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Impromptu on Faith, Dogma and Belief - a blog post for Christmas
When I consider FAITH I definitely don’t mean DOGMA nor, come to
think of it, do I mean BELIEF. Faith is an overwhelming necessity,
which in the final resort overrides all our actions and beliefs. At
times it even seems as if Faith is simply another name for God, it is
that in which we live, move and have our being. A rudimentary faith
precedes any action, without it we could never make the first step,
that first tentative move.
Before we ‘knew’ we could take our first step, we had already
embarked on that exercise and so, we start to walk. It’s almost as if
we question the reasons for our being confined to sitting, rolling
over and crawling. There must be more! Without that step of faith,
our lives are restricted in terms of both action and thought. We
breathe because we can, it is not an act of reason … a rational
decision … it simply is! For most of us, not being able to understand
how this amazing organism, the human body, functions doesn’t lead
us to give up on breathing. We don’t have to ‘believe’ in breathing
in order to partake of the activity but, I must admit, our lives would
be much poorer without our participation in this particular activity.
Our faith may later have a set of doctrines/ beliefs as its foundation
but, the faith is much more than the beliefs that we affirm. Coming
from a Christian background, I tend to use a broadly Christian
terminology; at its core my life (in thought and action) is shaped by
various Christian myths. Dogma is an easy way of handing over
responsibility for our faith, to the traditions of learned (and not so
learned) others, whereas faith itself isn’t averse to questioning and
doubt. [Of course, I have to acknowledge that without some of
these dogmatists we wouldn’t have the canon of scripture from
which I draw my inspiration.]
Christ said that He came that we may have LIFE and have it
ABUNDANTLY. Dogma, on the other hand, is that which restricts
this fullness … to question a dogma is frequently confused with
denying the faith. To question is to have faith; to blindly follow is to
renounce the muscle of faith.
Our Christmas faith tells of a helpless child, whose birth causes the
political and religious establishment to tremble. This helpless child,
the “word made flesh”, still holds out a challenge both to the pious
and to the politically powerful. Though frequently stumbling, I try to
follow His call.

I am not nobody
My wife is currently busy* on the task of sermon preparation; the
verse which provides the starting point for her exploration is taken
from the book of Exodus, chapter 3 verse 11: But Moses said to
God, “I am nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the
Israelites out of Egypt”.

Whilst I am impressed with the amount of preparation that has
gone into the draft of her sermon, I suddenly realized how
differently I would tackle the same text; she prepares, I burst into a
polemical rant!
**************************
Moses was raised in the corridors of power and, duly appointed to
(or at least inherited) a position of authority. This is the man who
professes “I am nobody”! Perhaps he feels that life has not really
been so kind to him, as he’s now working as a shepherd, having
been forced to flee from his “regal” position following his act of
“terrorism”.
Perhaps he has begun to question his own motivation; the slaying
of the Egyptian may have stemmed from his moral outrage at the
way the taskmaster had treated the Hebrew slave; on the other
hand, it may simply have been that he lost his cool and so, let his
temper prescribe the action rather than any sense of justice. An
awareness of the injustice that surrounds one demands a response
but, will we respond out of love or with hate?
Maybe this is reading too much into the situation and, his feeling of
unworthiness is quite understandable when exposed to this
theophanic vision. But, God is soon going to pull him up short; this
is the task that God has ordained for you and, I God will be with
you; how dare you call yourself a nobody. God recognizes that this
man, disguised as a Shepherd, is capable of the task to which He
calls him!
For God, there is no such thing as a nobody. God himself became
incarnate as Jesus, the “Son of Man” and, this man did far more to
transform the world than any abstract notion of God. He drew on a
rich tradition of justice, from the Jewish community into which he
was born and, re-vitalized it, redeemed it from the hands of the
pious. Unfortunately, piety can so easily result in dehumanizing
attitudes.

Jesus came and consorted with publicans and sinners, he even
prevented a brutal and brutalizing death of an adulterous woman.
Her life was of value to Jesus, she was a “somebody”. We are none
of us perfect but, we are all worthy, worthy of love and respect and
opportunity.
Jesus demonstrates to us our “worthiness” not our unworthiness.
Perhaps in earlier phases of his life Moses had been consumed by
his own ego, whereas now he was a broken man and, God tells this
broken man “I have a task for you; the labourer is worthy of his
hire”. We are all important to God and, are worthy to represent him
in our struggles against corruption and injustice. It is time we all
laid claim to our worthiness and forgot our self-denigratory
posturing.
As we lay ourselves open to God’s call, we hear the voice of love;
we are all His children!

