Posts Tagged ‘belief’



People have different ways of approaching reality. Some are analytical, reasoned, logical, etc. That’s not me. Not that I can’t be analytical, reasoned and logical. But those are deliberate disciplines that I practice; in contrast to my instinctive way of approaching the world which is through my feelings. I’m just a feeling kind of person.

Maybe too much sometimes. When people talk about having certain spiritual gifts I always say I have the spiritual gift of weeping – I cry at weddings and baptisms and movies. I can’t sing Charles Wesley’s And Can It Be without getting choked up. There’s just something about the words, “Amazing love! How can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” I’m not a very good singer, but I love to belt those words out. And then toward the end of the song when it says, “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” I usually have to keep myself from jumping up and down during that verse.

Jumping up and down to Charles Wesley – go figure.

Not surprisingly, I resonate with Scriptures like Paul’s word in Romans 8 that God’s Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children; and with John Wesley’s experience of having his heart “strangely warmed.” That kind of gut oriented experience of the faith is foundational for me.

So one of the most disorienting moments of my ministry happened when I was approached by a young woman toward the end of a weekend of preaching who earnestly asked how she could really know that God loved her if she couldn’t feel it.

This was a Cornerstone Celebration weekend so she had heard me preach three times already and had been involved in my three-hour teaching session on sharing our faith. Now it was about 5 minutes before the last service was to start and she was desperate to know if what I’d been talking about all weekend long was really true.

Was it really true that God loved her enough to become human in Jesus; was it really true that God’s love for her was radical enough to involve passionate sacrifice. She was sure it was true for everyone else since they could feel it; but it couldn’t possibly be true for her because she couldn’t.

You’ve probably already guessed that I was getting all misty as my mind raced, searching for some way to respond. She continued that it wasn’t just about feeling God’s love. She couldn’t feel anything. Things had happened in her past and she had dealt with them by repressing, pushing down and blocking out any and all feeling within her. I have no feelings, she said and as I looked into her eyes, I believed her.

How is it that we come to know God’s love? Is it only when we feel God’s Spirit “bearing witness” with our spirit? Is it only when our hearts are “strangely warmed?” Is there more to it than that? If we’re not a “feeling kind of person,” does God not work in us and through us anyway?

I was really struggling as the woman patiently waited for my response. My heart was breaking and I was petrified that somehow I would compound her pain. That in my bumbling I would somehow contribute to her certainty that God couldn’t possibly love her since she wasn’t able to feel it.

Way back in the mid-400′s Patrick began preaching in Ireland. He traveled from settlement to settlement, staying with the people, loving them and working among them. Through his ministry, monastic communities sprang up. These communities were different from what we normally think of when we think of monastic communities where monks separated themselves from the rest of society for a life of solitude and prayer. These were communities of committed Christ followers who lived and worked together, sharing resources, love and life together. There were men and women, adults and kids; some were single, some were married, some had families – some were priests but most weren’t, and they were all together in community.

One of the things that made these communities so cool was the way they treated outsiders. There was always a gatekeeper – not to keep anybody out – but to be on duty all the time so that anyone who wanted to come in could come in – no matter what time of the day or night it was. If you visited the community the gate keeper would welcome you first and then call everyone to come greet you. The abbot or abbess (head of the community) would immediately come out to make sure you felt at home. It wouldn’t matter what people were doing, they would stop because making guests feel welcome was more important than anything else. Then they’d show you to the guest house – the best accommodations in the whole place. When it was time to eat, you’d eat at the head table with the abbot/abbess. It would be clear that you could stay as long as you wanted, but you were also free to leave at any time. You could eat with the community, work with the community, worship with the community – always welcome to share in everything about the community. If you stayed for a while they’d assign you a ‘soul friend’ to talk to – no agenda – just about whatever was on your mind. Eventually, if you continued to stay they’d talk to you about God’s love and offer you the opportunity to become more than a guest.

