ORDER OF WORSHIP
* The Order of Worship is changing for the Afterfaith series. We appreciate your indulgence of this change to the routine.
- Greeting & Announcements – Rev. Val
- Call to Worship, and Opening Prayer – Rev. Val & Congregation
- Gloria Patri (UMH 70)
- Holy Troublemaker Biography
- Pastoral Prayer – Rev. Val
- Scripture Readings – Matthew 5:21-48 (CEB), Matthew 13:29-30 (CEB) – Rev. Val
- Message: Those Darn “D” Words – Rev. Val
- Service of Holy Communion
- Offertory Prayer – Rev. Val
- Doxology (UMH 95)
- Benediction – Rev. Val
WELCOME, CALL TO WORSHIP, & OPENING PRAYER
NOTE: This sesrvice was held online only due to possible inclement weather and the Pastor’s health.
Welcome! I want to take a moment here and tell you all how much I enjoy our Small Group sessions on Zoom. They make my week and keep me going between Sundays. For those of you worshipping with us online, you don’t know what you’re missing, so here’s the deal. Sign up for our weekly worship bulletin (message us through our Facebook page for the link to the sign up form or find the form on the bottom of any page on our website), and you’ll receive information on how to join in the fun. By the way, we’re starting a new Wednesday in the Word Bible Study this week on Christine Harman’s “For the Common Good: Discovering and Using Your Spiritual Gifts.” It’s available in paperback through Upper Room Books or for Kindle on Amazon.
OK, next. Today is the day we start Afterfaith, a new series. We’ll be in this series until Lent begins on March 2nd. Again, and I brought this up at Thomas Talks earlier this week, the questions you’ve already submitted are great! This series is one that, if I’m doing it right, should cause you to ask even more questions. Please continue to write your questions down, put them in the offering container in the Narthex, and keep them anonymous.
And while we’re on the subject of questions, that’s one of the reasons I love our small groups. I love that you guys have questions! It means I’m doing something right up here, it means I’ve succeeded in getting you to leave here not with pat answers, but thinking and questioning and searching for more. Y’all are such a joy! And, for you online worshippers, you can ask questions, too. You can join us on Zoom on Monday evenings for Thomas Talks: Doubts Worth Discussing, or you can send me the questions in a message on Facebook. Whatever works for you.
Also, Afterfaith is going to be an adventure that may include even more atypical readings, prayers, hymns, and so on than I normally use, and … as you’ll see from the back of your bulletin … I’m introducing a subseries called Holy Troublemakers. For those of you here and online who are used to more traditional liturgy, be patient. I think in the end you’ll get a great deal out of this. At least I hope you will. However, Afterfaith is going to require changing up the Order of Worship a bit and I may need to tweak it here and there as we go along, so your patience with changes to our normal routine is also appreciated.
Call to Worship
“Come” Carol Penner, leadinginworship.com
L: And Jesus said, “Come!”
To the light-hearted and the heavy-hearted:
P: He said, “Come!”
L: To the well-off and the cast-off:
P: He said, “Come!”
L: To the youngsters and the oldsters:
P: He said, “Come!”
L: To the faithful and the faithless:
P: He said, “Come!”
L: “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
P: Jesus, we long to meet you in this hour of worship,
we hear your call.
“Invocation” Human Relations Day Liturgy, Resourceumc.org
Relational God who created us in community,
Thank you for sending your prophets to share your steadfast love with us.
We gather on this Human Relations Day Sunday with a diversity of spiritual gifts.
Link us together to build up your realm. Show us how to connect with all of our neighbors.
Pour out your Spirit on us, activating us to work in partnership with your people for the common good.
We pray in Jesus’ name.
Holy Troublemaker – Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)
Statesman, Holy Troublemaker
Remembering John Lewis: An Invitation to Make Good Trouble. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins, as published by Baptistnews.com on July 24, 2020.
Most churches are focused in on Martin Luther King, Jr., this week and, while he definitely qualifies as a “holy troublemaker,” I want to tell you about a different Holy Troublemaker … one who issued a church-wide invitation to “Make Good Trouble.” His invitation seems to me to be the perfect opening for our first “Holy Troublemaker” portion of our Afterfaith series.
The following was written by Rev. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins.
“Rep. John Lewis has bequeathed to the church a call to make “good trouble” and to stir up the gift that resides in us: faith in God and faith in each other. I pray the followers of Jesus are finally ready to claim our inheritance.
