Questions-Questions-Questions by Ron Cole
It's interesting down at the Mustard Seed, and working with First Nations people on the reserves I find myself talking far more about faith as a "journey" far more than I did when I was "in" the church. In the church the gospel is often a template, a cut out of life applications to fit aspects of our life into, you tend to use a kind of bizarre reductionist theory, whittling the gospel down to bits and bytes.
Every year as part of my spiritual disciplines I read through all the gospels. It's just something I've done that has been a real blessing. It's like walking through a forest on a trail, and the sunlight filtering through the canopy revealing something new each time. Going through school I was always the kid in the class who always lagged behind. I never caught things easily. I spent time longer in places than the other kids did. I always had questions. I usually did things differently, but arrived at the same place as everyone else. I ended up dropping out of school, with a ten year stint in the army...and then completing my high school and on to university after I married.
Reading the gospels this year made me reflect on spiritual journey through the veil of the gospels. I know this is not a scholarly way to look at the gospels, but we can not deny the reality of it being a journey with Jesus.
We tend to talk more about theology, dogma, doctrine...the right things to believe, than we do about spiritual journey and it's pit stops. This thought also make me think about conformity verses unity. Conformity is a sort of cookie cutter mentality, everybody has to look, act, believe the same thing...we all need to be at the same place. We mistake this for unity. Unity can be filled with diversity, people at different places...but all following Jesus. There is freedom in unity. In faith communities do we push towards conformity trying to get everyone on the same page and in the same place? My impression is yes, and in the push to conform...we push people out the back door.
I think my thoughts of school reveal a great deal of reality that is in our faith communities...some lag behind, trying to understand, working it out, and we're not giving them time, or sitting with them in those places. In the faith journey of a community, are we leaving these people scattered along the path.
I confess I'm one of these people, lagging behind questioning, trying to understand, and I've been to these pit stops more than once. So I share my spiritual journey through the veil of the gospels.
Initially the journey begins as invitation. At the start there is no air of certainty. Jesus calls the disciples to follow, to drop everything to enter into a new way of living life. There is no program, no map showing we're starting here, and going to there. I may have heard rumors about Jesus, but I wasn't really sure who he was, and what he is all about. I sensed there was something special about him, but I just couldn't put my finger on it. And there was also something infectious about those following him. As the disciples followed, I followed. I've always found it fascinating that the first place Jesus takes his followers is to a wedding in Cana.
It has taking me many miles and years into the journey to discover the redemptive imagination in this first stop on the journey. The wedding is a microcosmic glimpse of humanity...family, friends, young and old. There is the dysfunctional, and the functional components of the family. The beautiful, the ugly. The good and the bad. The loved and the unloved. The rich and the poor. The well and the unwell. The liars, the cheaters, the gossips. The righteous and the unrighteous. This journey of faith is lived out in the midst of humanity. Rather than taking them to the classroom of the local synagogue, Jesus teaches in the midst of humanity, and calls me and you into the same.
The beginning of the journey is wedding-like, filled with intimacy and communal fellowship. Call it the honeymoon, we wish it could stay like this. But slowly the honeymoon period fades into the reality of real life. Relationship and community require work. The living stones that we are, are shaped and transformed by the others we surround our self with, and by the Holy Spirit which is the mortar that holds the community together in unity.
The next place is ongoing tension of words or work, again the pull into one camp or the other. Living in one or the other, we make them idols. There is no real faith, our faith is in what we have made them; " our " theology, doctrine, dogma, and " our " works. Real faith requires us to live without tension. The Kingdom, or the reign of God becomes real and tangible when both are lived out simultaneously. Jesus is the living word, he is a "LIVING" parable...he's an audiovisual icon of the alternative world the Kingdom of God. Jesus forever changed human imagination, and we are both burdened and filled with joy and He draws into this new possibility. It's one thing to eat a meal with some homeless drug addicts, but it is another to announce that all barriers are down, that they are as worthy, if not more worthy of God's love than we are. When both are done, it is if we have built something eternal...we've revealed Jesus and His Kingdom. Again, it's a journey, it's inevitable that at times we will wander towards words or work. But, we need to be conscious when we find ourselves living in one or the other. An indicator might be, are we only talking about Jesus, or working for Jesus. A journey of faith is a discovery of learning to do both.
Another place where I lagged behind, lingered for a long time, that almost makes me think I'm going in circles because I keep coming back to it...is doubt, and questions. It's trying to live faithfully. It's like Jesus sending out the twelve into the neighborhood to do what he's doing and saying. Initially I was like the trained door to door sales man, convinced I would sell everything I had, returning to impress the boss. I returned tired, disillusioned and filled with questions. Questions, more questions...and doubt. Why does my doing and saying seem to have little effect? Some will say, well you faith just isn't strong enough. If the faith of a mustard seed will move a mountain, mine won't move the dust off of a coffee table. I've never healed anyone, never cast out a demon, but, I've shared my faith. But the reality is, healing, demon casting, transformation, conversion is not about " my " faith. It has nothing to do with "me", it has everything to do with Jesus and the Spirit of God. The gospels are a snapshot of the life and ministry of Jesus. I think it's safe to assume Jesus did not heal "everyone", I'm sure he walked through whole towns that were filled with sick people. There just seemed to be divine moments when all eternity seemed to come together, Father, Son and Spirit...it was at these moments the miraculous took place. I've seen it happen today. We grasped our little mustard seed and prayed, no ab bra-cadabra, no magic...it was more a half-hearted prayer with a small dose of expectation. But it happened, and I have no idea why. There is no formula, other than being faithful. I do not control what Jesus says, or does...I can only be faithful. Much of my faith is still filled with questions, and doubt. I have learned through this journey that questions, and doubt can coexist with faith. The real question is can we let all this coexist in our faith communities.
The next place is the killing of Jesus. Now some might find me a bit heretical here, but, please try to stay with me. I think as I traveled from the invitation along this narrow path of faith I unconsciously began to construct my own Jesus. It seems everyones version of Jesus is a little different. Whether it is because we cut and paste what we like out of the gospels, or allowing the world and culture to shape our view, Jesus becomes distorted. No longer the Son of God, he becomes the god of our own imagination. Meister Eckhart often prayed this short profound prayer, " God rid me of god."
I needed to stand among the crowd and yell, "crucify him" and allow God to kill the Jesus of my making. Some might call this an abandonment of faith, and in a sense it might be. Sometimes you have to loose faith, in order to find faith. Real love allows you to let go of something, because love will always come back to you. I believe even the disciples had constructed their own Jesus. At the cross road going to Ceasarea Philipi, only Peter answered the question correctly as to who Jesus was. They were often confused as to who Jesus really was and what his Kingdom was about. But it was only in the crucifixion of Jesus, that their Jesus also died. I only discovered the real Jesus, when "my" Jesus died...and "my" Jesus ruled in my world for a long time.
It's kind of scary when your Jesus dies, waiting to discover the " real " Jesus. Waiting, patience, and the stormy emotions of fear, and guilt make this place very uncomfortable. But there is only one reality that will reveal the real Jesus, and that is...the Holy Spirit. This is the friend and counselor Jesus promised. There really is no faith, or journey with out the Holy Spirit.
This has been my faith journey, and I will likely revisit these places time and time again. I still have questions and doubts. Do we talk about these places much? Do we allow people to live in these places for a season? Can we live in unity in these places, or do we push to conform? I wonder what Jesus are we really following?
Questions, questions...I always seem to have questions.