Thursday, March 27, 2008

O My People

Today, Duane Smith posted on believing the unbelievable. Today in the weekly Torah commentary from JTS, Rabbi Mark Wolf writes: We exist to follow God’s will and teach others the meaning of righteousness and compassion. It is not what is unbelievable that is important but what we exist for and what we do. (Read Rabbi Wolf - may he have moved the earth with his words.)

Nevertheless, what - yes what - do I believe? I laid out a number of issues related to faith in another place. All the left hand column of links have to do with being drawn into faith - all are plays on words but absolutely what has happened to me - all are to do with love and every difficult thing that goes with it.

I did, but I do not now, subscribe to a system of belief. I probably was so inaccurate about that 'system' that I could not possibly then or now define it. I don't know what my system is today - but it is not anything I come across 'frequently'.

Do I, as Mark Twain writes, have a 'Faith' that 'is believing what I know ain't so.' Does my 'religion consist in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes and wishes he was certain of'?

It is not so. I don't in fact know much of what is so - so how could I know the infinitely larger set of what ain't so? And my prayers unknown to me are answered. What fortune! What right do I have to speak let alone impose my good fortune on others! Why, tomorrow, I may be wiped out or some other unspeakable misfortune may befall those I love. When I translated the psalms, I wrote of how dangerous they are. And in comments on some poor student's blog, I have written riddles, as one beloved blogger captions me, that perhaps are not as helpful as I think they are.

A principle of general systems thinking that I think I rephrased goes like this - it's not what you know that hurts you, it's what you think you know that ain't so. (A man by the name of Stephen Wineberg wrote an Introduction to General Systems Thinking some years ago - I lost my copy of this rather good little volume but I remember many of the aphorisms.)

Is belief a system, or a set of things we think we know? This much I know of what is so: What I have learned of love and every imaginable thing that goes with it, I learned from a mysterious source that accompanied my trust in the death of Jesus. I could die tomorrow or even today and what I have known, in spite of my potentially incomplete, maybe even false understandings of it, in spite of my inability to sum it up in a few words, in spite of all that comes between us and love: envy, shame, greed, convenience, will to power, in spite of all these things, it would not - could not be taken away from me. It is written into my life, into the warp of the space-time hologram.

Sometimes I wonder at my own potential for self-deception. I wonder at my political limitations, my limited rules of thumb for management, my delayed learning of lessons in language, in ecclesiology, in theology, my all thumbs approach to story-telling, my riddles. How can I have any belief that is communicable if I cannot find words?

In some ways, no words will do. Only engagement. That confrontation that is inescapable - 'like death, our death'.

I can't answer all Duane's questions (like his section on the priest who had to go on believing to support his family) - but let this stand as a note that there may be alternatives. Alternatives even to the dark night of the soul. I knew need. I read Romans and believed the promise that I had already died in the death of Christ. I have had the opportunity to live with that knowledge and I have not been disappointed. I have made plenty of mistakes. I could say I have come close enough to know both negative and positive aspects of fire. My Advocate has said - I will not abandon you. Every sin against the Son will be forgiven.

I can't answer the needs of those who suffer terror. I wrote the above before I finished the commentary. My troubles are small compared to those in Israel. Rabbi Wolf, whom I know only through his words, seems to me as one who fulfills a real priestly role without hypocrisy even in a place where priests no longer have a role. (For me, I slowly learn respect for those who spend their lives in the psychological reality of spiritual care. But in Christendom, there is not supposed to be a hierarchic priesthood either. You might know it in the truth of the faith, but you wouldn't know it for looking.)


Duane Smith said...

Thanks for your interesting reflections. I must clarify one thing. I do not think that all believers are hypocrites. Quite the contrary. I have my worries about both the believer and the hypocrite but I sure doesn't see them as the same. I did enjoy your reference to the general systems principle. The issues it raises are beyond the scope of a simple comment and also beyond me, it being so close to my bedtime; perhaps beyond me even in the middle of the day.

Bob MacDonald said...

It is good to hear from you Duane - and I agree, at our age, the early morning is best for tough ideas.