Willie Mae and Eddie Lewis raised 10 children as sharecropper parents outside Troy, Ala., in the 1940s and ’50s. John Robert was one of those children. Like many mothers of that generation, Willie Mae Lewis prayed daily that her children would stay out of trouble. A subject of many such prayers myself, I know that in a mother’s prayer for Black boys, “staying out of trouble” primarily meant the ability to keep one’s distance from the police and never having to spend a night in jail. By the time of his death, John Lewis had been arrested 45 times and spent many a night in jail.
Beginning with his arrest in Nashville, Tenn., for organizing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters while a student at the American Baptist Theological Seminary, John Lewis made it his practice to get into “good trouble” at every opportunity he could. He had fallen under the influence of the tinny, yet prophetic radio voice of the youthful Martin Luther King Jr., who was preaching and broadcasting out of Montgomery, Ala. Lewis resonated with King’s challenge to transform the dirty, dusty roads of injustice in the here and now rather than waiting oppression out to hopefully stride down streets of gold in the sweet bye and bye.
Along with Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette, and others, Lewis augmented his college studies by attending weekly training workshops led by James M. Lawson, whom Lewis later called “the architect” of the civil rights movement. Lawson had recently spent a year in prison for his refusal to participate in the draft as a conscientious objector. He then volunteered for three years of missionary service in India, where he studied Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence. Lewis absorbed Lawson’s insistence that Gandhi’s “satyagraha” (non-violently holding on to truth) or “soul force” and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount were more than just effective civil and political tools for overcoming humiliation and dehumanization suffered under segregation. Lewis embraced the way of Jesus and soul force and embedded them in the core of his being for the rest of his life
The sacredness of all human beings and the fundamental unity of all of life propelled Lewis into trouble at every turn. He was maladjusted to going along with an evil system and threw his body into situations of division and discrimination to see what he could do about it. Many of us recall images of him standing on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Sunday, March 7, 1965.
On that Bloody Sunday, when many civil rights leaders and organizations thought Selma too dangerous to deal with, Lewis stood at the apex of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and stared into a sea of blue-clad Alabama state troopers. He refused to be turned around in his long journey toward freedom. Suddenly, that sea of blue closed around him and the rest of the faithful as waves of batons beat down on them unmercifully. John Lewis wore the scars of that brutal beating the rest of his life. Asked about whether he felt afraid on that bridge, Lewis, said, “No, I wasn’t afraid. I felt liberated.”
For Lewis, standing on that bridge in the face of overwhelming odds was not just a political act; it was a spiritual commitment. As we eulogize John Lewis, I pray the church inherits from him his fearless commitment to walk into good trouble. Systemic disenfranchisement, creeping militaristic totalitarianism, Christian nationalism and structural white supremacy are four deadly horsemen who barricade the bridge toward justice and human dignity in the USA.
Perfect love casts out fear, says 1 John 4:18. I pray the church loves Jesus enough to express and exhibit its conviction that at the core of creation is a Cosmic Companion who calls us to walk toward these ends. Making good trouble is an expression of our spirituality, not just our politics.
This work requires faith. Faith in God and faith in each other. John Lewis was a person of enormous faith. He had faith in a God who would ultimately bend the arc of the universe toward God’s purposive ends of truth, beauty, goodness and justice. For Lewis, every encounter, person or policy that seemed to contradict or contravene God’s goodness or God’s good ends was only an illusion. I believe one of the legacies Lewis leaves us is a story that stirs up our faith.
Lewis once wrote, “Faith, is being so sure of what the spirit has whispered in your heart that your belief in its eventuality is unshakeable. Nothing can make you doubt that what you have heard will become a reality. Even if you do not live to see it come to pass, you know without one doubt that it will be. That is faith.” To me, such confidence is what made this 5-foot-6-inch-tall bald guy so charismatic. It wasn’t his oratory or his good looks. It was his compelling and irresistible faith.
One of his last public acts of protest and solidarity was to stand with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser at Washington’s 16th Street two-block-long art mural that boldly proclaims, “Black Lives Matter.” Having lived just long enough to witness what may be the dawning of the most impactful nonviolent movement in this country, Lewis stood on that mural and said, “I think the people in D.C. and around the nation are sending a mightily powerful and strong message to the rest of the world that we will get there.” What faith in God. What faith in humanity.
