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.

1 comment:

  1. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27: 17.
    Your blog reflects a major journey of the heart and mind, Kelsie. I have no doubt that The Hound of Heaven is on your trail. Do you know that poem by Hopkins? It is well worth a read. I am filled with joy that you are being called to higher ground in your spiritual life.

    It is a difficult undertaking to discuss faith in God. It is a discussion of an unseen world, and we see only the reflections or intimations; in our world we look through a dark glass. And yes, it is a shy, awkward and sensitive topic. We are discussing a desire of something so deep within us, of a far off country, but something that has not actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide these feelings, because experience is constantly suggesting it. Might I suggest you read C.S.Lewis's The Weight of Glory ... a sermon, so not too long, but pithy and alluding to some of the topics you have mentioned. It is a free download,I am told.
    Keep up the journey, for the journey is why we are here. You are a good writer! I was interested to hear about the church you are attending, and checked it out online. Sounds like a great place to grow and get involved in some great service areas too.
    Love, Aunt Linda