Hubris and All
A few weeks before Christmas a couple of old friends responded to a newsletter I'd sent out. I'd left the church, I said, but my personal faith remained alive and well. They took exception to this. You can't be a lone wolf, they wrote me. Faith is about fellowship with those who've been around longer and know better. Anything else is hubris. They were saddened by my news. They said they'd pray for me.
I, in turn, was saddened by their replies. I reflected on my spiritual journey. Had I made a mistake? Was this just pride, my disappointment with the church and my yearning for something more? They were saying that faith, without the church, was a contradiction. You get your faith from the community, not from some private inner voice.
But I thought about the cost of such a communal faith, about the theological baggage I've felt compelled to haul along behind me on my faith journey: that Jesus is God's one true self-revelation; that his death on the cross pays the price for my sins; that the sacraments assure me I'm "saved." I'd always found such belief constraining, as well as mystifying, even as I dutifully tried to defend it in my sermons. But membership in the church obliges me to accept its teachings, despite the personal reservations of my God-given intellect. My own ideas are ... "hubris."
Then I had to ask myself, But am I really a lone wolf? Am I not joined by others on this path? I am, in fact, still walking with my brothers and sisters from church, even if we're no longer singing from the same hymnal or kneeling at the same altar. I'm also meeting new friends along the way, seekers outside of the church. The two groups feel contiguous to me, the lines often blurring between them. We're all seekers, aren't we?
My friends were right. Faith is a communal pilgrimage. We share our food and trade our stories along the way. But that does not mean we acquiesce to the beliefs of others. Faith begins and ends with a personal allegiance to a God who remains a mystery--to all of us!--whose ways are not our ways. We may not be lone wolves. But neither are we sheep.
I can only imagine that, at the end of our lives, when we stand before Saint Peter at the pearly gates, the words he'll be listening for will not be: "I believed what they said; I did what I was told." They'll be: "I did the best I could with what I had." And God, who I'm told is merciful, will look graciously upon me, loving me then, as God has always loved me. Hubris and all.
But I will miss them, my old friends.
Next week: Seeking Community