Saturday, January 19, 2013

Putting Away Childish Things

I have just finished Marcus Borg's novel Putting Away Childish Things.  I have to say that Borg is NOT a novelist.  The story is more of a parable of academic angst than anything and you have to wonder how much is autobiographical.  But it is a good way to address the process of how people come to a mature faith in a post-modern era.

A member of my parish loaned the book to me after she had read it for a parish book club.  I think it was very difficult for the people in the group to read it because they had not read any of his other books.  Borg can be very disorienting for folk who have not challenged their belief structures.  For those who base their faith on the relationship with God that are supported by the traditional modernist structures, Borg's ideas can pull the rug out from under them.

When I began reading Borg (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time) I needed something to off-set the questions that I had of Scripture, Theological History and strident claims that many of the right-wing were making of faith.  I had never believed in the concept of Redemption as a principle of faith.  And the God that I knew would not condemn humanity to Original Sin but there were great theologians who were still thumping Augustine and other 5th century theologians to maintain their theological house of cards.  And the one thing that kept my card house standing was that I had had enough experience of the Holy One that nothing could destroy it.  His reasoning and his solid scriptural underpinnings helped me to entertain new structures for a new age.  And it has changed my life.  My faith is stronger and less accreted with fairy tales and more solidly built on the wonderful relationship I have with that ineffable Goodness that is both within and without me that, for want of a better word, I call God.

Being somewhat of a history buff, I can appreciate the need for different eras to define what it means to have faith.  But long before I knew of Borg's work, I knew that believing and having faith were two separate things.  Belief was a cognitive expression.  Faith has always been a relationship in which trust was at the center.

Cognitively I can say that I believe that Jesus of Nazareth lived.  His life was unique enough for people to have been moved by him to know the Holy.  I believe that he embodied the Holy better than his era had ever seen before and therefore many stories were told about him.  Some were true; some were exaggerations.  I do not have a problem with that.  Hyperbole is part of the human condition.  But through his teaching he helped change the way people of faith experience the world.

The other cognitive thing that I know is that the Holy can be experienced.  It is not something that can be quantified.  It is not something that can be even well described.  But it too can change peoples' lives.  It cannot be proved.  All I know is that it is that experience of the Holy/Divine/Goodness/God is what gets me up in the morning and makes life rich and full each day.  Sometimes I experience that Holy One in the person of Jesus;  sometimes I know it through the Spirit.  Sometimes I know the Holy One as a Warrior Goddess, El Shaddai, who defends me against the things that well up in my heart.  At times I know the still small voice that Ezekiel heard after the whirlwind and I too cover my face at Its presence.

Because I can find my experience of faith (trusting relationship) in Scripture, I know it is a book of faith.  Because I know that many of the stories of how God has been present to people for 5 thousand years, I read Scripture.  I do not need to know if it is factual or not.  I do not need to know that it has been handed down as unchangeable for centuries (it hasn't).  I do not need to make an idol out of the Bible by believing it immutable.  There are many places where the Bible has big mistakes in it (cf. Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman) But that cannot shake the faith--the trust I have in the Holy One that has made its self known to me throughout my life.  It is a trust I have in the Creator and Creation.  It is a trust in humanity even though the flawed nature of humanity has battered that trust on so many occasions   But because humanity is a creation of the Holy Creator, I can trust in the incarnate presence of the Holy.

And what I experience in the presence of the Holy is love.  I have come to know myself as one who is loved more than life.  I have come to know in that presence that God loves those whom I do not and I can trust that God will protect them when I cannot or will not.  I know that it is love that makes this life that I live worth living.  But I did know a time before I knew of the presence of the Divine that I did not love myself in order to love others.  I had to allow that before I could really embrace the kind of love that the Holy One had for me.  It primed the pump, so to speak and opened me to embrace a life that is focused on how God makes God's presence known in others' lives.

I used to be an inveterate church woman.  I loved the community of the Church and 'believed' in it as an institution.  I still love being a part of this grand scheme of faith community, but I know now the flawed character of the Church.  I have seen such unholy things done in the name of Church and it breaks my heart.  I still want to get up in the morning and be a part of my church brothers and sisters.  They are my family, but they aren't perfect and neither am I.  I love the dance steps of the liturgy.  I love the signs and symbols that layer my faith.  But sometimes I get so discouraged by the way that the Church acts and structures itself in fear of making a mistake.  I think that the story of Peter's denial should be a graver story--the Rock of the Church was the one who made the most mistakes of Jesus' disciples.  We who are church folk should be more cognizant of that story than we are.

The thing about Borg's work is that he has made me think.  He helped me 'put away childish things' so that my faith could be more mature based upon the experience of the Holy.   Even if the Church might fail, my faith will continue.  Even if archaeologists 'find the body of Jesus' I will still have faith in a Creator who loves me and loves goodness and who loves humanity.  It is the experience of have of him/her that makes all the difference.  Will I continue the Church dance--of course I will!  I will continue in the worship because it is the dance that brings me closer and changes my heart to love more.  Will I continue to tell the stories of Jesus and the patriarchs?  Certainly.  It is where I hear stories of others trying to live out their experience of the Holy too.  God is too good for me to stop now.


Teri said...

Thank you for this reflection--so real and so timely. Love you!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Wonderful post, Lauren. Sadly, too many Christians are afraid to think.