the power of his resurrection do, in our deaths, what it has already done in his.

My purpose in saying this so strongly, however, is not simply to alert you to some little band of intellectuals called theologians who may try to talk you into thinking otherwise. Such types exist, of course, but they are usually such bores that all they do is talk you out of wanting even to breathe. No, the reason for my vehemence is that all of us are theologians. Every one of us would rather choose the right-handed logicalities of theology over the left-handed mystery of faith. Any day of the week – and twice on Sundays, often enough – we will labor with might and main to take the only thing that can save anyone and reduce it to a set of theological club rules designed to exclude almost everyone.

Christian theology, however, never is and never can be anything more than the thoughts that Christians have (alone or with others) after they have said yes to Jesus. Sure, it can be a thrilling subject. Of course, it is something you can do well or badly – or even get right or wrong. And naturally, it is one of the great fun things to do on weekends when your kidney stones aren’t acting up. Actually, it is almost exactly like another important human subject that meets all the same criteria: wind-surfing. Everybody admires it, and plenty of people try it. But the number of people who can do it well is even smaller than the number who can do it without making fools of themselves. Trust Jesus, then. After that, theologize all you want.

Just don’t lose your sense of humor if your theological surfboard deposits you unceremoniously in the drink.

Robert Farrar Capon. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus

a watershed read for me

a watershed read for me


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Posted by on August 2, 2014 in Quotations, Religion


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hold the pain

Saved this draft three weeks ago and forgot about it. Nice follow up to stone…from Richard Rohr

Don’t get rid of the pain until you’ve learned its lessons. When you hold the pain consciously and trust fully,
you are in a very special painliminal space. This is a great teaching moment where you have the possibility of breaking through to a deeper level of faith and consciousness. Hold the pain of being human until God transforms you through it. And then you will be an instrument of transformation for others.

As an example of holding the pain, picture Mary standing at the foot of the cross. Standing would not be the normal posture of a Jewish woman who is supposed to wail and lament and show pain externally. She’s holding the pain instead, as also symbolized in Michelangelo’s Pietà. Mary is in complete solidarity with the mystery of life and death. She’s trying to say, “There’s something deeper happening here. How can I absorb it just as Jesus is absorbing it, instead of returning it in kind?” Until you find a way to be a transformer, you will pass the pain onto others.

Jesus on the cross and Mary standing by the cross are images of transformative religion. They are never transmitting the pain to others. All the hostility that had been directed toward them—the hatred, the accusations, the malice—none of it is returned. They hold the suffering until it becomes resurrection! That’s the core mystery. It takes our whole life to comprehend this, and then to become God’s “new creation” (Galatians 6:15). The imperial ego hates such seeming diminishment.

Unfortunately, we have the natural instinct to fix pain, to control it, or even, foolishly, to try to understand it. The ego always insists on understanding. That’s why Jesus praises a certain quality even more than love, and he calls it faith. It is the ability to stand in liminal space, to stand on the threshold, to hold the contraries, until you move to a deeper level where it all eventually makes sense in the great scheme of God and grace.



This is a huge part of this whole perspective of casting a wide net into the world, this filter through which we are always looking for the gift.

Who said gifts are positive?

Some of the greatest gifts are wrapped up in the deepest pain. But we typically try to exorcise pain rather than be exercised by it. It’s a no brainer. Pain and the negative, hurtful and crushing experiences are obviously bad fish to be summarily cast aside, yes?

Ah, but what a gift can be found waiting for us in the gaping mouth of pain…

good grief



Posted by on April 24, 2014 in Faith, Suffering, Uncategorized


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cultures of suffering

Getting back into Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.walking with God

From the first chapter, “Cultures of Suffering.”

This is helpful…

Christianity teaches that, contra fatalism, suffering is overwhelming; contra Buddhism, suffering is real; contra karma, suffering is often unfair; but contra secularism, suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine. Suffering—Buddhism says accept it, karma says pay it, fatalism says heroically endure it, secularism says avoid or fix it. From the Christian perspective, all of these cultures of suffering have an element of truth. Sufferers do indeed need to stop loving material goods too much. And yes, the Bible says that, in general, the suffering filling the world is the result of the human race turning from God.
And we do indeed need to endure suffering and not let it overthrow us. Secularism is also right to warn us about being too accepting of conditions and factors that harm people and should be changed. Pre-secular cultures often permitted too much passivity in the face of changeable circumstances and injustices….

While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.


