Sunday, January 11, 2009

Self-Interview: Confessions (Part 3)

My first self-interview is here, the second, here.

So, you've been away for a while. You haven't subjected yourself to my questioning since New Year's Eve. What's the deal?

There's no deal. I've been busy getting everything underway at school. I've been thinking a lot about what we've been discussing, so let's resume the interrogation.

You don't talk about your Christian faith in terms of belief or Christianity as a belief system, do you?

No, I don't. To me, when you start talking about Christianity as a belief system, then it's too easy to become attached to a system of ideas, to a system of language, and the system begins to mean more than the experience of faith. I do not find the experience of faith at all systematic.

What do you mean?

Systems are orderly. I do not find the experience of faith at all orderly, except as it's ordered in worship...which I enjoy very much. But an orderly worship service is equivalent to taking certain aspects of life and creating a theater piece. No one play, say of Shakespeare, tells the whole truth, but it distills and gives us a magnified experience of the truth it does deal with. Similarly, worship is an orderly, magnified, focused hour of experiencing parts of the Christian experience.

But, as we move through life, moment by moment, it's not at all systematic. I don't think a belief system is all that helpful. It's why I think of faith not as what I might say I "believe", but my faith is demonstrated in how I follow the way of God or the way of Christ.

So, to you, faith is living.

Living the way. Yes. I mean faith doesn't suggest knowing or believing. It means acting as if something is true. Not that it is undoubtedly true. If the way of God is to love, forgive, serve, share compassion, and so on, I am being faithful as I do those things and do them not for reward, but because it's the way. The problem, of course, is that we live in an unjust condition.


Well, we are terribly imperfect beings, we human beings. We do not see things the way they are or understand our world very well and we get it wrong a lot. We live in a condition in which getting it wrong can be (maybe often is) a source of suffering or guilt or shame or confusion. But, because we are imperfect, we err a lot and suffer for it. It's not fair. The way of life holds us to standards that we may not understand well, that we might stray from out of ignorance or misunderstanding, but, still, we pay the consequences. It's a weird set up and it's what sets our lives in motion: we have a dim understanding of the way of God, we act out of harmony with it, we didn't really understand we were out of harmony, and pain ensues. We learn. We might do better next time. But because our understanding of the mysterious way of God is always ongoing, we never come to a full understanding and we are always both following and not following the way.

Are you, perchance, talking about sin?

Yes, I am.

You make it sound like we live always in sin.

Yes, I think we do. We can't get around it. We pursue the way of God, we learn, discern, remember, orient ourselves, do all we can and we stray. We are always living the way and not living the way. Living out of joint with the way isn't the only way we are, but we are always out of joint, to some degree.

But not completely.

No, not completely. If you see a life of faith as dualistic, then, yes, a person is, at a given moment, either living in sin or in grace. It's why I reject the dualism. We are always living in sin and grace. Simultaneously. It's why I think of sin as a condition of separation from God, or from the way, not as individual things we do. The things we do that are life denying and harmful grow out of our separation. The separation is the root problem and we are always, to some degree, in a state of separation from the way of God.

But, we are always, to some degree, always walking the way; we are always also on the path; well, maybe I should back off this a bit and say that cases certainly exist where it's hard to see any evidence of God's way in what a person does. But, in the main, my experience is that we are walk in sin and grace, in separation and along the way, simultaneously.

How do we tell the difference? How do we know the ways of God?

With certainty?

Yeah. With certainty.

Ha! We see through a glass darkly. No certainty. But, personally, I experience the Holy Spirit in knee-shaking ways and when it comes to discernment, clarity, inspiration to follow God/the way, well, the Holy Spirit is the mightiest force I experience, especially of the three dimensions of the Trinity.

That seems like a good place to stop for now. And, you know, there's a guy named Mark Watson who wants to get in on this conversation. Would you be open to responding to his question(s) next time around.

That would be an honor!


Mark said...

I really like the way the confession is unfolding. I hope the interviewer would agree that Bill has painted a beautiful word picture of the human condition. This reader is also wary of "belief" preferring the definition of faith given by another theologically oriented friend:

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Oops, wrong link before.

Peace and love.

Bay Views said...

So, then. Does that sign mean that nobody in the silver Valley is A Cincinnati fan?