HUMBLE ACCESS?

Why are we not worthy? Do we really mean it? Is the prayer of
humble access a true statement of humility or, rather an expression
of spiritual arrogance?
“I am unworthy”, look at me, listen to me, I’m so full of piety, the
Father must listen. If one is so unworthy why should they have the
gall to assume that the Father has time to listen!
If grace is to have any meaning at all, surely it is to make us worthy
not in spite of what we are but, because of who we are. How can I
declare unworthiness and yet deign to enter into the presence of,
open a line of communication with, the great God. We enter His
presence because we know our worth, and that we all are sharers in
His power, love and compassion.
I am worthy, but Lord, help me to prove it. Grant me the strength
to be a servant, the courage to stand for what is right according to
the example of Jesus.
We are the adopted Sons/Daughters of God, that leaves no time for
false modesty; what we do need is to share in the power of the
‘ultimate’ so that we are enabled to make a stronger stand for
justice and love, no matter what the cost in societal terms.
Lord, I am worthy. Thank You!

Jesus and me

Jesus transformed my life but, perhaps, in turn I changed his. His
story has been transmitted to us via faith communities and, to
some extent, each believer adapts this person to their own needs.

The power of symbols is simply amazing. One time, I entered into
a personal relationship with Jesus and, my God, was it hard. It’s
strange how he expected me to take on the comfortable lower
middle-class lifestyle of my peers in the faith. Some of them knew
no better, they’d grown up with him as had I but, they’d never seen
the need to rebel.

Rebellion, now there’s a pain, one may even have to start asking
and, even worse, answering questions! Me and Jesus got along fine
for quite some time, we shared all these intimate conversations but,
no … he wasn’t prepared to back me whatever I chose to do; the
pastor knew best on that score. God, how I loved Jesus social
conscience and his love of the company of outsiders to the faith but,
according to the pastor, it was only because he was divine that he
couldn’t be tainted. It seems that somehow we poor fallen
creatures couldn’t take that risk so, we had to set ourselves apart.

It wasn’t long before we parted company, at least the church and
me; I don’t think the Jesus symbol ever let me go! My journey took
me a long way round after that, via Eastern religions, Trotskyist
politics, and experimentation with various substances, asking
uneasy questions and collapsing along the way.

All this time I remained under the spell of this divine symbol Jesus;
in him I found a voice and image of inclusivity, his demands may be
hard but ultimately that became part of the attraction. If no
demands were made how could one possibly grow? This time, the
demands weren’t to do with opposition to my working class status
but, more to do with caring about the people it was necessary to
challenge.

On my return to the fold, even in a transitional state of charismatic
fervour, I was far less inclined to “preach at” non-believers; the
most important thing was that they should realize that I was there
for them. For some time, strangers would turn up at my doorstep
or, I would be granted an insight into someone’s need to be
befriended.

It took so long for the realization to grow that, the most important
thing was quite simply to be there. Although full of doubts and
questions, regarding the Christian faith, the symbols of the faith
have well and truly grasped me. I am acceptable, tetchy human
that I may be.

A Susceptibility to Faith?

After undergoing an evangelical conversion experience at the age of 19,
there followed a spell of fervent evangelising (perhaps alienating rather than
helping the victims of my outreach!). On experiencing the more conservative
social values of my evangelical peers, I was forced, by the more "mature"
Christians, to choose between Christ or social-activism.
At this point I tried hard to reject my Christian faith, even to the point of
asking God to reveal the unforgivable sin to me! An involvement in political
activism, an investigation of Eastern religions, and a later dabbling with
drugs, somehow never managed to fill a God-shaped void in my life.
Eighteen months of born-again Christianity was followed by many years in
the wilderness. Various apparent coincidences led me back to a Christian
faith, sensing the prodigality of the Father's love as he came out to welcome
me despite my aversion to many of his ardent followers.
My journey this time was via existential & linguistic philosophy, literature and
biblical
criticism, subsequently by degree and post-grad studies in Theology.
The secular homophobic attitude of many evangelicals saddens me, a
reminder of the social conservatism that forced me to seek de-conversion
nearly forty years ago. Although evangelicals now recognize the need for
committed social action, their intolerance and fear of peoples sexuality can
blind them to many real injustices in society at large.
Isn't it strange that issues of militarism, party politics, usury etc. do not
bring the threat of schism to the Anglican communion! Arms dealing and
legalised extortion are obviously insignificant when compared to the issue of
gay clergy!
My theology is now more liberal /radical than formerly yet, I still read and
study (contextually) the same scriptures, follow the same Lord and am
prompted by what seems to to be the same Holy Spirit as my evangelical
brothers & sisters.
Is it a psychological weakness on my part, that I need FAITH, or is Faith my
necessary means to overcome the apparent impossibility of deriving an
ought from an is?