It was a slow process of revealing God’s love; a process that started with the concept of belonging and acceptance and moved only gradually toward commitment. It was a process that took time because it was about providing evidence of God’s love. Not evidence in the form of skilled argument or tight logic; not even the evidence of any specific feeling even though that was probably part of it for most people. It was the evidence of action – consistent actions of love, continued day in and day out – actions that made God’s love visible and tangible and real through the welcoming, caring, support and nurture of people. Evidence through action that people have value simply because they are.

The minutes were passing faster than I wanted them to. I could tell the worship leaders were ready to get started but couldn’t since the woman and I were standing front and center in the sanctuary. I asked her why she came to this particular church. She said that the people were kind to her and took her in when she returned to town after a long absence. In the few years since she’d been back, they’d consistently helped her and her children. Over and over they had been there for her even in really difficult times. It was kind of like they had made space – just for her.

That’s how you know.


What’s Your Next Step?

vickersHaving read Jason Vickersbook Minding the Good Ground: A Theology of Church Renewal, I’m continuing to ponder next steps. Here is a second installment of those thoughts. You can read the first installment, A Death Embrace, here.


Selfishly, one of the things I appreciated about Jason’s book is that it confirmed my own thoughts. From my perspective, historically the church has not always held together the relationship between the personal and the corporate in a holistic fashion, which (again from my perspective) has in turn undermined evangelism in significant ways. Nicholas Perrin is on target when he say’s that many Christians are conditioned to read Scripture as God’s saving Word to them as individuals rather than God’s saving word to the church. He goes on to say that this kind of understanding has led to ‘a notion that views the church as little more than a loose association of the equivalents of Jesus’ Facebook friends.’*

Over the years, much evangelistic activity has focused on the person as an isolated entity, as though that was the entire focus of Jesus’ message. But that’s somewhat of a distortion. In Christian faith the personal and the communal don’t cancel each other out, they’re bound together, with each reinforcing the other.

That’s why Jason’s critique of the idea of the church as the ‘community of the already saved’ is so important. But it’s not so easy to swallow. Where I grew up, we’d say Jason’s gone to meddlin’.

But I can’t think of a more important word at this juncture. Salvation is not simply a private transaction between an individual and Jesus. Sin is not just about transgressing divine laws. Atonement is not merely the juridical event of pardon. And (thankfully) the church is not a ‘waiting room for heaven’ or ‘a good place to get something to eat and make a few new friends while we wait to be called home to glory,’ or even ‘a good place to come together for civic involvement or…political caucusing.’**

What is at stake, especially for evangelism, is the recognition that salvation is dramatically more far-reaching and comprehensive than a simple private transaction. Sin is deeper and more complex than the breaking of a few commandments. Atonement is far more sweeping and transformative than the receipt of pardon. And (thankfully) the church is instrumental in all of it – the very context of the Holy Spirit’s activity and the chosen vehicle through which God works for radical transformation.

But convincing folks of all that can seem like a really hard sell these days – especially in the United Methodist Church. And it’s not just because many of us think of the church as an afterthought when it comes to salvation.

Kim Reisman

Kim Reisman

One of my seminary professors, George Lindbeck talked about the importance of church doctrine to the formation of communal identity. He said that ‘Church doctrines are communally authoritative teachings regarding beliefs and practices that are considered essential to the identity or welfare of the group in question…they indicate what constitutes faithful adherence to a community.’ Think about the Quakers, for instance. If I’m a Quaker, but I oppose pacifism, I’m not going to be viewed as a good Quaker, because that’s not what a member of the Society of Friends should be. Lindbeck says that if you don’t draw that conclusion, then it’s most likely because ‘the belief has ceased to be communally formative.’*** The belief may still be a formal or official one, but it’s no longer operational.

That’s the heart of our current crisis in the UMC. Not only have we forgotten that the church is instrumental to salvation, it may also very well be that the doctrinal heritage of the UMC is no longer communally formative (at least in the US). If that’s the case, then (sadly) we really aren’t much more than a loose association of Jesus’ Facebook friends.



