Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Being Sharpened

This past Friday I got together with three of my close friends who I hadn’t seen for a while and spent a lovely evening out in Uptown. One of my three friends had read my blog from last week, and initiated some challenges to my ideas. A lively debate on the existence of God and the problems with Christianity ensued, leaving all four of us thinking hard and quite animated. As much as I seek conversation about faith, I am embarrassed to admit there was a point in the conversation where I was frustrated enough I didn’t really want to talk about it anymore. I started taking the criticisms my friend had about faith personally, and could not seem to find common ground to agree with him on.
It is easy to preach that conversations about faith are important, but sometimes it is hard to live. Especially when it is in the midst of a relationship that is important to you. My boyfriend John Elliot and I seem to run into this issue. Faith and Christianity is something that is very essential to both of us and additionally we both have spent a lot of time developing in faith independently. Me through a Lutheran upbringing, extensive traveling and studying philosophical theology at a Christian college, him through an Evangelical/Baptist upbringing, extensive Christian camp ministry and a major in Biblical studies in college with a focus on translating ancient Hebrew and Greek (I am humbled regularly his knowledge of Christianity and the Bible). Even though we both love God and Christianity, John and I continue to discover several tenants we do not agree on and have hit some stand stills on how to resolve our two perspectives on faith.

A Knife on a sharpening block

After one particularly heated Saturday debate this past spring, John and I went to our first service at a church we have been attending in the cities called the “Urban Refuge”. To our surprise, the pastor got up and told a moving story about how his wife consistently challenged his faith by seeing things differently than him. He then shared a metaphor paralleling human faith to a knife on a sharpening block. As conversations (the block) make us uncomfortable we tend to pull away to ease the pain, however we (the knife) require the pressure and friction in order to stay fully sharpened (or at our best in faith) and therefore should endure the discomfort a bit longer. John and I both found this sermon particularly moving and humbling- and now when we get into a heated religious debate we are better at keeping perspective on it, and are able to remind one another that we are sharpening the other.
Therefore, I am coming to believe these uncomfortable conversations are actually essential for keeping my faith alive and well. One of my favorite quotes from Mill from “On Liberty” states: 
 However unwillingly a person who has a strong opinion may admit the possibility that his opinion may be false, he ought to be moved by the consideration that, however true it may be, if it is not fully, frequently, and fearlessly discussed, it will be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth”.
In other words, our beliefs and faith will be taken for granted and not stay alive within us if we don’t examine them thoroughly and frequently.
I remember a long phone conversation with a friend from high school occurring during my freshman year of college about faith. This friend happens to have been raised Catholic and although he went to a Catholic college there are several ways (with my limited knowledge of Catholicism) I would classify him as unconventional. I remember asking him on the phone if he was happy he was raised Catholic as to me it didn’t seem to encapsulate some of his more prominent beliefs. To my surprise, he said being raised Catholic was the best thing that could of happened to him: as it challenged his way of thinking about God enough that he truly had to examine his beliefs and what was important to him in faith. What a neat way to relate to a religious upbringing.
There are two lessons from the bible I found that I believe are particularly applicable and important for me to remember when I am discussing faith:
One: Colossians 4:6, NIV. "Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."
Two: James 1:19, NIV. "My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."
I love the idea of grace and salt being mixed in one’s conversation. It allows for real questioning along with lots of empathy for the other party. Furthermore, I know I need to focus on being quick to listen to others more, and instead of becoming frustrated with others views do my best to really learn from them and try to see what God might be trying to show me through them.
Thank you to all in the past and in the future that have and will sharpen me. I promise I will do my best to handle our differing views with as much grace and humility as I can muster in the heat of it all… I apologize if I fail as I know I have in the past. And whether we agree or disagree I will be lucky because I will get to be closer to you through the engagement. Plus, conversations in the search for truth, love, spirituality and what it is to be human I think in the end often unite us more than we realize.
Lake Calhoun at Night with the Setting Sun
At the end of the night with my three friends last Friday we walked down to the dock on Calhoun, breathing in the Minnesota lake smell and enjoying the warm wind. My brilliant and argumentative friend commented on the beauty and mystery of the cosmos above the lake, and immediately, despite all of our previous controversy I felt as if we were seeing eye to eye again. Maybe the wonder we experienced in that moment was articulated and understood differently… but nevertheless we both absorbed it. I hope that my future disharmonious dialogues on faith bring me to more moments like these… on the edge of a lake, under the stars, unresolved, yet still breathlessly confident in the beauty of the world and God being with me.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Battle

