Every day, my previously stable faith is replaced with a little more hungry curiosity. I consider this progress.
I posted this brief statement on my Facebook and Twitter accounts yesterday and promptly received quite a bit of interest in return. Not surprising, really, that my typical readership would resonate with such a claim, but I also found some surprising affirmations from those I would not have expected to appreciate my sentiments.
I write fairly often about moving away from emphasis on a propositional faith and toward one that is more implicitly lived out in our daily experience. Said another way, I would much rather have the teachings and values shared by Jesus revealed through my actions and through what people see in me, rather than simply through any particular rhetoric that I offer them as an act of persuasion, or even coercion. This is also selfishly motivated, as I am increasingly convinced that, whereas a faith centered on the proclamation and defense of particular statements is one that lends itself to inertia, a way of life that reveals your values without explicitly having to state them is both more compelling to others and more fulfilling for ourselves.
I wrote recently about a pastor friend of mine who lost her job because she admitted that she has doubts on occasion about the nature of what it means to “believe in Jesus as the son of God.” I think if we are being honest, each one of us wrestles with such important ideas in one way or another, and at one time or another. And blogger Linda Brendle (also happens to be my mom) rightly raises the question of whether our doubts and our faith can coexist in some necessarily dynamic admixture.
If what we really are talking about is faith which, as she puts it in her article, is a choice rather than a position, then our doubts certainly have room within that space to linger and percolate. But I also think it depends on what it is that we are choosing when we claim to make a choice about faith. In the case of this church who fired their pastor for admitting having occasional doubts, it is clear to me that what they wanted from her was not faith, but rather certainty. They wanted an assurance that what she believed could be simply stated, nailed down, and never changed. It would not be swayed by tragedy, personal struggle, or even just more existential moments of reflection on the nature of God.
It seems that, in a sense, the very notion of “faith” has become synonymous with propositional certainty within the context of religion. As such, I am inclined to think about my daily practice of Christianity a little bit differently. Rather than trying to claim, and lean on, a steadfast and immovable certainty about the existence and nature of God, and the existence and nature of Jesus, I find myself more curious about them – in an active, sometimes almost breathless sort of way – rather than finding any sanctuary or rest in some sort of intellectual or emotional certitude.
For some, this is unsettling. It feels rootless, too prone to the vicissitudes of human nature. And in so much as this curiosity is at the heart of what is often called “radical theology” (the word “radical” actually means “rootless”), it is just that. But in being unrooted, we are free to follow more nimbly where we feel led to go. Although many traditional notions of Christian practice have told us this is a sign of spiritual failure or, at best, weakness, it actually can be a very healthy expression of a more vital, dynamic religious practice.
I am increasingly comfortable with the idea of being more curious about God than I am faithful in God. I have much unfinished business to attend to in this Christian practice, but I am excited about the prospect of the fruits that such a pursuit may yield.
Christian Piatt is a Sojourners Featured Writer and an author, editor, speaker, musician, and spoken word artist. He is director of church growth and development at First Christian Church in Portland, Ore. Christian is the creator and editor of Banned Questions About The Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. His new memoir on faith, family and parenting is called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.
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