Faith Matters
FAITH is that set of values, and ultimate questions, by which we
lead our lives. Questions and doubts are an integral component of
faith, if we are not to become stuck in a rut of blind belief. I have
been grasped by certain concepts and values of community and
compassion, and much of the reported teachings of Jesus
(acclaimed by many as the Christ), throughout my life, both those
in which I have been unwittingly indoctrinated and, those which I
have arrived at or returned to through a prolonged period of
questioning.
It has always seemed a major mystery that some people seem to
"need a faith", some "seek a faith" by which to measure their life's
course whilst others are quite simply "grasped" by an ultimate
concern which they have neither sought nor been aware of a need
for.
In my personal journey, I have at times embraced (or been
embraced) by each of these modes yet, a deep rooted scepticism
has proferred me a deep rooted intellectual and emotional
resistance to making room for such a faith. That same stubborn
resistance also occurs when anyone attempts to fob me off with
multifarious scientific hypotheses disguising them as facts. I
suppose I'm slightly averse to 'fundamentalisms' be they secular or
religious.
Perhaps, with my low level reserves of physical and emotional
stamina, I do not pro-actively fight for my beliefs as much as I
should, but the mystery of LOVE (almost) always compels me to
accept a transcendent reality.
I am "grasped" by the person and work of Jesus the Christ yet, am
unable to accept much of the dogmatic doctrinal baggage with
which he has been encumbered. Some emphasize his humanity,
others his divinity, fully God and fully man proves a bit of a
conundrum yet, in this myth of the Christ many, including myself,
have found the strength to challenge the social and economic
injustices of our day.
In spite of my deeply rooted sceptical nature, it is far easier to
accept the existence of God (all the flawed ontological/ teleological
arguments for His/Her/Its existence notwithstanding) than it is to
understand how it is possible that so much bigotry, intolerance and,
upholding of the status quo can possibly be carried out in the name
of Jesus Christ. It's as if the ideological baggage of state blessed
Christendom has blinded us to the truly radical nature of the Christ.

The Affirmation - Life "As If ...."
A time when one feels extraordinarily aware of one's own mortality
may seem to be an inopportune one for starting to re-assemble
one's faith convictions; alternatively what better time?
Having always been aware of the interpretative skills of the various
NT authors, only recently has it become more of an imperative for
me to sort out the wheat from the chaff! The last thing I want is to
fall back on "my own experience" as the sole basis for faith, nor do I
wish to make Faith into a God. The big question is, do I make Jesus
of Nazareth (proclaimed the Christ by his followers) into a God?
I have long held that accepting Jesus simply as an examplar of a
certain lifestyle somehow falls short of the mark; why follow a dead
man … etc.! Of course, I believe in the resurrection;
something happened to a group of disheartened and
dejected followers, encouraging/enabling them to go out
and proclaim some GOOD NEWS. Although many became
martyrs, I don't think it was a death-wish (a suicide instinct) that
brought them out of the closet.
This life is all we have, and they knew that Jesus promised them
"an abundance of life", not a restricted and cowed existence.
If eternal life is not now it can never be; it's not a future promise
we must live as if..!
Jesus was fully human with all the hopes, fears and despairs of
humanity. His was a life of prayer and action; in his actions and
stories we are enabled to participate in a new understanding of
God, a God who knows more about forgiving than most of us do; a
God of both strength and weakness, alongside those who are
hurting and challenging those who oppress them!
The understanding of God that I have gained through Jesus is a
constant challenge to my own selfishness but, increasingly I find
difficulty in calling Jesus God much as he may manifest my
understanding of God. How can I use words like 'understanding'
alongside a word like 'God'? Certainly there is something beyond
mere materiality, the simple fact of any human aspiration,
compassion, love etc. takes on symbolic force!
I pray, I study scripture and,despite any assurances find more and
more questions. Whatever the positive co-incidences (Godincidences!) in my life, I still need help in AFFIRMING EACH DAY,
too frequently escaping responsibility by blaming my inaction upon
minor physical or mental infirmities.