Everyone wanted to get a selfie with Lewis. And judging by social media this past week, just about half of America did. It seems just about everyone wanted to have whatever he had to rub off on them.
Lewis believed with every fiber of his being that love already had overcome hate, that every expression of evil could never stand. This made him powerful yet patient. This made him fight fiercely for freedom. Yet he found time to laugh and joke and never to take himself too seriously. He affirmed, “We are actors dramatizing our faith in the supremacy of one truth that no law, no centuries-old tradition, no military force, no military might, no matter how ferocious, could undermine the dictates of the divine.”
Lewis lived a long and productive life, more than twice as long as his spiritual father, Martin Luther King Jr. But length of days and fame were not what John Lewis lived for. More valuable than longevity and notoriety for him was faithfulness — faith that we are all children of the same omniscient Creator who clothed us in the garment of mutuality.
For Lewis, any pronouncement or practice of discrimination and division had to be an error, a delusion based on fallacious thinking, a distortion of the truth. His was a faith grounded in what he saw as a divine heritage that links us with every other human being and all creation. Such have we inherited from this proclaimer and policy maker who heralded the Beloved Community throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. May we go and do likewise.”
Adapted from “Truth and Reconciliation Congregational Prayer” Carol Penner, leadinginworship.com
Thank you, God, for everything that is true and good:
for true love, and good friendships,
for true stories, and all who tell them,
for the good earth, which is truly a home for all your creatures.
Thank you for all who seek the truth;
journalists who try to reveal injustice,
scientists who figure out how things work,
judges who listen to every side.
Thank you for the desire for truth
that you put inside each one of us,
and for the gift of Jesus Christ,
who came to show us the way, the truth and the life.
And yet for all the truth there is in the world,
there is so much brokenness.
Telling the truth means speaking about wrongs done
and all the evil under the sun, fruit of our own hands.
Today is Human Relations Day.
Today we’re supposed to celebrate the wonderful diversity of all your children.
Instead, our world is becoming more and more divided.
As a community of faith, we join in the lament of our nation
that has sought for centuries to obliterate Indigenous Peoples.
You know about the stolen land,
the residential schools with their unmarked graves,
the languages stamped out, the history erased,
the murdered and missing indigenous women.
You know about the generational trauma of slavery,
Jim Crow and its contemporary suppressor, voter suppression,
the institutional and casual racism that warps our society.
You know about gender inequality and the erosion of what few rights women had gained.
You know about the abuses suffered by our LGBTQ and trans-gender brothers and sisters in society, in our laws, but more importantly in our churches.
We look to you, Creator of us all,
for a path to a future different from the past.
Give us eyes to see reconciliation,
not just as a distant point on the horizon,
but as the work we do every day.
You anchor our commitment to reconciliation
and will help us act when we see injustice.
Thank you for the enduring beauty and strength
of the many indigenous cultures around us.
Thank you that truth and reconciliation
are possible, in our nation and in our personal lives.
Finally, we pray for an end to this pandemic.
You know that our communities are facing divisions
because of vaccine mandates, and vaccine hesitancy.
Help us reach out in love to those with whom we disagree.
We do all this, and more, through your spirit of truth.
Dearest Lord, whatever else You see that we need—whatever is for the good of our neighbor and redounds to Your glory—we pray that You would grant to us, Your children. We ask it Jesus’ name who taught us to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.
Gracious God, as we turn to your Word for us, may the Spirit of God rest upon us. Help us to be steadfast in our hearing, in our speaking, in our believing, in our living, and in our loving.
Matthew 5:21-48 (CEB) – You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart. And if your right eye causes you to fall into sin, tear it out and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to fall into sin, chop it off and throw it away. It’s better that you lose a part of your body than that your whole body go into hell.
“It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a divorce certificate.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife except for sexual unfaithfulness forces her to commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.
“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.
Matthew 13:29-30 – Don’t pull out the weeds or you might pull out the wheat along with it. Let the weeds and the wheat both grow together until the harvest”
The scriptures of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.
MESSAGE – Those Darn D Words
Citations are included in the transcript.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.
When I first announced the Afterfaith series, I wrote the following: “There is a movement taking place in the universal church. Some see it as a falling away, others as a great emergence, and still others as a continuing pattern. We’ll be taking a look at the events of today’s church, how they relate to events of the past, and what it means for us …”.
