Monday, April 09, 2007

A Journey Through Faith - Part One

At many points in recent years, people have asked me why I have an interest in the writing of Bishop Jack Spong, and what my thoughts are on the ideas that he has put forth. I think that before I can really answer that, though, I should explain somewhat how I have gotten to this point in my faith journey. I'll say at the outset that my journey to this point hasn't been easy, and my reasons for becoming engaged in the work of the writers and theologians I'm reading may be equally confusing. In fact, I alluded briefly to the shifting sands of my spiritual and theological life in my earlier post, "What Do I Really Know?" Today I want to take a moment to address the first part, and I'll address the specific question about Spong in my next post.

As a cradle Episcopalian, I grew up accepting the basic tenets of Christianity -- the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the miracles, etc. -- along with all of the stories in the Old and New Testaments as they were. I never really gave much thought, in fact, to the idea that the stories were in many instances metaphors for things that happened differently or perhaps hadn't happened at all. At that point in time, it didn't matter; the Bible just was what it was -- a book with amazing stories of kings and queens, common folks, rich men, poor men, prophets, disciples, sinners, and a man exceeding all other men whose life ultimately changed the course of history.

As I got older, church became less interesting as a place to discuss faith and religion, and more interesting as a place to go and be with friends (I met my first girlfriend at my church, in fact). Being a young teen, the social aspects really mattered to me more than anything. But even that phase in my life started to alter within a few years; I began to question why I wasn't getting anything out of attending church, what it all meant to me, and why I was even going to church. I began to struggle with books that I thought would answer those questions, books by writers like C. S. Lewis and Sheldon Vanauken (who attended my church and who, over the next several years until his death, graciously endured my letters and visits probing for answers to the questions that just never seemed to go away). I had debates (sometimes very contentious debates) with friends whose faith backgrounds differed from mine, and who seemed to be much farther along in their own journeys than I was in my own.

The years passed, and my search continued, sometimes taking me in directions that could have ended at points away from the Episcopal Church (I had considered both the Methodist and Catholic Churches as alternatives at various points when I became frustrated with my path in the Episcopal Church). I bought and devoured books by every conceivable writer on the subject of faith and Christianity, engaged in a four-year Education for Ministry course developed by the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, and even began working towards a Master's Degree in Theology. More recently, I recognized that the "nudges" I seemed to receive periodically in my life had suddenly turned into shoves; as I explained to one friend, it was as if God had grabbed me by the lapels of my coat and started shaking me. At that point, I began a discernment process that continues now -- and may continue for quite some time -- to determine what my future direction (professionally) in the church may be.

Some of what I have read recently, and many of the things that have captured my attention, are very much against the grain of the Bible-just-as-it-is belief of my childhood -- things like the discoveries of the alleged Jesus family tomb and the ossuary of James, the Nag Hammadi texts and extra-canonical gospels such as the Gospels of Thomas and Judas and their place in the history of Christianity, and other somewhat unconventional topics that have come up in recent years.

More than these things, though, I've come to a phase where I've realized that my thought process about my faith has taken a very post-modern turn. I'm struggling with a change in my perception of my church, what it is doing in the world, and what it should be doing in the world -- taking what the church is teaching within the four walls and trying to find where it is living that teaching outside the four walls. In fact, one of the most amazing things about this is that I'm discovering that my mind half (the conservative political side) and my heart half (the social justice side) are no longer equal halves -- two parts of the same person butting heads.

A struggle, yes, but an exciting struggle -- a struggle that has led me to discover (through my own reading and the suggestions of others) the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Stringfellow, Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and Jack Spong, to name just a few. And that will bring me to the second part tomorrow.


Sandie said...

"In fact, one of the most amazing things about this is that I'm discovering that my mind half (the conservative political side) and my heart half (the social justice side) are no longer equal halves -- two parts of the same person butting heads."

I really like how you put this. I am finding it is true to and I am blessed to be with a congregation now that is at the forefront of blending these issues. Through the ONE group, through a serious comment for the church to be 'totally green' in the next 5-10 years, and teaching each member the simple ways they can personally reduced their impact on the earth and get rid of extreme poverity.

It is a good feeling now after so many years of feeling like the only one who cared about these things and traditional politics and liturgy.

karen said...

I've read some Spong; not really impressed with him. I read Ehrmann, I've read the "other" gospels; I read lots of "heretical" stuff and no longer go to any church on a regular basis. Not saying that church isn't for some folks.
All of this has brought me to an incredibly deeper relationship with Jesus.
Keep on!

jobee said...

You are a good father and husband.keep on writting!Hope to see you new article!

rdl said...

we're waiting for part 2.