Reconstructing Faith: It's Not What You Think
"You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope."
- Thomas Merton
Note: A few weeks ago I wrote about faith as a path. This is what we might call an origin story to that blog.
TEARING DOWN THE OLD
The neighborhood where our kids go to school is a tiny incorporated city within a city. In its four city blocks you’ll find houses, an elementary school, a community pool, and a small city government building not much larger than a house. It has its own police department and city government. Everybody knows if you speed - even a mile or two over - you get a ticket, no questions asked. It’s a beautiful little area with sloping hills and big, old trees. Parents walk their kids to school in the mornings and then home in the afternoons. The community pool is right beside the elementary school, so during the summer all the kids and their families walk to the pool and swim for a few hours.
The houses in this neighborhood are unique. They’re small. In most of them, the kitchen is the smallest room in the house. Some have washing machines and a dryer inside the house, but in most homes the dryer vent is outside in the carport or garage.
It’s bizarre yet quaint.
Recently, though, these small, quirky houses have been bought, bulldozed, and replaced by a massive, modern thing.
Each time I see this happen I get a little sad because, eventually, the whole neighborhood will go this direction and the vibe created by the humble little houses will cease to exist altogether.
Renovations are like that.
I have been in a period of deconstructing my faith for quite some time, and I just assumed that the next step is re-construction - once the old is torn down, something new has to be built in its place.
For close to five months I worked off and on on a series of blogs about my reconstructed faith. It was divided into five parts of a house - the foundation, the structure, the walls, the HVAC, and the decor. But each time I made a little headway, something in my faith would shift, so I’d quit writing for a while knowing that I still had some building to do.
Recently something struck me: the reason my house analogy won’t work is because I’m trying to reconstruct a new faith with the same structures as the old one. And that misses the whole point!
Deconstructing and reconstructing faith is not like tearing down an old house and rebuilding a new one. The first part is right - deconstruction is absolutely about tearing down the old way.
But reconstruction, I’ve come to believe, is the wrong word. Because one thing we figure out during the deconstruction phase is that maybe we don’t need a structure at all. Maybe the solid foundation, the boundaries created by the walls we were given, and the roof to keep us safe from the world all served their purpose for the time when we needed them.
But now something new is happening.
NOT A HOUSE, BUT A PATH
Now scripture is no longer a foundation on which we stand, but part of who we are and how we see.
Now we see that the fear of “worldly temptations” was a healthy fear when we were unable to handle their power, but we’re now able to see the joy and beauty and life in the things we were once told to avoid.
Now, we are beginning to see Jesus in the places and the people from which the previous house protected us.
And because Jesus is no longer confined to the small house in which we “grew up,” our faith takes on a new expression. We don’t experience God in the safety of structures and walls and ceilings, we experience him outside the walls, past the structures, beyond the foundation.
Faith, then, is not something to rebuild, it’s a path to walk.
GOD’S JOURNEY THROUGH THE WORLD
It occurred to me this morning in the shower (which is where every good idea known to humankind originated) that leaving a physical structure for the wide-open world around you is precisely the path God took throughout the writings of scripture.
After the Hebrew slaves were released from Egypt, God lived in a tabernacle that traveled around with them. He was in a physical, tangible place. King Solomon then built a large, permanent Temple where God dwelled with his people.
But when Jesus came along, he brought another way of encountering God. Jesus took God - and faith in him - outside the walls of a (literal) physical structure and said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” The Holy Spirit fell on the apostles at Pentecost and scattered them throughout the region, which, at the time, felt like the whole world.
The path of God through scripture is the path of maturity for us today. We have to leave the safety and security of our dwellings - our rigid certainty, our proof, our evidence, our apologetics - and walk straight into the mystery and uncertainty of Love.
The longer we stay in our old structures of faith, the more immature we grow. We become the Christian equivalent of a 40-year-old man living in his parent’s basement.
A NEW PURPOSE
When you leave the safe confines of the spiritual “house” in which you were taught, the purpose of your faith changes. In the old structure, the goal of faith is to acquire all the correct knowledge and stay morally superior to others. Doing this, we’re told, is what pleases God, and pleasing God is critical because when we fail to do this, the old structure says he will punish us and cast us into eternal conscious torment when we die. So the goal in this phase of faith is to gain - gain knowledge, gain power, gain assurance, gain salvation.
But on the new path and in your new expression of faith, the goal is not to gain but to lose. Lose yourself on behalf of others. Lose your need to be right. Lose your need to be the morality police whether personally or publicly. Lose your need to convince and convert people to your way of thinking. Lose your need for physical and material comfort. Lose your need to keep God appeased.
Because on this path it becomes increasingly clear that you are already experiencing life with God, not because you have kept him happy, but because God, through Christ, is everywhere and in everything. God through Christ is the one in whom we live and move and have our entire being. As the psalmist said, “Where can I go from your presence? Where can I flee from your Spirit?” On this new path toward mature faith you have nothing to prove to God because you are already part of God. Salvation is not something to earn because it’s something you accept as already present and true. Death is not a thing to fear because you are already living in the Kingdom of God here and now.
And when we finally pull the last nail or tear down the final brick of our old way of experiencing faith and we see the path that has been waiting for us, everything around us hums with the inviting and mysterious love that created the universe. And each step down the path is another step into that love, another way to experience life with God through Christ and to see life, as Jesus prayed, on earth as it is in heaven.
So stop building, and start walking.