Believing impossible things

dalia

Have you ever felt that following Jesus was too hard? Have you ever felt that your faith was making life more complicated than it needed to be? That the gospel they said would set you free had you trapped and you needed to get out?

Jesus said in this world you will have trouble and in this piece of writing we won’t be rushing on to the conclusion of that remark, however reassuring it might be. Cheaply purchased answers are temporary, easy won solutions throw up new worries and concerns. A generation of Christians have become tired of simplified answers to complex questions and have been hurt in places where those questions are all but banned.

But what if we decided to live as if our questions and struggles were as sacred as our moments of spiritual delight? What if we learnt to value and treasure the most troublesome days of our walk with God and speak boldly (not badly) of them as the dear friends that they are?

At the start of my journey towards a healthier spiritual place, a phrase from Alice caught my attention and fuelled my desire for change,

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I had to tell the truth, if only to myself. The Christian things I once held dear were becoming impossible things and the weight of them was breaking me up. I lacked the faith to believe and I lacked the will to pretend. I began to unwind, one impossible thing after another, like a long deep confession. Each new day, I got up, took the children to school, went to the library, cooked dinner, saw friends, passed the time. One day I was sorry for my rebellion, the next indignant. Yet some days, neither sorry or indignant, I felt the Holy Spirit there. He did not separate Himself from this questioning, I almost believed this was His doing and not my own.

What if I dared to believe this process was actually the work of God, the one I had prayed for, many, many times.

In those days I dared to believe Jesus was a good man not a God, that scripture was not without error. I dared to believe that love does not win, that miracles might not be true, that Christians were not the best people on earth, that Jesus is not the only way to God, that the doctrine of the Trinity is ridiculous, that answered prayer is coincidence, that the poor would never inherit the earth and that turning the other cheek was doomed to fail.

It was a quiet and long work. I told few people about it. I didn’t have the words. My only company in those days was books. 2002: I read Brian McClaren, Donald Miller, Dave Tomlinson and I returned to the ancient theologians I had studied as a student, the “Catholic” writers that evangelical pastors had cautioned me against. I shed impossible things like a seabird in eclipse loses feathers. The colours and textures of my faith changed subtly to match the shades of a changing internal landscape.

Many of the abandoned things would return in a different guise. I would turn them carefully in my hands, re-examining a doctrine or a teaching, as if seeing it for the first time.  I found I was free to refuse and free to accept impossible things. I could put it down or I could I could take it with me. I prayed for the sick and saw people healed, my children flourished and my marriage was good. I saw the doctor because I was depressed and then anxious. I had a lingering agoraphobia that made it hard to get out. But God was all new, returning blessings for my un-belief.

When faith unwinds and you are the lost person in the community of the found, know this: you are free to walk away and never return if that is what you choose. But you are also free to stay, just as you are, or in different ways. Go find them, the different ways, if that is what you want. For the God who sends his sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous and gives blessing upon blessing to all our unbelief.

 

 

 

 

Well fitting faith

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We skipped church this morning and took a walk in the woods.

Looking out across a frozen lake, shell duck and wigeon collected around the grass-tufted islands and a  cormorant had unfolded its great black wings to dry in the sun. We marched through the oak leaves and the beech mast and we played with our cameras trying to capture the ways in which, even the smallest change in light, can shift the perspective on a familiar scene. We drank our coffee in the hide and counted the swans that arrive everyday from greenland, we scanned the muddy edges for wading birds, ornithological treasures amongst the scores of ducks.

Usually taken amongst the faithful, today’s sabbath rest was taken amongst the reeds, under an open sky, taken in quiet companionship and by (literal) still waters. In a landscape of rest, that felt as if it had been made just for us, we gave ourselves permission to stay away from church and it filled up our souls for the week ahead.

There was a time when we would not have done this, skipped church to walk. In those days we did not neglect meeting together as some were in the habit of doing. Never.

But Jesus said are you tired? and I was. It’s a condition of the soul that must be dealt with. To be tired, all the time, is a sign that things are not well.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

In Luke 13 Jesus heals a woman who has been crippled for 18 years, but he did it on the sabbath and incited the disapproval of the synagogue leaders and their well defined ideas. Their business was making sure that the people did the things that would bring them the most blessing. They decided what the blessings were, and they decided how they were achieved. Maybe their intentions were good, but let us be clear; these men would rather the woman remained disabled that see one of their precious rules bent in this way.

Jesus asks them, “Should not this woman ..be set free from what has bound her?” and begs the answer that of course she should. And so must we, be set free from thinking, and acting in ways that stifle the joy, peace and freedom that we saw when we first came to Christ. There is a depth of encounter with Jesus that can set us free from the things that weigh us down. There is also a phenomena where our pursuit of faith and the Christian culture we are part of becomes the burden.

It takes unusual courage to move away from long held beliefs and practices to embrace something new. Dark feelings lurk around such decisions and they often hide our need for approval and fear of disappointing others.

There is no quick fix or instant answer. Freedom is not always found at the altar rail or in the prayer line but it is often made good over a period of time as we work through, talk through and pray through who we are and what we want. This is a holy re-enactment of the promise, seek and you will find.  And I am confident of this: God is at work in us, without exception, completing the work he began and we will recognise well fitting faith like the sheep who know the shepherd voice.