The current buzzword for this movement is a D word … Deconstruction, in this case, deconstruction of one’s faith … disassembling one’s faith, examining every intricate part learned throughout one’s life, identifying those parts that are no longer working, are anti-Christ, are not based on love, and tossing those parts into the trash bin.
It’s important to note that … before you can deconstruct something that something has to be built, and that includes faith. Building your faith is rarely accomplished alone. The core design of your faith began before you in a community that consisted of family, friends, and other influencers. The faith of those in that community was built the same way … from their family, friends, and influencers, and so forth back through time. Generation after generation handing down a core faith that the next generation maintained and, on occasion, renovated.
Anyone that’s ever fixed up an older home knows that you can’t always just add another layer of paint or wallpaper, and that some additions and modifications may have worked at the time they were made but they don’t work today.
Faith is the same way. Fr. Richard Rohr puts it like this, ““God has no grandchildren. God only has children,” as some have said. Each generation has to make its own discoveries of Spirit for itself. If not, we just react to the previous generation, and often overreact. Or we conform, and often overconform. Neither is a positive or creative way to move forward.”
After multiple generations have added their layers of how you should or shouldn’t believe, their … as Rohr put it … “discoveries of Spirit” or, more importantly added their over-reactions and over-conforming … the faith you’ve been handed, you’ve been taught … reaches a point where you just have to stop and strip away all those layers to get back to the original structure … to get back to the faith God intended us to have.
A lot of conservative churches, church leaders, and fellow believers view deconstruction as something bad. They tend to infer that anyone going through deconstruction are “spiritually lost, wandering in the wilderness,” or are confusing “secular culture” with spiritual culture. They will often “pressure” those deconstructing to “confess” to being at minimum unfaithful and at most, heretical. On social media, they will suddenly inundate the purported “lost soul” with a plethora of clobber text memes, make him or her the subject of their prayers that he or she find their way out of the wilderness and back to the folds of the status quo, and … eventually … insist the person deconstructing has made God’s infamous list of “good folks gone bad and headed for hell.”
These are generally the same folks that swear the King James Version is the only accurate and legitimate Bible translation, and that, if it isn’t in the Bible, God didn’t say it … which is in direct contradiction to Acts 2:17 which says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams,” and tends to disregard entirely the fact that they’re waving an English translation made from a Latin translation of handwritten copies of ancient texts in ancient languages that very few people at that time could even read.
They’re also ignoring the fact that even Jesus deconstructed things like … oh … I don’t know … Biblical laws … our passage from Matthew – “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago …” insert murder, adultery, divorce, solemn pledges, love, and several other laws “… but I say …”.
Jared Byas, who has been a pastor, professor, Sunday school teacher, podcast host, author, speaker, and leader of several organizations, describes himself as a “serial-questioner and ideas explorer, and states his passion is to explore new ways of being Christian and help people translate all of life’s big questions into a life full of meaning and connection, defines deconstruction as this: “Deconstruction is, perhaps, the wisdom of waking up to being human. Thinking we’ve had the truth only to realize we’ve had broken versions of it. And after being discouraged for a time, recognizing even the broken versions are worth pursuing with our whole heart.”
Andre Henry, an author at Religion News Service, had quite a bit to say about deconstruction about a week ago. Henry wrote: “I wonder what Pope Leo X would’ve tweeted about the Reformation, had Twitter existed in the 16th century. Would he accuse John Calvin of being on a desperate search for street cred? Would he reduce Luther’s 95 critiques of the papacy to “church hurt”?
Such are the epithets Christian leaders today are using against the bogeyman known as “deconstruction.” A buzzword in Christian circles, the term serves as a catchall for the many ways Christians are interrogating, reevaluating and often shedding Christian doctrines, values and practices they find outdated, problematic or just plain harmful.”
Now, you might wonder why I would want to not just tackle the D word, but build a 7 week series about it. It’s because I agree with something else Henry wrote in his article. First, there was the headline of the article: “Deconstruction is a valid Christian practice. Ask Martin Luther.” As if that wasn’t enough, there was this: “Those who dismiss deconstruction as “a fancy word for doubt” or demonize it as heresy or apostasy are making a crucial error: Deconstruction has always been part of Christian practice and has been seen through history as a healthy expression of Christian faithfulness.