*Nicholas Perrin, ‘Jesus Eschatology and Kingdom Ethics: Ever the Twain Shall Meet’, in N. Perrin and R. Hays (eds.), Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011), 100, 102

**Jason Vickers, Minding the Good Ground: A Theology of Church Renewal (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2011), 83

***George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age [1984], (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 60

Higgs Boson and God’s Remarkable Universe

Higgs boson

Higgs Boson


Before I get too far into my musings, I need to admit that I know virtually nothing about Higgs, physics or bosons of any kind. And my understanding of the working of the universe is inversely proportionate to my awe and wonder at its magnificence. That being said, I’ve really enjoyed the excitement over the Higgs boson ‘discovery.’

It began about two weeks ago when John and I were visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland where we stumbled upon the Pioneers of Science exhibit that included a portrait of Peter Higgs.

Peter Higgs

Peter Higgs - Lucinda L. Mackay, artist

The caption read, ‘The theoretical physicist Peter Higgs is known for the particle named after him – the as yet undiscovered Higgs boson.’ Here was a man who had a particle named after him that hadn’t even been discovered yet. I thought that was pretty amazing.

When I arrived in Durham for my graduation festivities, I mentioned my excitement about seeing Higgs’ portrait to my supervising professor, David Wilkinson. David has been an amazing source of wisdom and guidance to me as I’ve worked toward my PhD.

David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson, Principal, St. John's College, Durham University


With a PhD in theoretical astrophysics and a PhD in theology, you can imagine how intriguing our conversations have been over the years. At any rate, David told me more about Higgs, but added that his boson was no longer theoretical. In the next several weeks, he said, there would be an announcement confirming the existence of Higgs boson.

And now of course, everyone is talking about Higgs boson. The connections continue – this morning our local paper reported that the parents of one of my youngest daughter’s soccer teammates, both physicists, have been intimately involved in the CMS experiments leading up to the discovery. Who knew?

I’m not sure why I’m so intrigued with Higgs boson. Actually, it’s not the particle itself or the theories that explain it that has captured my imagination – that would require me to actually understand all this stuff. What has captured my imagination is the process that led up to the final confirmation by the scientific community that Higgs was correct – there really is a Higgs boson.

That kind of process is about the whole idea of knowing something, or intuiting something, or being convinced of something – and then asserting it, laying claim to it, standing by it – having faith in it – in the face of doubt or skepticism, and without absolute proof. That captures my imagination because it reminds me so much of the life of faith.

Being a Christ follower is in large part about laying claim to something in the face of doubt or skepticism and without absolute proof. It’s about living with confidence in the loving work of the creator God who is so much bigger than our limited ability to understand – a God wise enough to create something as amazing a Higgs boson and generous enough to give humans the ability to ‘discover’ it.

Kimberly Reisman

Kim Reisman

But being a Christ follower goes even beyond that. It’s not limited to the ‘how’ of the universe – even though astounding developments in science like the Higgs boson definitely point to how awe-inspiring and remarkable God’s universe really is. At its heart, being a Christ follower involves the ‘why’ of the universe. It’s about laying claim to the (as yet ‘undiscovered’ by some) truth that in creating the universe, God has actively entered into the space and time of that universe – transcending it, but also engaging it and relating to it in a personal way.

For Christ followers, the how of the universe may involve Higgs bosons and all manner of other fantastic things, but the ‘why’ of the universe involves relationship and covenant. Our God is the source of all creation and is irrevocably connected to its unfolding history. That’s why it’s impossible to fully understand the universe without reference to its intimate and essential connection to God. Not only that, but as Christ followers we believe that Jesus Christ is at the center of all this amazing creative activity. He is the means through which the Creator and covenantal God is supremely known. Jesus as the ‘image of the invisible God,’ (Colossians 1.15) – the projection of God into the dimensions of space-time in a way that reveals God’s true nature.

