September 19, 2012

Stomachs of Trust

“This one is for all you doubters out there in sanctuary-land. We know who we are.”

Is doubt a sin?

Depends. I suspect there is a kind of head doubt that can lead one into temptation. Standing comfortably over on the curb of faith, scoffing at the blunders and excesses and misinformation of those passing by you, struggling in the religious race: That’s a sin. Tossing out vexing questions that call for impossible answers, just to make your parents (or anyone with whom you cannot yet connect) squirm and worry about your salvation: That’s likely a sin, and kind of cruel, too. Dressing up your naked dread in a coat of Christian Confidence, always ready with the right comeback or explanation or verse: If that’s not a sin, it surely is annoying. Imagining you are a spiritual island, all alone on your own comfortable terms, doubting your need for the mainland of those who have gone before you, insisting that “God” wash up on your shore just the way you want: That’s probably a sin, being so cut off. If nothing else it’s lonely, always being right.

But there is another kind of uncertainty in the Christian pilgrimage, what Frederick Buechner once dubbed stomach doubt. That may well be hope in the Lord, only upside down. That creeping numbness you carry after watching too much World News Tonight, too many Google news feeds. That comfortable self-loathing (or church-loathing) to which you retreat when the pilgrimage proves harder than you had first imagined. That pinch you feel when your friend confronts you with a calamity that sent her reeling away from any sanctuary or its god. The fear of failure when a 9-year-old smacks you with a theological puzzle you cannot explain. That dread that settles in your bones at the end of the day, horizontal in your bed: when life is not coherent, the way forward not at all clear, the coming of another morning not at all certain.

Garden variety anxiety notwithstanding, I suspect that knots in the stomach exist to bear witness to the fact that all is not yet right with God’s good world. The gospel is already true, and yet that news has not yet worked itself out in every place and time. We feel that in our gut. See Romans 8. In that way, the Christian should likely pull up a chair next to stomach doubt and get to know it better. Befriend it, hear it out, invite it over to the party that is Jesus’ resurrection and see how things go between them. By paying attention to stomach doubt and not castigating ourselves for it or dressing it up in the drag of faithless surety, we learn to trust in the sure promises of the Triune God: whose light and life will eventually find its way into every corner of every abdomen. That’s a Holy Spirit-born truth we are likely to learn in our bellies before we are convinced of it in our heads.

The opposite of faith is not doubt.
It’s too much of the wrong kind of certainty.

September 12, 2012

Moving In

I read with interest much of the press on remembering 9/11, eleven years later. A phrase in a article caught my eye: “… subdued ceremonies suggested it’s time to move on after a decade of remembrance.” Really? I bet it depends on who you ask.

I know from walking with many families through thick grief that moving on can be easier suggested than enacted. If your heart still aches, moving on seems to be what you most want to do and at the same time what you swear you’ll never do. I also know that those promoting the importance of it are often not themselves immediately tinged by the pain. “They just need to move on” --- often uttered off-handedly at the bridge table or during halftime banter. (What I think folks are saying is: It’s hard to stay connected to someone who is grieving.)

But while a nation quietly considers how long is long enough, let us ponder another possibility. For followers of Jesus, maybe “moving on” from big pain is never the goal. What if the good hope is not to get past anything, to forget about it or put it behind us. Could healing be a kind of Spirit-born transformation in yourself that makes living with the past a viable option? Rather than erasing your pain, the Lord seems interested in subduing it so that is does not harm or hinder any more. Granted, a journey from Friday pain to Sunday transformation may take time. But in the realm of a risen Jesus, that the journey is possible at all is a stunning gift for those of us hindered by past pain.

Moving into grief to find healing, as opposed to moving on: What else would we expect from the hands of a Teacher who, even after the stunning mystery of the resurrection, still bears the deadly scars in his hands and side. The marks remain, only now instead of wounds of death, they are markers of transformation. It's not so much that Jesus has moved on, it's more that new life has moved in.

May it be so, in God’s good time, for all who hurt.

September 5, 2012

Jesus Thoughts

On Monday I was tooling around Best Buy, enjoying a second-rate worship experience with lots of plastic false gods. (I do like the prelude music they play. Just lovely.) It was Labor Day; the place was packed. I strolled over to the cell phone section, just for kicks, only to stumble upon a first-rate consumer smack down. Two women, arms full of smartphone accessories, one of them supported by her mother, were in a battle royal for a spot in the protracted line. A crowd had formed around them, like inmates watching a prison yard scuffle. The yelling was shrill. “You got out of line!” “We were here first!” “You only care about yourself!” “You are a horrible person!” And on and on it went. I felt for the wiry 20-something BB employee, dressed in bright blue and deep distress.

Pittsburgh’s own Andy Warhol once quipped, “Buying is much more American than thinking, and I'm as American as they come.” He might be on to something. I confess I’d much rather stroll around the brightly lit aisles of an electronic wonderland, struggling with this size flatscreen or that, than think about who exactly is my neighbor and how can I love them. Bring on the gadgets!

But as I watched my Best Buy neighbors throw down over a coveted place in the cell phone queue, I thought to myself: “On balance, I think I’m grateful to be baptized, and grateful for the crisis the gospel of Jesus usually prompts in my otherwise mundane life. Not that I’m any better than these three in the brawl. (I'm thinking: Hey, while they are distracted, you could jump in line!) But I do give thanks for gospel commands that call me to love, gospel freedom that makes that possible, and gospel thinking on why it even matters.

What Jesus-thoughts are you thinking this week?
Where is the Holy Spirit calling you, above the consumerist fray?