Parroting the Reformation era slogan sola scriptura (“Scripture alone”), deconstruction’s critics suggest that the Bible is sufficient to provide guidance, not just in matters of faith, but even to remedy social evils that our readings of those very Scriptures have been essential in creating, such as systemic racism.
But the Christian Bible itself contains some of the earliest cases we have of deconstruction. One potent example comes from the Book of Acts, in which the apostle Peter breaks a religious taboo to visit a Roman centurion named Cornelius. “It is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean,” Peter confessed to Cornelius upon his arrival.
The apostle is referring to a vision from God he experienced the previous day, in which he saw a cloth laden with all kinds of animals deemed unclean in the Hebrew Bible. When a heavenly voice told him to eat from the spread of forbidden animals, Peter refused, until the voice admonished Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
Peter was following Scripture and keeping tradition to the best of his knowledge, but God gave him new information that demanded he reevaluate what those texts and traditions mean, and what faithfulness to God looked like in his new context. The scene demonstrates that Scripture and tradition are at times insufficient resources to determine what faithfulness to God looks like.
Before the Reformation, Christians relied on church councils, and eventually the authority of bishops and popes, to clarify matters of doctrine and practice. Even after the schism, some Protestants recognized the need for more tools to define orthodoxy. Methodism uses a theological concept called the “Wesleyan quadrilateral,” in which Scripture is the basis for authentic Christian practice, but only in concert with tradition, reason and personal experience.”
I need to pause here and observe this highly Methodist Moment for a couple reasons. First … one would think that Wesley and what has become known as the Wesley Quadrilateral would knock the wind out of the sails of those pastors and congregations that insist the Bible be taken literally … at least on those topics that they want to take literally … problem being that no one and I do mean NO ONE living today takes the Bible 100% literally. If they did, the earth would have a very tiny population because we’d stone more people to death than is necessary for the human race to reproduce at a rate high enough to sustain itself, we’d become extinct, and all Mother Nature would breathe a huge sigh of relief.
And second, because right now with all the divisive talk going on in the upper echelons of the UMC and even to some degree in and amongst churches of the UMC, there are folks that say their legalistic, literal interpretations are the “Wesleyan Way.” I don’t agree with that and as we go through this series, we’ll come back to what Wesley may have thought about that … theory.
Back to the D Word and why I’m bringing it up. I want you to understand that the purpose of this series isn’t to cause you to deconstruct your faith or to encourage you to leave the church. I do want you to understand that deconstruction is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a necessary thing. It’s an ongoing thing. Even within our own lives, it’s something that, if we’re sincerely trying to grow in our faith, we will all eventually do.
Some of you hearing this message may not need to go through deconstruction because you’ve already done so at some point and you’re pretty much where you need to be in order to follow Christ in the way he would have us follow him and, if so, yay for you guys! This series should affirm the changes you’ve gone through and, if you weren’t aware you went through them, looking back you may identify some “Aha” moments you’ve had and, looking forward, recognize when your next period of deconstruction begins and avoid some of those doubt-ridden questions and fears like, “Have I stopped believing? Have I lost my faith? Will I be eternally damned for thinking this way? O.M.G., am I becoming an atheist?”
However and especially knowing you the way I do … some of you are, without even realizing it, somewhere along the path of deconstruction … which, by the way, is vastly different from being on a path of destruction or at least it should be … I hope it is … I want to make that clear. Anyway, I’m hoping this series will help you grapple with this and come out on the other side still in love with God, still believing, and embracing a whole new … here it comes … Afterfaith … a faith that, like the afterlife we all hope for, you can look forward to because it changes not just the way you worship but the way you live.
So, let me get back to what Andre Henry was saying about how this is a normal process as we can see if we look at Martin Luther and the early Reformers. And because I’ve spun off to the side a bit, just a reminder that sola scriptura or scripture alone, is the cry of folks who tend to view the Bible as something God came down, sat at a table, and penned all on his own with no human involvement at all.
Henry writes: “Indeed, the notion of sola scriptura arises from the greatest deconstruction movements in church history: The reformers called out the church of their day, interrogated and rejected papal authority, wrestled with the nature of the sacraments and reevaluated the place of Scripture in the life of the Christian.
