Tag Archives: faith

On Faith

“What is faith?”

Hearing a friend recently ask this was shocking and it pierced my heart.  If I’m being honest, it pierced for a few reasons:

  • I have no good answer to provide; no tangible comfort to give, only an ear to listen.
  • I’ve come to realize that concepts of faith are hyper-personal and often hard to translate into meaningful words in times of counsel.
  • In the world we live in I find it difficult to know how my faith experiences can soothe the fears so prevalent in our world.
  • My approach to faith is hard to translate because I live in a space where my doubt lives equally alongside and is as prevalent as my faith.
My Faith Story

I’ve experienced incredible moments of what I would call ‘high faith’.  I’ve lived in moments where I put everything on the line for the hope something others may have seen as small.

One of those moments in having the opportunity to live where I do, in New York City, where I’ve seen more than I thought I ever would.  I’ve experienced far beyond what my imagination thought was capable eleven years ago.

I’ve taken great leaps of faith in moments where I chose to remove safety nets placed there by either myself, others, circumstance or mere privilege.  Moments where those I trust told me I was foolish or taking bigger risks/steps than the ‘smart’ person.

Sometimes the path leads where I think it will and other times I’ve been shocked by what I find.  But I know what it means to have faith in a bigger purpose/need.

Our world and Judeo-Christian teachings have left us to believe that faith is equal to success, wealth and comfort and that doubt and questioning is bad and unhealthy.  Yet, I think it’s important to note in any conversation about faith that our valleys of doubt and challenge are still real and are an intrinsic partner in our faith journeys (whether we talk about it the concept of having faith in a higher power or having daily faith in ourselves/humanity).

I’ve experienced this in a unique way:

For the last few years I’ve been walking through a season, though different from others, of coming out as a gay (and Christian) man in my thirties well after many of my social peers have found their footing and are well into trusting their identity.  This process has resulted in the clash of new and old viewpoints of faith and doubt resulting in life’s ever present waves of challenge, discovery, and insight.  It seems these waves always create moments of faith and doubt in all people with each wave containing the opportunity to precipitate surges of growth in our lives.  To step into these waves takes faith but, yes, they come with doubt.

Letting ourselves hold light and truth to the doubt and challenge that comes with faith may be one of the cornerstones that truly give us the strength to stretch and change our world views that are meant to be shared with each other.

With all of the intricacies of faith, I know four things to be true:

  1. Faith is unique to each person.
  2. Faith is complex.
  3. What faith is, is not what we think faith is.
  4. Faith exists on the same plane as doubt – and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as one might think.
Faith In Doubt

I know faith and I’ve seen what it brings but, as much as I’ve experienced the contentment that faith can bring, I’ve known the doubt that is close by.

While many of my early years were filled with pure faith (perhaps on the verge of naive fortitude) I’ve come to realize this pure, high sense of faith is not real because it erased the notion that doubt can exist on the same plane.

Imagine for a second that life is a two lane interstate highway with two separate sections of life, going the same direction, separated by this dashed, white line.  On one side is faith and on the other is doubt with each being as accessible and passable as each other.  One plane but two unique spaces.

Our society tends to look at faith and doubt as separate roads leading to different destinations but in my  experience this is not the case.

Faith and doubt are simply different ways to experience life’s journey — different filters that allow different colors to shine through.

In the highest seasons of faith, doubt or questioning is possible and it can be a healthy equalizer.  One the flip side, even in the deepest seasons of doubt where conversations with God are most likely to be one-sided yelling matches it’s a sliver of faith that pulls me out.

In these moments when I’ve laid my despair out on the table, taken God to task for the challenges and turmoil and I’ve lashed out with threats to give up and move on without Him there have been few times where I’ve lacked a moment…

…Where I don’t cry out his name.

…Where I don’t long for renewal.

…Where I don’t just want the comfort of past seasons.

Is that not faith shrouded in doubt?  When we question and don’t believe but part of us keeps coming back is this not faith?

That’s faith.

Back to Reality

As my friend finishes his question and story, I struggle as I process my thoughts.  I sense in my friend what I’ve felt in my own life – a tension between two equal forces and the desire to describe one as fully positive/healthy and the other as negative/unhealthy.

It’s tempting to want one over another but in the high seasons of faith it’s irresponsible if we don’t recognize that doubt and questioning can have a healthy place in our worldview.  And it’s reckless in our periods of doubt to not recognize that faith can still be alive and practical.

