Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There's no such thing as Secular

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers:

"I had a french pastor friend who wanted to become a saint. At the time i was very impressed with him, but i had to disagree and said in effect that i wish to learn to have faith... I discovered later, and discovering right until this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. one must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint or a converted sinner or a churchperson, a righteous person. by this worldly-ness i mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems and successes and failures, experiences, and perplexities. in doing so we throw ourselves completely in the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world."
i was once told by a conservative associate of mine that the bible is easy to understand and has just one message. he then went on to say that he knows God's will and lives completely in christ. he later made clear his wish that i'd come to christ as he did, then i'd know the Truth. i then asked how he could be a person of faith if there were no mystery to his life? faith is the very act of NOT knowing what is going to happen but going anyway? what's the phrase? but for the grace of God go I?

in my view, the opposite of faith is certainity. no need for faith if you know how things are going to turn out. faith is a funny thing. faith is living in the mystery and just having this glimmer of a feeling that things will work out in your favor. usually things work out when you're not focus on yourself but another person. funny how that works out huh? it's the christian paradox: the only way we find ourselves is in others, the only way we believe is trusting the unknown. Faith uses a lot of prayer. and prayer does not change God, but it changes who prays.

we must live in this world. faith is not something you go to or keep in a church and only visit it on sunday. faith is something that is lived in every second of everyday. faith like this finds God in music, movies, and others and takes joy. Take joy when you see an old friend or family member. take joy at accidentally encountering someone you know at Saveway, God is there. Take joy at the random conversation you had with a complete stranger on the the Metro or while walking your dog. God is there. God is there, just below the surface, playing hide-and-seek and hoping that God is seen in the mudane day-to-day.

Having a faith like this helps you go into that room... you know the one. that room in the hospital on the CPE rounds that no one wants to go in. or that room in that house on your block where "that family" lives. or that nursing home with the lonely senior who has lost their life partner. or that prisoner that has so much regret and no hope. too much hurt, tragedy, suffering. Faith like this is knowing that in these rooms, there is no hope... and you go in anyway.

be mindful! God is out there. have faith to put yourself out there where God is.


Anonymous said...

I have read your post Parable and Rant and now this one, both having to do with the supposed power of prayer. If the power of prayer could have cured me of my deformities, I'd have been over the moon. I was just left with the experience that some people are just completely out of their minds because of religion. While I'm sure the idea of praying for someone gives the person needing care the sense that people love them, but I don't believe prayer can cure one's illness, or regrow a diseased eye.

I was the reluctant recipient of a round of praying in tongues as a child (I was about 8, I think) and I found the experience extremely disturbing. My parents were embarrassed to no end--they only did it to make an aunt happy. My scars are still there, my nose didn't miraculously transform into a nice, model perfect one, and I was still blind in one eye.

The thing is, that people who do that praying to heal people's illnesses, don't see the whole picture. They think God will fix everything and all will be well. WHo's going to carry that old woman's bags? God's not coming down from heaven to do that. And the woman who prayed for her isn't; the thought of helping the old woman with her bags probably never even crossed her mind.

Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

Luke said...

@ Anon: i sensing some spiritual wounds in your story. as was pointed out in the other comments: prayer can't do everything. some Christian communities believe this.. like miraculous healing, like they were asking for you. the problem with this is what happens when the prayers aren't answered and you aren't cured of your deformities? many congregations, instead of changing the way they pray, opt for dropping the person they are praying for. do you feel like that is what happened to you?

as i see it, that's a very anti-gospel way of doing things (meaning dropping the prayee instead of the prayers). when we break off ties to one another, we're breaking ties with the divine (speaking from a Christian perspective, anyway...) as was posted: "God is present when one's focus on not on oneself but another person. funny how that works out huh? it's the christian paradox: the only way we find ourselves is in others, the only way we believe is trusting the unknown. Faith uses a lot of prayer. and prayer does not change God, but it changes who prays."

if it doesn't, can it really be called prayer?

Anonymous said...