That’s a lot to lay claim to in the face of doubt, skepticism and without any absolute proof. But I like to think of myself as a theological or spiritual Peter Higgs. He might not appreciate that comparison since he’s an atheist, but I still like it. He asserted something he truly believed in, despite skepticism and doubt, despite numerous other theories being offered in opposition in that they depended on there being NO Higgs boson, despite 50+ years of inability to confirm his assertions – until one day…

We Christ followers are spiritual/theological Peter Higgs. We lay claim to a truth greater than many can grasp – greater than we ourselves can grasp. But one day…



Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.9-11)


Bearing the Weight…


UMCGC 2012 logo

UMC General Conference 2012

In his post yesterday, Mitchell Lewis talked about the importance of doctrine. He concluded with this insight:

We can change our organizational structure, the way we select and retain clergy leaders and the means by which we measure success, but unless we get a common sight-picture on the mission / doctrine piece, we’re not going to get very far. All of the elements of our institutional existence should support our missional – doctrinal self-understanding.

As I’ve continued to plow through the 1000’s of pages of General Conference petitions, resolutions, commentary, information packets, brochures, DVD’s booklets (even actual books which must have cost a pretty penny to print and distribute), blogs and letters (including pledges of prayer which are very appreciated, but also including specific instructions about voting in a particular way), Lewis’ words hit home and clarified my unease as I get ready for Tampa. The metaphor of weight-bearing walls keeps coming back to me, along with the concern that we’re expecting certain things to bear the weight of our communal life together that aren’t able to do so in the long run. Lewis is right – our organizational structure will only get us so far. Our decisions about how we train leaders or whether or not we have a set aside bishop won’t change our confusion (and in some cases conflict) over what we believe about Scripture and theology.

Kimberly D. Reisman

Kim Reisman

I’m reminded of the results of an exit poll of people who attended a seeker study from 2003-2006 at a variety of United Methodist churches. It indicated that we’re perceived as not knowing what we believe or why we believe it. Particularly disturbing were comments such as, “Methodists are all over the map. I spent almost a year finding out that they don’t have a clue what they really believe.” (Robin Russell, “Too Bland for Our Own Good?” Good News, January/February 2011, 20-21)

Though I don’t yet know what it will look like, I’m confident the United Methodist Church will have a new organizational structure at the close of General Conference. We’ll also probably have added something new or different to our approach to training ministers and dealing with bishops. What I’m not confident about is whether any of that will matter if the walls that actually bear the weight of our communal life together, “don’t have a clue what they really believe.”


Interesting thoughts and happenings...

This week’s worthy reads…

Warriors for Peace

Floyd Holt, photo courtesy of PhotographyServed ~ Warriors for Peace

War & Sacrifice in the Post-9/11 Era -

The Pew Research Center DataBank provides a ‘daily number’ – this week’s caught my eye:

52% – More Than Half of Post-9/11 Combat Veterans Report Emotional Trauma

To read more about this number click here.

Not surprisingly, given the wide variety of news reports that have been relentlessly provided, according to the Pew Research Center, “the re-entry process has been more difficult for post-9/11 veterans than it was for those who served prior to 9/11. More than four-in-ten post-9/11 veterans (44%) say they had difficulty readjusting to civilian life, compared with 25% of pre-9/11 veterans. This may be due in part to the fact that post-9/11 veterans are much more likely than those who served before them to have seen combat. Among post-9/11 veterans who served in combat, half (51%) say they had difficulty readjusting to civilian life… Nearly six-in-ten post-9/11 combat veterans (57%) say that since being discharged from the military, they have experienced frequent incidents of irritability or outbursts of anger…Nearly as many combat veterans (55%) say they have experienced strains in family relations…” Read more.

Our communities and congregations are full of veterans, families of veterans, friends of veterans. Do you know who they are? What’s happening in your community? What’s happening in your church? What’s your next step in coming alongside those who are struggling?


empty pews

Young Adults and Women…

There are some themes here that seem to be converging & I want to read/write/talk more about them. There’s nothing worse than blog topics of the moment that then get lost in the next big thing but are really worth pondering & talking deeply about.

Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church ~ Christian Piatt for Red Letter Christians

Four More BIG Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church ~ Christian Piatt for Red Letter Christians

15 Reasons I Left Church ~ Rachel Held Evans

It’s the Simple Moments that Stick ~ Susannah

Rush Limbaugh and Three Evangelical Blind Spots ~ Rachel Held Evans

Because we’re United Methodist, and therefore “mainstream,” some of us may be inclined to think we’re immune to these kinds of issues. But I wonder. Considering that I was called “an out of control little girl” by someone in my first appointment, makes me think that maybe this whole conversation is hitting closer to home than we’d like. Seems like we need to think a bit longer about all of this…

“My version of Christianity works for me”

I’ve just discovered John Shore, a provocative blogger who (according to his site) has been “trying God’s patience since 1958.” He posted this on Thursday & I think it’s worth discussing. Let me know your thoughts…


cloud question mark“Why shouldn’t I, a queer polyamorous girl, give up on Christianity?”

Got this in yesterday evening:

Hey John. We talked on Facebook chat a few weeks ago. I’m the queer polyamorous American girl living in Ireland for the time being. I just had a question for you. How/why do you still hold onto your faith in Jesus? I’m dating three atheists and one agnostic, and am pretty much surrounded by people who don’t believe. I’m feeling lately like the whole Christianity thing is bullshit.

I was a fundamentalist from age 12-18, and went to Christian school during those years—and then to Bible college from 2007-2011 (ages 18-22). I dropped out of the Bible college last March. I started questioning why I should be a Christian when I started realizing I wasn’t straight, back in 2010. Ever since then, my “faith” has been a roller coaster: getting serious, losing interest, getting serious, losing interest—and now, I’m close to just giving it up completely. Praying, reading the Bible, going to church all seem like nothing more than bullshit, a “chasing after the wind.”

I’m not putting you in a position where my faith rests entirely upon your response. But I’m really interested in you “giving [me] the reason for the hope that you have,” since I seem to have misplaced my own. Not that I don’t have hope. I do. I have a lot of hope. I’m really happier lately than I can remember being for a long time. But I really can’t for the life of me figure out why I should even attempt to be a Christian anymore. So why are you? What keeps you hanging on? I kind of feel like grasping for some sort of meaning in my life, but I feel like Christianity is, in the words of one of my fundie-mentor’s professors, “intellectual suicide.”

Hmm. Gosh, you know, I know so many queer polyamorous American girls living in Ireland who are dating atheists and agnostics that I’m not sure exactly which one you are. But never mind.

(Har! Well, screw it. You didn’t write me cuz I’m funny.)

So. Right. As to your question. Seriously, it’s an excellent one, at which I truly appreciate you giving me a shot.

It’s also a deeply personal question. Religion and faith are keys that fit the individual lock of each person’s soul; my key’s not likely to fit your lock. (Annnnnnd thinking about that just made you straight. Admit it!)

So first I think it important to say that I don’t believe in Christianity—becauseChristianity is like paper or light: words so unspecific that outside of a context they have almost no meaning at all. The Christianity in which I do believe, for instance (being that of Unfundamentalist Christians, whose page you’re of course invited to “like”) is radically different from the common version of Christianity in which you were raised. Christianity is so vast and complex, in fact, that I don’t think there exists anywhere on earth two Christians who fully agree on what does and doesn’t constitute “true” Christianity.

So I don’t believe in Christianity; I believe in the particular form of Christianity that I do. And one of the primary reasons for which I’m comfortable continuing to do so is because I don’t care if anyone else thinks it’s bullshit. That is simply not an aspect of my faith which holds for me any interest at all.