This struggle is not unique to me by no stretch of the imagination and I’m by no means settled in this respect.

From my vantage point, there aren’t many polar opposites in our lives – there’s a lot of fading from one emotional need/feeling to the other and back again.

I see it so many times where doubt and faith are viewed as two separate places of being and I truly believe that this practice is detrimental to one’s spiritual growth.  It’s an endless journey sometimes with no destination.

I’ve seen doubt and question pushed aside as if it’s the plague because anything less than perfect and sure is looked at as heresy.

I’ve also seen faith (or a different interpretation of the word, ‘goodness’) pushed aside in the face of our world’s 24/7 focus on murders, hate, and joblessness among others.

We need to be encouraged now more than ever that it’s OK to let the tension between faith and doubt be real.  Let it be real and tangible.  Let it be something that doesn’t live in the space of ‘black and white’.

If you find yourself in this space, where the tension is more than real, just tell yourself that it’s OK.  I’m big supporter that the most growth occurs in the middle of the tension even though I need to be reminded of this on an almost daily basis.

We’re in this together.

Have Hope

“Have hope.”

This was my response the other night to my roommate who was asking me what I thought we should do in response to the seemingly dark times we live in.

My heart has been heavy since this conversation but also lightened.

It’s so easy to give up hope right now.  Every where we turn – every screen we turn on/open – all we seem to see is bad news, messages of fear or just plain civil division.

As optimistic as I believe I am, there have been times I’ve wanted to give in – either to the fear or to the indifference I feel creeping up at times.  At this point it seems that my heart is torn between this fickle couple with hope taking a far back seat to the reality of the day.

And I’ve seen it in others as responses to fear and hate have been more of the same.  Giving in and responding in kind won’t get us anywhere constructive.

The truth is, though, that nothing good grows in fear, hate or indifference.  The path out is not found there.

The path out is found in sowing seeds of goodness and intentionally forcing/letting light in.  The path out is found in leaning in toward one another and not away.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t deflect reality and ignore it but what I am saying is that I wholeheartedly believe that it’s possible to know, realize and spread a message of hope even in the midst of such terrible circumstances.

Our humanity is found in hope.

Our humanity depends on looking at something small and saying ‘this is good’ and letting that be our cornerstone.

I’ve sensed this for some time, especially with this current political season we’re in the midst of, but we can’t forget that there are good things all around us.  Simply because it demands the most attention, we can’t push out the good in lieu of fear and indifference even if it seems to be what we encounter the most often.

Talking to Jared, my roommate, the other night I about lost my ability to hold back the tears because he was able to verbalize what I think a lot of us are feeling.

‘If it’s all bad, what’s the effort worth fighting against it if we just encounter brick wall after brick wall?’

Good things, hopeful things, must be given space to grow.  I believe that happens when we talk about it together and choose to let what festers out into the wild.  And hope, like most things that counter the dark corners of the world, will need to be jumpstarted in small, intentional ways.

It’s up to each of us to make sure we’re letting the good into the fear and indifference that seems to envelop us.

Have Hope.

The ‘E’ Word

I grew up reading The Good News.

Literally.

The first Bible I remember picking up was The Good News Bible around the second or third grade.

Church was very new to me when I was 8 and 9 years old having not grown up in a religious family.  When I picked up that first Bible I asked what the name of this particular Bible meant and, of course, was taught in Sunday School about Jesus, The Lord’s Prayer and – of course – The Good News.

It was a few years later that I first learned the word evangelical.  I learned quickly that evangelical could refer to both a person as well as a form of expression.

Evangelicals, I was led to believe, belonged to the more ‘radical’ churches….  Evangelicals in my mind were probably the Pentecostals or what I thought of as vibrant Christians (you know those Christians who made the news for sharing their faith and over-dramatized what they said or how they said it rather than focusing on what they did).

It was this second component, being evangelical, that rounded out my early definition.

Evangelicals proselytized.
Evangelicals spoke in tongues.
Evangelicals handed out tracks.
Evangelicals spoke their minds but more always spoke the truth of the Bible.

Or worse I learned to think evangelicals were synonymous with televangelists and street preachers.

These were the radical evangelicals in my mind.