Luther’s case in particular illustrates where the motivation to deconstruct often comes from. A devout biblical translator, he [Luther] felt that the ecclesial practices of his time were deeply incongruent with the faith he discerned in the pages of Scripture. He called for reform because he took the text and the faith seriously. Had the religious authorities listened to him, Luther might have died a Catholic. Instead, they pressured him to recant and excommunicated him when he wouldn’t.”
We’re not so different from Luther in that, when we question or give voice to our doubts, there are those in the church that … as I said earlier … begin that litany of all the reasons we’re suddenly losing our faith … what they really mean is we’re losing their faith and, after all, their faith is the only biblically accurate faith.
“Doubt” is another D word. Doubt is also very often a precursor to deconstruction. Doubt can be a scary thing, even a terrifying thing for some believers.
Lindsey Paris-Lopez, Editor in Chief of Raven Foundation’s Raven Review, said in an interview, “Doubt doesn’t always feel like a blessing. Questioning faith, questioning tradition, questioning the perspective and understanding of those around you, especially those who seem to have it all together, who seem so confident in their words and actions… this can be scary and gut-wrenching. To doubt what others seem to take for granted can be unnerving, like walking on shaky ground that could give way any second. … As a child who struggled with her faith but loved her church, I found it hard to voice my doubts. I know I asked questions and took genuine interest in the stories. But the nagging feeling that perhaps this was all wrong, that I really could not wrap my head around a Triune God who died and rose for the sake of love but would eternally burn those who failed to accept this baffling premise… that feeling lingered like a weight on my chest.”
But … I also want to share with you something that Brian McLaren wrote in the preface of his book, Faith After Doubt.
“…for twenty-four years I was a pastor in whom thousands of people confided. And in the fourteen years since leaving the pastorate, thousands more people who have heard me speak or read my books have reached out to me. They write long and anguished letters or emails, full of apologies for taking so much of my time, or they approach me after speaking engagements, daring to trust me with their secret, often with tears. To protect their privacy, I’ve changed many names and details in this book, and on some occasions, I have combined elements from multiple stories into one. When I have created specific details and dialogue (such as the specific words of a prayer), I have tried to do so in ways that will help readers imaginatively enter the real experiences of others. Of course, that shouldn’t be hard for them to do, because many readers will be brimming with stories of their own, full of resonance. I understand, because I too am a doubter. And I am a believer. And a doubter. Sometimes I flip back and forth five times in one day, and sometimes, I’m both at exactly the same time. My friend Rachel Held Evans has often used a phrase that captures how many of us feel: “On the days when I believe this…”1 My first sustained spell of doubt came over me like a fever when I was in high school. I thought I could fight doubt and vanquish it, and it would never return. Some years later, when wave after wave of doubt kept rolling in, I thought that doubt would vanquish me and my faith would never return.
I felt that I was peeling an onion, layer by layer by layer, and feared that when I was done, there would be nothing left but the burn and sting of tears. Eventually, I came to realize that doubt was a companion, every bit as resilient and persistent as faith, and she wasn’t going away. I realized that she had some things to teach me, and I decided that since I couldn’t shut her up or drive her away, I might as well learn from her. She has turned out to be a tough but effective teacher and a difficult but faithful friend. In this book, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned from doubt, starting with this: you and I don’t have to keep our doubts a secret any longer. Some people tell me they never have doubts. Faith comes easy for them, they say, at least it has so far. But many, many, many of us do have doubts, and sometimes our doubts seem far more powerful than our beliefs. It’s hard enough having doubts; it’s impossibly hard to have them and feel you must pretend that you don’t. Right now, let’s grant one another permission to doubt. And let’s see the doubt in ourselves and each other not as a fault or failure to be ashamed of, but as an inescapable dimension of having faith and being human, and more: as an opportunity for honesty, courage, virtue, and growth, including growth in faith itself. I promise you: there is faith after doubt, and life after doubt, and life with doubt. If you thought life before doubt was good, wait until you see where doubt can lead you and what doubt can teach you. You don’t have to feel ashamed or be afraid.” (1)
Paul Tillich says about doubt: “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.… Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.” (1)
In his book, Falling Upward, Fr. Richard Rohr said, “Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable.”
