Prompt #2: What is the one aspect of your faith/belief system that troubles you the most?
In Letter 1, I asked you to introduce yourself to me and tell me about your belief system, whether religious or not. But no matter how strong you believe in something, there are always bits and pieces that cause us doubt. In Letter 2, I’d like you to tell me about the aspect of your personal belief that gives you the most trouble. This should be specific. Don’t be general. I want to hear what you struggle with, and why that struggle is so hard for you. I believe we learn as much about people by listening to what causes them to struggle as we do by listening to what causes them to celebrate.
Please remember to send your responses as both a snail mail letter (please!) and as an email. I’ll use the email to post your response on the website and cross-post them on the Faith, Fully Facebook page. The snail mail letters will be used for a physical project that’s coming later!
September 27, 2016
Strange as this sounds, I must admit that what most drew me to Christian faith as a young adult is what troubles me most about it now in my middle age.
I wrote earlier that struggling through a mood disorder in my younger years motivated me to try living as if the Christian words I’d heard in my childhood – “by the love of God, fully revealed in the face of Jesus, we are being redeemed” – were true. In the midst of chaotic-feeling experiences that I didn’t know how to handle, I wanted to live as if divine redemption-in-our-midst was at least as real and true as the roller coaster I felt myself riding.
Today, I believe a loving power is working for good in this world, right there in the midst of any evidence to the contrary. The troubling thing is: there’s so dang much evidence to the contrary.
Recently, I’ve spent some time with a local youth group. These young people have glimpsed enough friends struggling with depression, and some have struggled with it enough themselves, that they wanted to learn more about it, to hear from people who live with it, and to talk with other people of faith about what to do. Impressed with their authenticity and maturity, I’ve also felt my heart break a little bit more with each fresh insight into how much they already face in their young lives. How is a loving power working for good when younger and younger people struggle with more and more pain?
The larger question is not only about young people, of course, but about people of all ages and faith backgrounds. The news each morning brings stories of more suffering, more lives lost in this country and abroad. How is redemption at work when the color of people’s skin, the faith of their families, or simply the city in which they reside (Aleppo, for instance) is enough to place them in the way of ongoing violence?
I believe a God of love is working for good, redeeming all of us and this. And, I cannot presume to define what that means in situations where I can sometimes only imagine a God of love sitting down on the ground and crying. I suppose it’s when I imagine those tears that I arrive at the word mystery.
I usually avoid the word mystery. I think we sometimes rush to use that word too often, and it can cause great harm if it shuts down questions, settling as inexplicable a matter which would actually do better with more conversation and exploration. However, when the word mystery can hold open space for questions, when it can allow exploration and keep conversation going – that’s when I’m willing to use it. And, I’m willing to use it here.
In my faith it is a mystery how a loving God can be redeeming this creation in the face of so much evidence to the contrary. It is a mystery which troubles me, and yet, I do catch glimpses again and again of how real and true that redemption is.
As lives are lost to racism – Charlotte, Tulsa, an ever-increasing list of cities in which black lives are lost in horrifying circumstances – I see the emergence of groups like Repairers of the Breach, people bringing together leaders from different faith traditions and those without spiritual practice who share values which can join in pointing our nation to love and justice. I hear their representatives like the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr., I see their message and influence spreading on behalf of life, and I know that this is what it can look like for a loving power to be at work even now.
As war continues in Syria, I encounter the story of Rami Adham, a man known as “the toy smuggler of Aleppo.” This Finnish-Syrian man has risked his life again and again to smuggle toys into the war-torn country of his birth. This year, for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, he smuggled 700 toys to a refugee camp in northern Syria, claiming that for these children facing death, insecurity and constant threat, “toys are important.” I see images of children smiling as he hands them stuffed animals, and I know that this is what it can mean for redemption to be happening even now.
As I continue to talk with young people struggling with mental health, I remember what a healing presence a teacher – who struggled with PTSD, himself – was able to be for me when I was younger. He listened, asking questions and giving space, seeming to understand as many people did not how terrifying the shifting of one’s insides could feel. I remember what his presence meant at crucial times in my life, and I find myself praying that my own time talking with young people could have that meaning for even just one of them. I suspect that is one thing it will mean for my own struggle with a mood disorder to be redeemed.
These meanings I’m describing, emerging in situations which trouble me most, point to that most troubling-and-compelling-to-me aspect of my faith – that in the midst of so much evidence to the contrary, I do believe a God of love is working for redemption. To borrow some words from Brad King, this is where “I am left with a great big giant mystery at the center” of my belief system. This place holds many of my questions and growing edges. I hope it also holds as much openness and humility as I can muster. This place, to put it simply, feels sacred.
I look forward to reading of others’ experiences this round, and I wish all our readers and writers peace.