THE CHURCH: Doubt And Faith

THE CHURCH: Doubt And Faith by Julia Marks

I’m not really sure that I believe in God, mutters the something-of-a-head of the Anglican church.

I write, something-of-a-head because profoundly, historically, Anglicans don’t recognize a head as a head.

In truth, the man who bears the title, Archbishop of Canterbury, while seeming to “run” the show of his denomination (or those parts of the Anglican Communion that still endure being in each other’s company from time-to-time) has no real authority or power over anyone else.

Anglicans do this as a stand against seeming Romanish, declaring one man as the ultimate authority.

If anything, Episcopalianism was based on a pure democracy: you want tall candles, you have tall candles; just don’t try telling me that I can’t have the correct length candle on my altar.

And bishops, those men who get the pointy hats, they got to be counselors.  Shepherds.  Here sheep, here sheep.  Over here.  This way.

Which is not to say that some haven’t become truly enamored with the role of despot; clearly the woman claiming to be head of the American Episcopal Church, a woman who has even stooped to the level of seizing the meager gatherings of the mite boxes, (how Mobutu-like can a person get?), a woman who has spent millions and millions and millions on her great cause of driving faithful Christians out of their church homes, never really “got” the idea of Anglicanism.

But really.

The we’ll-call-him-a-head-because-it’s-too-difficult-to-explain-how-a-head-is-not-really-a-head-and-come-up-with-a-word-for-it (Queen of England, perhaps?) Archbishop of Canterbury went jogging one day.  He had been visiting the Middle East.

And it came as quite a shock to find there people who are suffering.

What kind of human being is it that has lived such a protected life that he discovers that people suffer in his late middle age?

What kind of belief in God does this man have if he never had to hold up to God in his prayers the suffering of those around him?  Makes one wonder if he ever even prays.

So he visits the Middle East.  He learns that Santa Claus is not real.  Is heart-broken.  Goes for a run.

And realizes that he is, at heart, an atheist.

Of course, he had lived a good part of his life as an atheist.

He had had a conversion experience.

Now there’s an interesting topic of discussion.

How real can a conversion experience be if at the first sign of distress, God is dropped like a soiled napkin?

Does this indicate that emotionally driven relationships with God are not valid, or that they lack the strength to bring a person to a realization of their unity with God?

No.  Absolutely not.

I categorize (roughly) mystical experiences – those experiences wherein we experience our union with God – as belonging to heads (people with visions and voices: Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, me); hearts (people who allow their feelings to direct them in their faith: Francis of Assisi); and hands (people who know exactly what to do, just get up, and do it: Thomas Merton).

Actually, I do have a category that I refer to as feet, but that’s another matter for another time.

A heart’s mystical experiences are just as valid as anyone else’s.  It’s their emotions that keep them locked into their faith, their commitment, their spiritual growth.

So what about these emotional experiences that convince a person that they now believe in God, but then fade when challenged by reality?

I think this tells us more about the nature of the person than anything else.  That whatever emotions that they once identified as a conversion experience, an awareness that there is another dimension in the universe other than the one they see when they look in the mirror, are really just a rearranging and reinterpretation of things that make them feel good.

Yesterday it was sleek, fast cars; today I’m calling it, God.

I feel good.  I have thoughts about God.  I attach those thoughts to my feelings, and bang, I’m a believer!

Except religion isn’t based on feelings.

A person’s faith begins with experience.  These experiences may create emotions, sad or glad.  But the seeds of faith are those touches, brief brushes even, that catch our attention.

If the basis of faith were feelings, we’d be all over the place.  All the time.

I used to hear, a lot, the phrase, love God.  Until one day, I got really tired of the expectation that everyone, everywhere, and at all time, should have that as a goal.

How unrealistic can you be?

What if your son just died in a car accident?  Would it be love in your heart for God?

In stress, in suffering, how do you continue to carry your faith?

Well, the Bible tells us to fear God.  Now that is something anyone can do at any time.

So we have now a man who leads a certain communion of people.  And he admits publicly, for all the press to repeat, that, well, there’s suffering in the world, how, then, can there be a God?

But, as stated above, bishops are shepherds.

Faith is the bridge that is built to go up and over the chasm of our doubts.

That’s what faith is.

If a shepherd isn’t responsible for the creation and maintenance of the bridge, how is he to assume responsibility for his sheep?

And if the sheep aren’t being cared for by the person who has assumed the job, they are stranded.

Left to be attacked by all sorts of wolves.

Left to fall off the cliff into doubt.

Left to roam freely about in their despair.

That’s not the role of the hierarchy of the church.

Not that it’s not actually done.  In all denominations.

But to publicly announce that one has given up the essence of his assumed responsibility is to resign from that job.

The only thing a bishop has to do is point the way for the members of the church toward the path, toward the work of a Christian, toward salvation.

If he can’t do this, then he should go back to sitting in a pew and allow someone else to lead.

A leader who doesn’t lead is a wolf, and not even in sheep’s clothing.

Amen.

 

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