The D words … deconstruction and doubt, are simply the signs of seeking a deeper truth. And, yes, they can make us miserable, especially since unresolved or unanswered doubts invariably trigger deconstruction and, by now, you will be able to recognize if you’re setting out in the process of deconstruction. But remember something that Fr. Rohr wrote:
“Setting out is always a leap of faith, a risk in the deepest sense of the term, and yet an adventure too. The familiar and the habitual are so falsely reassuring, and most of us make our homes there permanently. The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a push–usually a big one–or we will not go.”
And, “In this book I would like to describe how this message of falling down and moving up is, in fact, the most counter-intuitive message in most of the world’s religions, including and most especially Christianity. We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens; yet nothing in us wants to believe it. I actually think it is the only workable meaning of any remaining notion of “original sin.”
And finally Rohr sees it as a surrendering of your false self, just as Paul saw it as dying to self. Rohr wrote, “Your True Self is who you objectively are from the beginning, in the mind and heart of God, “the face you had before you were born,” as the Zen masters say. It is your substantial self, your absolute identify, which can never be gained nor lost by any technique, group affiliation, morality, or formula whatsoever. The surrendering of our false self, which we have usually taken for our absolute identity, yet is merely a relative identity, is the necessary suffering needed to find “the pearl of great price” that is always hidden inside this lovely but passing shell.”
The good news is, deconstruction and dying to self can actually help or, as Rohr puts it, ““When you get your “Who am I?” question right, all the “What should I do?” questions tend to take care of themselves.”
That’s a very basic introduction to the D words, doubt and deconstruction. Now I want to address one of your questions: “Are there priorities while deconstructing?” which is a really good question. I would say there are at least three priorities. 1) Don’t be afraid to … drum roll … ask questions! So, well done already! And remember that there is no one on this planet who is an authority, so not only is it okay to ask a question, it’s also okay to question the answer and do some research and fact checking of your own. 2) Spend more time in prayer … not the wordy kind of prayer … set aside some time to ask God your question and ask him to give you wisdom because He promises to answer that prayer, and then be silent and still and wait for the answer. It may not happen the first time or even the 21st time, but He will answer, and He knows best, right? By the way, you’ll know if the voice you’re hearing is His because His answers, even when they’re not the answers we want to hear, bring you peace, and peace is a good thing, so follow the instructions He gives you even if they’re leading you someplace you’d rather not go. And 3) and this one is the most important of the priorities. There are two hands holding yours and one presence covering you. Jesus has one hand, the Spirit has the other, and God has you covered. Trust in that. Cling to those hands. Pull God close. No matter what else you let go of, do not let go of those hands or push away that cover. It’s important.
God loves you. God delights in you. And God is faithful. Trust that.
Let’s pray …
the strength of all who believe and the hope of those who doubt:
we thank you that you call us to faith not certainty,
and pray that you will remind us that you have faith in us
even when our heads and hearts are full of questions.
May we, who have not seen, still have faith,
and so receive the fullness of Christ’s promised blessing.
We ask this in the name of Jesus,
who keeps coming back
so that we can all poke and prod at his open wounds
and no-one need be left out.
(1)McLaren, Brian D.. Faith After Doubt (pp. x-xiii). St. Martin’s Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
(2) Rev. David A. Campton, Belfast Ireland, virtualmethodist.blogspot.com
Please join me in a prayer for our gifts this morning:
God who has blessed us with so much, activate our gifts today to Your service. Help us to grow these gifts and transform them into a strong and healthy community, educational opportunities and spiritual sustenance that moves through your people. With the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to use
this offering to build relationships, invest in human dignity and form beloved community that evokes a spiritual revolution and unleashes Christlike love.
John Birch faithandworship.com
Thank you for being here today online. I don’t wear a watch, so if we went over today, thank you also for indulging me. There was a lot in today’s service, I realize that, but my prayer is you found it worthwhile. We will be continuing both Afterfaith and Holy Troublemakers next week. Stay tuned to our Facebook page for details!
Now hear this benediction and a prayer from the movie, “Don’t Look Up”:
May you find peace
in your busyness,
in your journeying,
in your happiness,
in your suffering,
in your fearfulness,
in your questioning,
in your faithfulness,
in your worshipping.
May you find peace.
“Dearest Father and Almighty creator, we ask for Your grace despite our pride, Your forgiveness despite our doubt, and most of all GOD, we ask for your love to soothe us through dark times … that we may face whatever is to come through your divine will with courage, and that we may open our hearts in acceptance.” Go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord. In Jesus’ name,
- All works cited within the text above.
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