Reflections to start the week
Monday, November 4, 2013
You gotta believe.
No, this is not a column about the Red Sox, but that was exciting, huh?
Earlier this fall, a friend shared a copy of a Wall Street Journal column. Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Henry Allen, the article described how all kinds of institutions in our culture seem to be adrift. Towards the end of the column, almost as an afterthought, he got to the topic of religion, zooming in on mainline denominations. He shared a quote from a young person he interviewed in Missouri when he met with her youth group. She talked about her church and said the following: “Episcopalianism is great. You don’t have to believe anything.”
Being a good Episcopalian, I experienced ambivalence about this quote. Since her quote had little context, I realize she could have meant many things. I wanted to talk with her about what she meant. There’s a part of me that likes what she had to say. Clearly, in her church, she had experienced a sense of welcome and belonging that came without condition (We all believe in unconditional love until we bump up against a condition we deem essential, but that’s a topic for another Monday.)
But even after giving her the benefit of the doubt, her comment is unsettling. Because I believe (There. I said it.) that what we believe matters. In the research that has emerged from the work we’re doing on spiritual growth, one of the key features of congregations that exhibit spiritual vitality is that members of those congregations have a capacity, a facility for describing beliefs and practices that they value, that they hold dear. That doesn’t mean that they impose them on others, use them as litmus test or as a bludgeon. But it does suggest that they can articulate beliefs and that they care about those expressions of faith.
And I believe that’s the key. It’s about what we hold dear. The Latin word for belief (credo) suggests that belief is more a matter of the heart than the head. Diana Butler Bass, in her book Christianity after Religion, says that the word belief really means something like this: “I set my heart upon”, or “I give my loyalty to”. It’s about what we prize, what we treasure. Dr. Bass says that in early English, to believe was really to be-love. For centuries, belief had nothing to do with weighing evidence or intellectual choice. It was not about a doctrinal test. It was more like a marriage vow, a pledge of faithfulness. It was about loving service. Again, it’s about what we treasure, what we love, where we give our heart. In the spiritual journey, we are each given the freedom and responsibility to think about where we give our hearts. To consider what we care about. To live by that. To do so with special reference to our relationship with God known to us in the Trinity: God known to us as creator, source of all life; God entering human history as Jesus, the one we follow; God present with us now as the Holy Spirit, comforting, advocating, guiding, nudging along the spiritual journey. God who asks for nothing more or less than our hearts.
Start this week thinking about where you are giving your heart, what you believe and be love. What does it mean to you to love God? As you think about that, do so knowing that before you figure any of it out (a life journey), you are held in love from which you can never be separated. Said another way, God believes in you. I love that. I give my heart to that. I believe that.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.