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Posted by on December 22, 2013 in Books, Quotations, Suffering


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reality check

Thinking much on reality.reality

Fantasy is so much more appealing, I know. Especially religious fantasy.

You can only walk with death so long before you either have to dive headlong into a swirling religious fantasy of denial dressed up as “faith” with a full complement of “faith verses” or see that we are dealing with a much more complicated, textured, layered reality.

I think we all start off very much in sync with Deuteronomy. Life is so wonderfully straightforward. Do this and you get that; do that and you get this. It’s called fair. Keep these commands, follow these instructions, say these prayers (correct verbal formulations only, please!), complete these rituals by traveling to this holy place to see this holy person, etc. etc. Covenants become contracts with promised rewards and protection for good behavior, or your money back. Actually, no. The money is kept regardless.

reality (1)Yes, this is where we start – depending on how rough your start is. Some of us are disabused – or rather abused by life – right out of such notions early on. And we move from the sureties and simplicities of Deuteronomy to the twisted complexities of Ecclesiastes and the howling grief of Lamentations.

But oh how we fight it.

When our three oldest children were diagnosed with familial polyposis in 2001 and were awaiting imminent surgery to remove their large intestines (which between the three of them ended up entailing 10 major surgeries over 9 months– our own personal 9/11 as 9/11 unfolded right in the middle of it), we were the recipients of much prayer and ministry. Much of it quite helpful, fortifying and sustaining. Some of it less so. And yes, some of it quite entertaining.


i like this one…

One dear brother, God bless him, insisted God had told him our whole family needed to line up, single file, and then bunch together while he placed his hands level with our aligned bowels and prayed because this would break the family curse. We were up for anything, so we did. And we smiled. We thanked him. And the ten surgeries rolled right on unabated.

Another well-meaning sister inquired into any sexual deviations in our family history and even into our sexual positions in the marriage bed. Less helpful. Less entertaining.

Words of command were spoken for mountains of tumors to move in Jesus’ name (because that’s what they have to do when we ask them to in Jesus’ name). The surgeries still came. All of this repeated itself when one of these same kids was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor five years later.

And then there were those who just ached and wept with us, and having no idea what to pray, prayed little – at least verbally. And among these was one who in the midst of all the “mountain talk” simply prayed in effect, “This is a mountain that you are going to have to go through.”

And when she said it we knew it.

what we imagine faith will do for our troubles...

what we imagine faith will do for our troubles…

No matter what verses and scripture facts we can marshal to break curses passed by progenitors or off objects we unwittingly bought in a gift shop on vacation in Tahiti that had curses put on them, or that prove once and for all that by the stripes of Jesus we are healed of everything, especially tumors, and we just need faith to claim the blessing; no matter what formulations of faith with which we would bolster ourselves or others against adversities unfolding in an unstoppable torrent or in a fiendish, torturous trickle, this reality remains – at least it is what I have seen:

Sometimes the mountain moves.

what faith moving mountains usually looks like...

what faith moving mountains usually looks like…

Sometimes you have to tunnel through the mountain.

Sometimes you have to climb over the mountain.

And sometimes the mountain falls on you
and flattens you into the dust.

You can decide which of these demands the greater mustard seed of faith…and, in reality (and biblically), which leads to a greater depth of character and beauty in humanity.


Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Faith, haverings, Prayer, Suffering, Uncategorized


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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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chasing Francis

In the middle of the journey of our lifechasing-francis-cover
I came to my senses in a dark forest,
for I had lost the straight path.
Oh, how hard it is to tell
what a dense, wild, and tangled wood this was,
the thought of which renews my fear.
~ DANTE, Inferno, Canto I, lines 1-6

Chasing Francis is a title I believe I first encountered on Peter Enns’ blog. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy following Enns’ blog: intriguing suggested reads. Chasing Francis is one that sneaked up on me. From the first quote from Dante’s Inferno that prefaces chapter one, I was hooked.

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron is a fictional tale of fictional megachurch pastor (Chase Falson) who has a crisis of faith and ends up taking a two month sabbatical to Italy to visit an uncle and hopefully find his heart – and his faith. But that’s just a ploy to explore the real story of the book: a chance to see through a disillusioned evangelical’s eyes the face, the faith, the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.

It works.

Chasing-Francis-quote2I started reading Chasing Francis while I waited to take my latest MRI checking for any recurrence of cancer (the scan ended up being clear; another reprieve). It captured my heart instantly and resonated through my soul. I connected with the pathos Morgan infused into the fictional pastor – and I totally wanted to meet the crew of friars that interact with the character in the story. To have two months to do what the character in this story does…

To join the chase for Francis.