Luke, i see your point. And yes, I have had some bad experiences when it comes to religion. I was raised Catholic, but I was never happy with it. I was constantly begging God to either fix my face or to strike me dead. God didn't do either. My second grade teacher (who I later learned was a mental case) said the reason I was born deformed was because my parents sinned and I was their punishment. I believed her; a 6 year old doesn't question an adult's declaration. She said I was what evil looked like and I never would be loved by God.

I believed all of it, and it made me very bitter. I left the Church in college, never to come back to it. I prayed and pleaded with God that I would be a better person, but I never got a response. I kept being reminded I was an ugly, evil thing that would never be loved or beautiful. Instead of miraculous healing, I went through 12 reconstructive surgeries, starting when I was 4 years old. My blind eye degenerated and had to be removed years later.

You are perhaps lucky, Luke, that you have a good relationship with God, that your faith guides you through life. I didn't have that experience, unfortunately.

Luke said...

i am of the persuasion that one can't have a good relationship with God without, at the same time, have a good relationship with others. although i was raised catholic and i had a bad experience, i can't imagine what horror it would have been to be told that by an authority figure. nor can i imagine the pain of 12 reconstructive surgeries.

i can only hope that healing has made some way into your life and that some people have come into your life as true and honest friends. whether God has or not is almost a moot point.

thank you for sharing your story and trusting me enough with it.


Anglican Gurl said...

Psychologically, I would hazard a guess that people's self-proclaimed relationships with god are, at their core, relationships with themselves, even if they're not aware of it.

you talk about needing a good relationship with god before being able to have a good relationship with others. This, and other things people say about their relationship with god, strikes me as an unconscious attempt at becoming comfortable with one's self. I know from experience that unless one is happy in one's own skin, there is relatively little one can provide for others. Reread Lorna's post, but replace 'god' with 'you'. I think it runs truer that way (I especially like "No one else gives you you, or takes you away, it's impossible...)

Luke said...

@AG: that sounds almost too rational with no room for transcendence. a little too agnostic for my blood but you do have a point.

" This, and other things people say about their relationship with god, strikes me as an unconscious attempt at becoming comfortable with one's self." -Keith

in some ways i can see what you're getting at. if ppl always call God HE, what does that say about themselves... or that God is a capitalist/republican/nationalist? on the other hand, i think it amounts to what you want to mimic. going on Girard's theory, as Bryce reminded me, we are all inherently mimetic and will do what others do. so do you want to go with the prevailing zeitgeist of a zero-sum game fought and won (and lost) my individuals, or do you want to go with a transcendent and abundent life where death doesn't matter and we are all inter-viduals. i could go on about whole-tons and what not from James Allison, but i'll stop there.

in someways AG, you're right there, you're onto something. but i can't help but add in something else and call it God/Divine/Transcendence. but that's how i see the world. some things i do and other things i do and can take no credit for.

Kate said...

"God is there, just below the surface, playing hide-and-seek" - I like this imagery, and you (Luke). That's all. :-)

Al said...

"Take joy...God is there." "Faith finds God.." I really like this. To me, it says that God is to be found in the most ordinary and unexpected places. I have found that to be true, and obviously so have you.
"Faith like this is knowing that in these rooms, there is no hope... and you go in anyway." That's deep, profound, and painful. Faith says, 'you might be able to bring a bit of God into that room, and it might make a difference' (but it also whispers 'it might not seem to make any difference at all, but go in anyway. It's the right thing to do, and you don't really know what happened even if it looks like nothing happened.')
I can appreciate the pain and bitter feelings of Anonymous. We (the church in general) hasn't done a very good job of understanding what to do when our theology doesn't match reality. It doesn't help the person whose prayer wasn't answered to say that God did it for someone else. Luke, I think your comment "Faith like this is knowing that in these rooms, there is no hope... and you go in anyway." fits in those kind of situations. I think prayer needs to somehow be us being present for the person who needs a friend more than it needs to be a mantra to get a miracle (although miracles are nice!). I don't intend to stop praying for supernatural things to happen, even though they don't happen when and how I want, usually. But I hope I will make my prayer more a matter of sharing someone's life and pain, together finding that God is there, somehow.