Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas break: Weeping and a crisis of faith

From Toledo, IA, USA
It's been a blessedly quiet Christmas break this past week. After a crushingly difficult semester for my family, we've been in Iowa for the past week and a half, and I've been severely limiting e-mail and Facebook. It's also been a very quiet front here at Restroative Theology, for the same reasons, but here are a few scattered thoughts from this past week...

My daily Scripture reading has enjoyed an uptick on this break, and on Christmas morning I found my heart resonating with the Spirit as I read Psalm 39, particularly its closing verses, 12 & 13:
"Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were. Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more." (emphasis added)
Also over break, I've been reading through a friend's copy of John Caputo's What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, and I've been struck by his philosophical-theological appropriation of Derrida and deconstruction as a "hermeneutic for the kingdom of God." He's particularly good at instilling a sense of intellectual humility in this appropriation, in which he channels Augustine in saying that if you can comprehend it, it is not God. Our stumbling journey toward God's in-breaking kingdom is just that: a stumbling one. As the church sojourns with God as Christ's body, it's helpful to be reminded of just how far we are from God, and just how much we need God's grace and presence in Spirit to be humblly faithful in our walk. This lesson echoed in the passage above.

Another thing Caputo brought to my attention was unpacking a simple word, just in passing, and that is the word "confidence." Its Latin roots con and fide - "with faith" - jostled my settled associations with the word. "Confidence" is typically deployed with respect to the individual. Having confidence in one's own abilities is often held up as a virtue in American society. But it's also used in respect to the systems that animate society, as in having confidence in the "free" market or American-style democracy.

So to highlight the faith packed into confidence gave me pause, because "faith" in American society functions differently than "confidence." "Faith" is a "religious" word, which quickly assigns it to something that is spiritual, therefore private. But if we resist these tendencies, distortions really, it can put faith and confidence on a more even playing field, which as we see etymologically, they are already on.

The word "trust" also came to mind in these musings. Trust, it seems to me, is the experienced end of faith/confidence. Trust develops over time as faith is tested and is experienced as trust-worthy. Relationships are strengthened as trust deepens.

In Tim Burton's 1989 Batman movie, the Joker (played masterfully by Jack Nicholson), asks the question to the citizens of Gotham: "It's time for: Who do ya trust? Hubba, hubba, hubba. Money, money, money. Who do ya trust?" This seems apropos for well-off middle class Christians (such as myself) awash in the two towers of American consumerism (especially this time of year) and militaristic nationalism. Indeed: Who do we trust?

So I weep with the psalmist for my own faith journey as well as the fidelity of the church in American society. And I find some instructive insight in Caputo's appropriation of deconstruction as it helps instill a sense of humility into our hermeneutic (reading/interpretation/application) strategy in the church.

May our faith/confidence be well-placed and may we experience the blessed trust that develops when well-placed faith is tested and blossoms into a relationship that is built on trust. God, give us eyes to see more clearly, strong minds to discern better, bigger hearts for deeper compassion, and a humility to keep our ego in check...

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