I remember once in high school one of my confirmation friends drawing out to me his perception of faith. He described it as a big battle, between God and Evil, and a constant, glorious, persevering struggle between those who follow God and do good, and those who are evil and follow Satan. I repelled against this idea at the time, as it seemed too black and white to me… angels vs. demons, God amassing his army of followers to overpower the devil. Faith was comfort, meditation, peace and acceptance, with no room for the conflicting juxtaposition of Heaven vs. Hell.
I still do not take to this black and white view of faith. However, I do have a new perspective on how faith can be a battle. However, the two sides for me aren’t good and evil, they are faith vs. fear. Here is a quote from one of my favorite novels (The Life of Pi…. Highly recommend reading it) on the idea of the battle of fear:
"I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread. you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you."
-Yann Martel
Not so ironically, this book I might add is dubbed by many reviews as “A book that will make you believe in God”.
For fear of sounding too much like Yoda (fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to the dark side…) this is how I have the two sides of the battle laid out in my head (roughly):

Hesitation/Doubt/Worry  -------> Fear  ------> Resignation ---------->  Cynicism
Hope/Thankfulness/Appreciation ------> Confidence  ---------->  Faith -----------> Love

Now, I am not sure all the arrows of that chart are facing the right direction, but for the most part this lays out for me where the faith battle truly lies. I am not willing to go so far as to say fear is evil, however I do know in my personal experience at least fear often keeps me from being close to God; whereas faith and love bring me closer to God. For example, I wake up in the morning and often spend a good chunk of time of worrying/being scared about my day and what I am doing/appearing etc. that I forget to listen, give to others and generally just be thankful.
Side note: Want to learn something interesting about an individual? Ask them about a time when they remember being most afraid, and how they dealt with it.
Fear for me disguises itself for me in anxiety and worry. I believe fear seeps in and makes me quite selfish; as fear ultimately turns me to preoccupy with myself. Ultimately, fear seems to disconnect me from God and the world, and leaves me isolated, alone and ineffective. However, it is amazing to me how much of the day I am able to fill with concern, worry and ultimately attempt to control my life and things around me to combat the constant anxious nibbling of my mind.
Ghandi brings worry into conversation with God in this interesting quote:
“There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever.”  (
But I also believe fear can be the turning point that brings us to faith. Here is where I believe the battle part comes in. The trick seems to not assume your fears, or wrestle with them or to control them. The trick seems to be articulate them, and then release them and replace them with faith. Letting faith in God, love for life and general confidence overtake those fears.
So I will do my best to examine this for myself. Here are some of my current fears that have been causing me to run in circles of doubt:
I am scared to write this blog
I am scared I am disconnected from God and my faith
I am scared of offending some of the people reading this blog by what I say
I am scared in the end I won’t end up making a difference in the world
So, in light of these, my goal for this week is when these fears or others come up, turn to faith. To me, this means to actively trust that the people in my life genuinely love and support me, trust that I am on the right path and life will work itself out in the end, and most importantly trust God is with me. In this exercise fear will likely not disappear forever, but maybe for this week my thoughts will be trumped by those of joy, love and faith.  I will close with my confirmation verse, which for me is the ultimate reassurance for faith and consistently reminds me to turn back to God amidst doubt when I read it:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God…” –Romans 8:38-39

Thursday, August 16, 2012

First Step

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Evoke-  to call forth or call to mind emotions, feelings and responses. To induce or stimulate.
Synonyms- Arouse, awaken, call forth, excite, give rise to, invoke, provoke, rally, rouse, stir up, summon, waken
Faith- To trust in something.
Synonyms- Assurance, belief, confidence, hope, loyalty, reliance, sureness, truth

Seagulls make me feel connected with God. Maybe because
they make me think of my cousin and grandfather. Maybe because
of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Seagulls annoy many
people, I find them to be beautiful. 

What is faith like for me out in the real world? What is the raw experience of it, where does God show up in the world? How do I engage with faith in a genuine, healthy and invigorating manner? How do I best embrace and discover truth, how do I mesh my faith with religion? How do others answer these questions for themselves?

These questions are the theme for this devotional blog. My challenge to myself is this: One entry, once a week for a year. Put out to my community to envoke a genuine conversation on faith in the lives we live. My goal; to cultivate vibrant relationships with God, others and myself. Thank you for your support by reading, thinking and responding. I appreciate the opportunity to learn from you.