At least I have the habit. Clearly, that’s the easy part.

I will no doubt have some other posts processing content from the book, let me give you some snippets of Francis, some soul morsels from the book:

Francis didn’t criticize the institutional church, nor did he settle for doing church the Chasing-Francis-quote1way it had always been done. He rose above the two alternatives and decided that the best way to overhaul something was to keep your mouth shut and simply do it better.

Sitting in the church, I was struck by the simple elegance of Francis’ strategy of ministry – simply read the gospel texts and live the life you find in its pages. What a concept!

While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart. Nobody should ever be roused to wrath or insult on your account. Everyone should rather be moved to peace, goodwill, and mercy because of your restraint. For we have been called to the purpose of healing the wounded, binding up those who are bruised, and reclaiming the erring.

I'll take a pint of what he's having...

I’ll take a pint of what he’s having…

Francis, your genius was that you read stuff in the Bible (like the Sermon on the Mount), and you didn’t spiritualize or theologize it. You heard Jesus say, “Happy are the peacemakers,” so you got up every day and embarked on a new peace mission. My usual approach is to read the Bible, try to understand what it’s saying, and then apply it. Your formula was the reverse. You applied the Bible, then came to a fresh understanding of what it actually meant.

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching. Preach as you go.

And, finally, even though it’s familiar and may seem trite to some, it’s still the prayer I am going to make a point of memorizing and meditating until it transforms the very fiber of my being:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

So say we all.

Take and read.

And be…then do…

book sniffer_2

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Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Books, Faith, Religion


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torquing faith: do the twist

Someone turned me on to new author (new to me, anyway). Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg. How could someone with that name not have something to say worth hearing. The book is Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus. Cross pollination is a good thing…


Moses, single-minded “man of God,” is chosen for his role because he “turned aside to see” the Burning Bush. the-particulars-of-raptureAccording to one radical midrash, “Moses craned his neck to see”: this “turning” is a torsion of the the neck, a deliberate motion out of the straight, the stiff:

Moses said, Let me turn aside to see…Rabbi Jonathan said, “He took three steps;” Rabbi Simeon ben Levi said, “He took no steps, but he twisted his neck. God said to him, “You went to trouble to see – as you live, you are worthy that I should reveal Myself to you.” Immediately, “God called to him from the midst of the burning bush…”

God chose to reveal Himself to Moses, because he has “gone to trouble to see.” As against Rabbi Jonathan’s spatial reading (three steps constitute the movement into a different space), Rabbi Simeon condenses Moses’ movement to a “twist of the neck.” Subtle, minimalistic, Moses’ gesture realigns his whole being, puts it into intimate relation with that which has approached him. Such a gesture involves “trouble,” a deviation from the obvious. For Rabbi Simeon, it is his capacity to “twist his neck,” to turn his face in wonder and questioning, that brings him to the voice of God.

The neck in torsion – an image for desire, a counter-image to the stiff-necked intransigence of those who set themselves against the new. Within Moses himself, within his people, within the Egyptians, even within the representations of God in the narratives of redemption, the tensions of Exodus will seek resolution, the momentary equilibrium that again and again is to be lost and reclaimed.


Ah, faith, the torquing of the neck.

So then religion at its worst, politics too often at its best, and all our mad pursuits would be the snapping of it. Or at least a sleeper hold inviting submission. Or a brace that keeps our neck stiff, our eyes deadeningly fixed on the ground before us.

No, not exactly this...

No, not exactly this…

But faith twists. It has radical torsion.



But realigning the whole being.

Turning the face in wonder.

And questioning

...or this

…or this

And finding not only the Voice, but no doubt also


We need more radical midrashes from ancient rabbis. We do. Love the connective tissue between a radical midrash and the ancient Gospel. We are all more on the same page than we realize or would ever care to admit.

“Who ever looks to the Son and believes in him has eternal life.”

...and definitely not this

…and definitely not this

It’s more than a glance, it’s an intentional gaze, and it involves the torsion of the neck. Faith requires us to twist.

One more time.

“We shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”

I know what Twinkies were, but I have no idea what twinkling is. Okay, I just looked it up and I guess it means blinking. In the blink of an eye. But the Greek is quite literally the throwing of the eyes, aka the casting of a glance. Life, resurrection is the result of one intentional turning of the head. Saved by grace through neck torsion.

Just one look. If we dare. If we can stop ourselves long enough to.

And do the twist.




Posted by on August 24, 2013 in Faith, haverings


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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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