Monday, July 1, 2013

Honest Faith

It is not written down anywhere but it’s true. There is an unwritten dictate in the household of faith these days that prohibits honest expressions of pain, sorrow, disappointment, etc., as if such expressions would compromise the gospel. We have stolen a trick or two from our dark world on marketing strategies which value bottom line over honesty, commodities over humanness, façade over fidelity.

Ironically, what we fear is the very thing we need: Simultaneous expressions of both pain and hope, of frustration and faith, of betrayal and continued trust; a story of the heart that dares sincere complaint and confident expectation; candid expressions of disappointment aligned with poised anticipation. No naïveté, but a “though he slay me, yet will I trust him”, Job kind of faith.

And though smiley “confession police” shush such expression, honest hearts tire of pretense, the act, ill-informed mantras and the betrayal of memory – presumptuous non-truths for blind followers of blind guides who have given up on the actual for the virtual. Pretense is lord and guide. Performance is sanctity.

Sadly, this strange and fine polished cross leads to no tomb and to no resurrection; no mourners, no tears, and so no laughter for we have not seen the risen Christ. We do not confess the fellowship of his suffering, so we do not know the power of his resurrection. We can’t speak of our wilderness wanderings and so our children don’t know how to get to the Promise Land.  In all this we preserve our make-believe Christian fairyland. We’ve made it safe so it does not save. We have removed the danger and so it cannot deliver. We have domesticated the gospel until it can no longer rescue or redeem.  We remove the scandal, making it something other than God incarnate, preventing transformational power.

What we do have are select and context-free memory verses (i.e., propaganda), a non-transparent rendering of experience that conveniently avoids hard questions and hovering doubt – Must maintain a holy house of cards! But sincere hearts long for honest expression, confessing with the mouth, believing from the heart. It is a forthrightness that does not resist faith, but keeps fidelity and gives faith a field to plow. Open wounds receive healing. Hearts open to expressions of pain have not become anesthetized to living. It indicates desire to live and to live with authenticity.

We fear that we and our institutions will be implicated by such expressions of pain, and that may be so. We fear we may not have a ready answer for all the questions, and really, we don’t. But better than answers to questions are ears that attentively hear. Better than resolution of contradiction are fellow souls that acknowledge your being. Better than concealing expression of pain is the freedom to live an honest life, acknowledged, validated by, and in communion with others.

And speaking of communion, what about the Lords Supper? Let’s be honest. If we could, would we not edit blood from the table? Would we not do some redaction on the bread that speaks of brokenness and the ritual that remembers death? And it is an enduring remembrance of “death until I come.” And though some would have us imagine Christ’s bleeding was to end all bleeding, is it not closer to the truth to say he opened the food gates of bleeding for those who would follow? His walking the Via Dolorosa (Way of Grief/Suffering) was not a once-and-for-all thing, but an inauguration of sacrament – inaugural, not finale; the opening ceremony, not the climax. He was not going away so much as showing the way.

But please know, this “way” is no masochistic, dreadful life. Rather, it allows for a dense joy and grace-filled living consecrated by the sweet aroma of authenticity, resisting the tilt toward artificiality. It pushes back life’s cumulative sediments, dredges the depths, enlarges the basin of the soul and its capacity for life, becoming reservoir and conduit of abundant flow.

Authenticity allows for what liars and truth-fearers never see or speak of – a sophisticated and nuanced Psalms-like flow of life that gathers up the past and the future into the cup of this present moment of being. It becomes a spyglass for perceiving a future now and a depth of meaning that others only guess about - a felt knowing that transcends the redundant, hypnotic flatness of half-truth living. Here is where we experience delightful depth, satisfying distance, the relief of generous horizons, the joy song that teases out imagination, leaving linear time behind with envy. It is emancipation, casting off redundant expressions of mind-numbing soothsaying, liberating from the same-ole-same that corral the weekly mass of would-be believers into compliant, manageable groups, charmed into conformity, no threat to status quo, following on the heals of the piper, coerced to say the naked emperor is wearing a fine suit of clothes.

Do you ever wonder why it is no longer common to have altars in our churches? While we may risk altar areas (a void where altars once were), there are no altars. Why? Perhaps it is that altars are an uncomfortable visual reminder of what it cost to follow a nail-pierced savior. The sight of an altar might break the trance of spellbind parishioners.  Altars imply sacrifice that is contra church growth principles and marketing strategies that offer false comfort to paying customers. It is a big black lie that declares, “No sacrifice required. Following Jesus is free.”

Jesus words on the cross are not admitted into our faith confessions today, but these where last words, dying words, words that merit our attention. In showing us how to die he was showing us how to live. Honest words: “I thirst”; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And, “It is finished.”  We shush such honest expression in the church these days. Short-changed on honesty, we miss out on abundant living.