I believe that God really did manifest himself as the earthly figure known to history as Jesus; that he took upon himself, and into his body, all the karma for all of the bad things that any human ever has or will do; that he allowed himself to be massacred as a (most dramatic) way of demonstrating the final and absolute obliteration of all that bad karma; and that God then left behind, inside of each and every one of us, the whole of himself, in the form of the Holy Spirit, as a means by which any of us, at any time, can be freed from the emotional and spiritual negativity occasioned by the “sins” of ourselves or anyone else.

Now, I’m perfectly aware that all of that could be complete nonsense. How could I fail to be? I’m not entirely stupid. I understand the difference between objective and subjective knowledge: that objective truths can be empirically proven true, while subjective truths simply cannot be.

(My version of) Christianity works for me. And that’s all I care about it. I happen to know that the core understanding of Christianity I delineated above also works, and has for centuries worked, for untold millions of other people. And while that is of some genuine comfort to me, fundamentally it is, to me, irrelevant. My belief system works for me. That’s what matters. About this concern I am content to be as self-centered as necessary.

The reason that (my version of) Christianity works for me is because it never fails to provide me with what I (and, I would argue, all people) need, which is context. From our unfathomable minds and hearts to our unfathomable physical universe, ours is a big, crazy, infinitely complex world. I desire a way to understand virtually all of it. Not so that I can in any way own or intellectually grasp it all—no one owns or intellectually grasps the miracle of birth or tragedy of death, to name but two—but so that I can at least comprehend how everything that is exists within the largest possible context, which is the mind of God.

The story of Jesus Christ is the mind and will of God expressed: it’s how God chose to deliver people from the pain that is a necessary by-product of their free will (without at the same time violating anyone’s free will: no one has to believe in the divinity of Jesus). That is what I believe. I could be flat-out wrong about that. And if, when I die, I discover that I was wrong about that, I’ll be delighted to learn it. Either way, I won’t regret that while on earth I chose the belief system I did, because (my version of) Christianity works. It enhances my life experience. It provides me a definite and dependable means of becoming more emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually sound. It increases my compassion, my peacefulness, and my ability to love. It’s just … great!

To be alive is to actively and constantly choose a belief system; no one, no matter how “free” they may think their mind is, exists outside of such a system. The human mind must, and will, establish patterns—which is to say contexts—for virtually everything of which it can conceive. The Muslim’s belief system/life context is Islam. For Jews, it’s Judaism; for Buddhists, Buddhism; for atheists, it’s nothing beyond that for which there is empirical evidence, and so on. By the very nature of our design we all filter the world, and our experience within it, through a belief system founded upon what we believe to be true, right, and good.

I believe (my version of) Christianity to be true, right, and good; I believe it’s perfect. So it takes no more effort for me to continue existing with it than it does for me to continue existing with my lungs. They’re both just  . . . how I breathe.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but I think it’s worth the effort. If you want to check out John’s follow-up blog post, “The Bible is no more yours than mine” click here.

Bible Believing


I hear it all the time, we are a Bible Believing Church, or more expansively, this is a Bible believing nation.

We need to test those claims. We worship many gods. We worship the god of sex and pleasure, but the Bible says, do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? So glorify God in your body.

We serve the god of money, wealth, and materialism, but the Bible says, what does it profit people to gain the whole world and lose their souls?

Matrix Mentor, Maxie D. Dunnam

Maxie D. Dunnam - Kingdom Catalysts

We are tempted to serve the god of prestige and worldly influence, but the Bible says many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.

In his word about judgment, Jesus said more than believing is required. How we live, act and relate are telling issues. What you do for the least of these is what matters most, Jesus said.

That’s a challenging word.

PostSecret is a powerful website. It began as an individual art project & exploded into a powerful point of connection for many people. Here is how the site is described:

PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard.

Part of my Sunday routine is to visit PostSecret. My husband does too…& so do our kids. Then we talk about what we’ve seen & read.

Yesterday this secret was posted…

PostSecret secret

Hmmm…. What do you think happened in this person’s life? What was the overriding message that would lead someone to this kind of conclusion? Where was the church? This person may be your neighbor or coworker or classmate. If you’re a Christ follower, what’s you’re next step?