I grew into the evangelical world when I was in college and I found myself surrounded by college youth group peers who were ‘normal evangelicals’.  We had huge pizza parties like the young evangelicals did back home but if they spoke in tongues it wasn’t in your face.  They were serious about spreading the word of God but they wanted to spread the love of God as well.  It was during this time that I found comfort in the evangelical world because my friends taught me that being an evangelical meant that we were to spread The Good News.

The same Good News I knew from those first Sunday School classes.

THIS was the love of God I was told and believed.

I did it all – the tracks, the retreats and conferences, the Bible studies, the fasting… College was a time where I didn’t demur and openly admitted that I was ‘high on God’.

My very first presidential vote was spiritually motivated because I believed that I needed to vote for the best Christian.

I voted other people into office because my friends told me that they represented ‘our values’; they were pro-life, anti-gay, honorable to God…  These were the same values I strived for.  There wasn’t an election back then that I didn’t use my vote as an outward expression of evangelical dislike, fear or repudiation of gays, Muslims, and people not like me and my friends.

And then something crazy happened: God moved in my young evangelical heart and told me to move to New York City so I could save these people.

Or so I thought.

Little did I know that these people would save me.

Meeting people different from myself didn’t hasten my resolve to ‘change the world’ but it broke it.  The world, I realized, couldn’t be changed by me alone because God was much bigger and was weaving something bigger than I could see.

The people different from me became my neighbors, my bosses, my mentors, my friends.

New York changed me quickly and quietly moved me to shed my evangelical coat though I kept it in my closet so I could pull it out if my old friends ever came by.

Though my status changed from Christian to Christ Follower in search of The Good News it was still very easy to flip between the two if needed.

On one hand I was hip and on the other I was a fading evangelical holding onto an antiquated but still semi-relevant belief system.

This worked until I realized that I, myself, belonged in that same paradigm of seclusion.

You see, it’s easy to be evangelical and outwardly love people who are different (if that’s the depth at which you stay without looking at the inside).  It’s damn near impossible, though, to be evangelical in the sense that I was and be one of those people who were different.

I realized, after long struggle, that my attraction to men was not a spiritual distraction.

Not only did I get to the point that I could openly admit to myself that I was attracted to men but I was OK with who I was and I desperately wanted to continue to belong to the church.

Because I knew I needed that simple Good News from the second grade.

The same good news that was mixed with the evangelical roots of my high school days and the foundation of my college days.

I wanted God to love me because at this point I was convinced that he didn’t or couldn’t.

I gave up my evangelical thirst for Good News long before I came out partly because the writing was on the wall.

I was different.
I was one of them.
I didn’t fully belong in the fold of God.

I had hurt people with my words in the past only to find out that those words applied to me too.

I was hurting people like me by choosing to belong.

I didn’t realize it then but being an evangelical can be a good thing and it’s only now that I learned to be one.  The hunt for The Good News and the declaration of it in our lives IS A GOOD THING.

The Good News is most alive in our relationships.

Being a Christian is not about who we vote for or what we we hand out or what and how we do things in a precise way just to create feelings.

It’s not what we say that matters, it’s what we don’t say.

Christ’s verbal communication is dwarfed in the scriptures by his nonverbal communication.  Christ lived through his actions and that’s what The Good News is about.

I’m coming around to considering myself an evangelical again.  It’s so different this time though.

I’m not conservative anymore but let’s be honest and say that doesn’t matter to God.

I’m not going to necessarily declare anything from the street corner because I’ve seen more lives changed over a cup of coffee or a bottle of beer.

And I’m definitely not going to tell you that you’re wrong because I’ve done the wrong things before in my life thinking they were right.  It’s more important to love and celebrate people, helping them overcome life’s trials.

I am going to share what I do know or admit to you that I don’t know something – and embody both.

I’m going to learn from my past and the present and I’m going lean into it – because this ‘new’ evangelicalism isn’t really new but rather a simplification closer to what Jesus talked about.

This idea of being a new type of evangelical might actually be as simple as it gets since it’s about sharing what  the Good News is, however radical and ‘crazy’ some may think it is.

In faith…

“In faith there is movement and development.  Each day something is new.  To be Christian, faith has to be new – that is, alive and growing.  It cannot be static, finished, settled.  When Scripture, prayer, worship, ministry become routine, they are dead.  When I conclude that I can now cope with the awful love of God, I have headed for the shallows to avoid the deeps.  I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a teacup than I can comprehend the wild, uncontainable love of God.”

– Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Oh, how the Church has I have much to learn…