We recently had a wonderful visit with an old friend. We laughed and tossed around the obligatory reminiscences after a few months of not seeing each other. Inevitably as it seems most conversations seem eventually come around to talking about “Holy Things” (Nacho Libre ref.). Religion, church etc seem to crop up a lot in conversations that we have with people in general. My friend it would be fair to say has wandered around a bit spiritually – disillusioned by so much of the institutional expressions of church but certainly not abandoning faith at all. This is a smart talented person. One statement that my friend made caused me to extra intrigue in our conversation about God. In the course of our conversation my friend said something like this, “As far as faith goes, I pay attention to my heart and not my head. I’ve had so many questions lately and if I would have paid attention to my head I probably would not be a Christian right now.”
There is a lot to take away from a statement like that. First of all, it is a good reminder that we all approach the concepts of faith in nuanced pathways that involve both intellectual arguments and appealing emotional tones. It makes me wonder if sometimes there has been too much of a focus on thinking the right way or feeling a certain way in order to fully identify with the believing community. Modernity has served the church well in raising the requirements for thinking the right way as a measure of the suitability for participation in the body.
Second the statement is also a reminder of the fact that faith is far more complex than it used to be. I suppose this is due to the influences of a post-modern culture. Engaging with faith is not as simple as cognitive assent to 4 ‘spiritual’ laws or a codified catechism. There are significant questions that affect morality, doctrinal position and the like. This is not your Mom and Dad’s church/religion anymore. And if you still face the requirement to ‘think the right way’ you could be in a rough shape for a long while – trying to wrap your head around big issues like homosexuality and violence…
Third this statement teases out a rather scathing indictment on the body of Christ. Consider that there are numerous scriptural references that speak to the simplicity of following after the Rabbi from Nazareth (we are to be like children quickly springs to mind). Could it be that the church has complexified the essence of faith in all of its theological and doctrinal discussions to the point where it really remains out of reach? What I mean is that perhaps the church is guilty of the same folly that earned the Pharisees Jesus’ sharpest criticism, by making faith unnecessarily complicated for the average individual to engage with. Here I wonder if the disconnect is at the point where the actions of the church do not match what it is claiming to teach.
On the other hand perhaps this statement is also fairly revelatory about the mode of engagement that at least a certain group of people are inclined to pursue. Maybe this statement is a self-condemnation of sorts that reveals the instant-ness that we have all come to expect out of in our culture – a lack of willingness to engage with the deep thing of God, if you will.
All of these wonderings are significant if one supposes that the statement above is somehow indicative of the way (some) people are feeling/thinking. Some of Reg Bibby’s work (Restless Gods) tells us that more readily identifying as religious people and that the trajectory of secularism projected by the doomsayers of years ago are out to lunch. However even though people are identifying themselves as religious they are typically staying away from attendance and involvement in local institutions in greater numbers than before. Could it be that my friends statement is a least a contributing factor in these trends? I think it is worth exploring.
Ruminating on this statement has left me in a melancholy frame. It serves as an interesting mirror to reflect on the years of ministry that lie behind me. I am also prone to wonder if churches are paying attention to stuff like this and if they might be interested in taking the role of the presumably spiritually mature agent in this faith engagement. What I mean is that the church should take the burden of responsibility in addressing any stumbling blocks which might lie between apparently interested individuals and the faith in Christ that they claim to be purveyors of…
Here’s my goal to look for places where the body of Christ is doing this well – removing obstacles…(Humming: Arcades Fire's Intervention)