Friday, September 09, 2005

still messy, still faithful

Got some pretty nice feedback today on my "A Messy Faith" mailing list, owing to the most recent entry, "Trapeze Act." In that particular piece, I write about realizing that I've reached a turning point in my faith, principally that it's gone from being something dogmatic or intellectual in nature to one where it's matured into that relationship thing we talked about in college but I don't think I ever really understood at the time.

I remember in particular how nuts it used to drive me when someone said the Bible was inconsistent. When I was a member of the Assemblies of God, I remember hearing several times from the pulpit that the Bible is not a history text, a science text or what have you, but when it speaks on those points, it is infallible and inerrant. I can't buy that, I'm afraid; the Bible is a collection of stories about God, and there's little evidence that the ancient Hebrews regarded it in the vein of infallibility that American fundamentalists, evangelicals and Pentecostals do.

There's enough inconsistency in the details -- how many angels were at Christ's tomb, how many demoniacs went by the name Legion, whether it was a Canaanite or a Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was afflicted with a demon -- that I can't believe it's completely accurate as a historical document, down to every detail, as it's often presented by believers. Leviticus and Deuteronomy, for instance, describe the same exact sacrifice and each one specifically says that the other's way of preparing the sacrifice is wrong. (One says the meat must be boiled, the other says it must be baked.)

We're right to point out that these are small things, and they don't contradict anysignificant doctrines about God, Christ or anything big like that -- but they're still there, and that raises questions about more fantastic elements of Scripture. What about Noah's Ark? What about Jonah? I don't know. By faith, I'm a creationist, but I no longer feel a need to pretend that creationism is scientific; it's just something I accept on faith, even though I can present you with intelligent arguments about how a creation model fits data that evolution doesn't, as well as much of the data that is held up as support for proof of evolution.

I choose on faith to believe that the events of the Fall, however mythic, still happened. Death entering the world through the sin of Adam is an important point as Paul relates it in Romans. If death already existed as part of the pre-Fallen world, I can't see that there's much hope for a world without death after the Second Coming, since it's already part of God's creation. But that's a faith-based argument rather than one based on science.

I think I really reached the turning point when it was obvious we were going to lose Chris. I was on the phone with my best friend, a total bonehead named David McCandless, and I was in tears I was so upset. I said point-blank that if this was how God treated kids like Chris, I really wasn't sure I wanted any part of him. David asked, without any judgment or rancor in his voice, where I would go then, and I realized just how thoroughly screwed I was -- there was nowhere else I could go. I'd seen enough of the real thing, and had enough of full-contact Christianity to know that even if this wasn't as bad as it could get, Christ was still worth following.

But I've never viewed Christ the same way since. He's grown inestimably bigger in my sight.
One of the lessons that's stuck with me since has been the role of community. The entire experience with Christian was rougher on my wife than on me in part because our church fell apart and she was left without a real community to support us as we were going through everything. I still had McCandless and my fellow weirdoes over at CHRefugee, though even then things like my job at WCN became a way to escape the pain (which of course made things worse for my wife).

There were mercifully few people who told me to buck up and have faith that God would work things out -- although there are always a couple people like that waiting in the wings.

One of the holiest responses I received was that September or October, just before the ax fell. We were trying out/helping out a little at a new church in the Princeton area, and a friend of ours from our old church was also there. Maura asked how things were, and when I started to tell her, she must have seen some of the pain in my face even though I kept it from my voice, because her heart broke right then and she gave me a hug. I started bawling on the spot because of the honest compassion and concern she was expressing. That, I think is what Christ does. He doesn't tell us how to behave or give us proper perspective. He sees that we're in pain, even if we won't admit it to ourselves, and he lets us cry.

McCandless, whose opinion of my writing I hold in tremendous estimation, writes, "Just wanted to let you know that you are doing an excellent job writing your articles... They're very good. Perhaps someday you'll have enough that you could compile them and see if my agent wants to market it as a book."

Actually, as I admitted to him, that's one of the reasons why I'm doing this as a blog/mailing sort of thing. I'm hoping that the writing will market itself to an extent, as people forward links and articles to one another. I put the link in my signature file, but that's about the extent of the marketing I'm doing. When I started this, I invited about fifteen people to sign on,and that was about the extent of the promotion. Only seven people signed up right away, and one person has joined since. I've pretty much taken the view that if God intends to use it, he will, and trying to push it is more likely to bring frustration to myself and other people. I'm reminded somewhat of David, who ran from Saul with no intention of building an army to fight him, but soon found himself surrounded by men who would prove to be the basis of his army when he became king later on. He just hid in the wilderness, and people flocked to him.

So far, it's paying off a little. I'm keeping track of the traffic through Stat Counter, and I'm noticing that there are a few people coming to the site through links in their e-mail, and a number of people are taking the time to read more than one blog entry at a time. And when they leave comments on the blog, I make sure I keep them there. Later on, I figure I can use those posted comments as evidence that I have a readership/platform/audience.

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