Jesus Lives
Jesus of Nazareth, referred to by the faith community, in the light of that experience called “resurrection, as the Christ, has a hold on me. His subversion, and some would say fulfilment, of the religious culture in which he was
raised continues to excite me through all the fluctuating phases of my faith
journey.
The fact that he was fully human implies to me that he shared our weaknesses in order to walk fully alongside us. He was no respecter of social status,
and was frequently to be found alongside the poor, the oppressed and outcast of society. I’ve always loved that primitive Christian hymn in Philippians
2:6-11 – He “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant ...”
What a contrast to some world leaders who, claiming to be his followers, act
as if they have exclusive access to God’s will and, in so many actions (that
they order their subjects to perform) bring shame to the name of Jesus the
Christ. Unfortunately, right from the birth of Christendom in the 4th century
CE, there have been attempts to transform the “good news to the poor” into
a message which is used to further subjugate the poor and oppressed.
Excuse the rambling but, I’ve just been enjoying the nation’s top ten hymns
on tonight’s “Songs of Praise” some of which rate amongst my favourite’s,
Wesley’s ‘Love Divine’ and, in the top 20 (last week’s edition of the
programme)another of Wesley’s ‘And Can It Be’. All of Charles Wesley’s
hymns have a theological profundity which is hard to match, embracing the
life, death and resurrection. [Must admit, although I may be stirred, how
much of it I accept is a variable feast!]
Personally, I feel equally at home with Ewan MacColl’s ‘Ballad Of The Carpenter’ as with a Wesley hymn, I love the recognition of the political dynamic in Jesus’ life and ministry but, I am still moved by the symbols of a more
traditional Christianity ... I know that Jesus lives! But, were he simply an avatar of YHWH what would be so remarkable about that, a symbol of a definition rather than a beacon in the fight against oppression and injustice. The
man Jesus died early in the Common Era, many profess to witnessing his
physically resuscitated form but, most importantly, his Word and Spirit inspire action to counter oppression and injustice wherever it occurs.
It is time to reclaim Jesus and to be empowered through the symbols of the
faith.

Denouncing And Announcing
'Phone calls disturbing the thought-flow, an unresolved problem with the pond-pump,
an inability to find a required item ..... nothing major there but, yesterday morning it
certainly sent me off into an angry tirade of metaphysical proportions. If in doubt,
blame God ... whoa there, if in doubt it's questionable whether there's owt there to
blame!
Anyway having dismissed the thought god (or the Thought God, or the thought
"God"), what's left to rail against. If the doubt is meaningful enough turn it on oneself
but, that's hardly likely to make one feel better.
So, what do I settle for; I denounce God but I've already (by this time) ackowledged
that there is no existent object or subject responding to this name! The strange thing
is, belief has never been a strong point of mine, it's always faith that grasps
me.
Jesus shows us his understanding of (his) God's nature. This understanding leads him
to care for the downtrodden and the outcast which, in its turn leads to resistance
from the religious authorities as well as the imperialist Roman occupation forces.
When he's executed by the imperial and religious authorities he leaves a lot of dispirited followers; I'm frequently dispirited when I see the collusion between conservative
evangelicals and murderous gits like George Dubya but, I do know that something
known as resurrection occurred and a core group of followers had the courage to live communistically and declare themselves as his followers. They
proclaimed GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR.
When Jesus died, the end had occurred ... an end to complacency and an urgent demand to build the Republic of God here on earth. It is my hope against hope that one
day the peacemakers
will overcome.
Anyway, to get back to the here and now; a post-lunch nap (following another of my
succesful culinary inventions) helped to restore a little emotional energy/balance. The
question of God's existence is not even on the agenda. I have Faith!