Early Morning thoughts on God, faith and knowledge

As I awoke Saturday morning before the rest of the house, the following thoughts were coalescing around and I had a quiet moment to nurture them and write them down.  In the following, I put some words in quotation marks.  This is meant to denote the common conception or characterization of these terms (e.g. “God”, “Agnosticism” etc.).  At other times the very same word will appear without quotations, in this I am aiming at the larger, mysterious, and less concrete reality to which these words point, a reality that is not contained by our common understanding but which is larger, a point on our existential horizon of which we have no clear view and for which our understandings remain appropriately tentative.   PLEASE UNDERSTAND THESE ARE MY THOUGHTS AND WHILE ELEMENTS OF WHAT I WRITE HAVE COME TO ME FROM THE JOURNEY OF FRIENDS, THIS HAS MORE TO DO WITH HOW I ANSWER THE ISSUE OF FAITH MYSELF.  It is not meant to be a answer for anyone else.

Here is what I was musing upon…

As I encounter more and more friends and aquaintances  who, once having a sincere faith in “God”, have now left those moorings and have become “agnostic” or “atheist” and as their stories, doubts and disillusionments become more and more reasonable to where I find myself, I wonder if I am also on the road to agnosticism and beyond?

As I ponder this,  my answer to the question of faith (thus far) is that I am rather choosing to alter my conceptualization  of how and what I think I understand about God and rather discard elements of my system of belief, which has always informed my ideas about “God.”  What I can currently affirm is that God is very much beyond my knowing and also beyond my denying…such is a very humbling reality.

For some of my friends their “Christianity came crumbling down around them.”  I have to assume that this was not a one time event but was precipitated by a prolonged incongruity between the faith (system of believing and understanding) they held and the life (personal, societal experiential) they lived.  The belief as they held it became untenable.  I imagine such a conclusion was denied, ignored and/or spiritualized away for a time but eventually  the untenable nature of their belief became unavoidable, leading them to embrace a departure from that belief.  This was  privately held at first, I imagine, during which another period of evaluation extended until they were convinced that this (agnosticism or atheism) was their only honest path, at which time they entered that path openly.

This process of questioning, discovery and doubt with which many of us today seem to be wrestling is at least on some level a rational one, while at the same time experiential.   In this journey objectivity is attempted but it is also subjectively informed too.

As form myself, I would readily admit a state of unknowing, what some call “Agnosticism,” yet thus far that unknowing has given way to a more firmly held belief in God: a less concluded, less defined belief, but a more honest and firm one.  Objectively there are too many religious and transcendental experiences of which I am aware (both my own and those experienced by others, which they have shared with me) for me to conclude at this time that there is no spiritual reality larger than ourselves.

However conversely in my more subjective experience, far from feeling that I have more knowledge, the deeper my encounters of things spiritual, religious and human, the more profound is my unknowing and my grasp of that which I have encountered.  Yet the more firm has become my faith that there is a divine transcendence to which we all are connected, and I call it God.

The question comes to this, what is more honest for me:

1.  a sustained belief yet conceptualized as an unknowing exploration and discovery into the “dark abysses of the wilderness which we call God” (the words of Karl Rahner).  This journey requires me to accept my unknowing as the necessary reality of my human limitations and the infinite reality of that to which I gaze.

or

2.  Complete and absolute unbelief in things divine and spiritual.

For me the former is more honest and consistent with what I have heard, experienced and read.

I suppose that there is a third option: to continue with the religious knowledge I inherited and assume that “knowing” (no matter how narrow) to be truer than my questions, holding on to the answers that religion provides but which are answers to questions I am not asking.

Fortunately, this is no longer an option for me…can’t go backwards honestly.

The other part of this questioning is whether this unknowing exploration and encounter will allow me to honestly remain in my Christian faith?  Thus far I have found that if I allow myself the option of questioning truths and see my following of Jesus to ultimately lead me in that discovery– then I can remain.  As I currently see it, Jesus and all who follow him are on this path of exploration and discovery into the mysterious and wonderful mystery of God.  So here I remain.

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In God We Trust

I ran across a news flash on the web about Congress planning to put “in God we Trust” on the walls in the capitol.  That Congress is doing this is old news by a few days, but the latest piece of that news is that the “Freedom From Religion”  group has filed a lawsuit to stop this religious action by Congress.

I thought as a Christian and a minister and an American I would add in my thoughts on this in the form of some questions.

My first question is what god are we plastering tribute to in the US. Capitol?

I realize the historical value of the official motto of the United States.  But both the appearance of the phrase on U.S. Tender in 1864 and the act of Congress that made it our “motto” in 1956 were very different days culturally than the days we are now living.  In those days, while there was probably some who were atheistic or agnostic, but the numbers would have probably been much less.  But today, we find that the numbers of people who don’t share a belief in a “god” have grown and I can see their point of not wanting to have theism shoved down their throats.  But back to my question, is this marking the capital  really about our history, or is it what the opposition feel it is, a further push of theistic values?

What is the value of putting that on the wall of the Capitol?  Are we afraid that someday the country might turn against its religious freedoms and this will be a reminder of something?  Is it tribute to someone’s personal God?  Then it doesn’t belong on the Capitol does it?  Why are we Christians so fired up about monuments to our God?  In Boise we had a big fuss a few years ago over the 10 Commandments monument.  I never really caught the reason folks were protesting and getting arrested.  Do we think that these monuments represent God in our culture?  Aren’t we supposed to represent God to our culture and by our love and kindness?  What need is there for a symbol of a belief if our lifestyles reflect that belief?  I just can’t see Jesus forcing the issue, so we probably shouldn’t either.

I don’t know how others from other faiths feel about the engraving.  Do the muslims feel like “In God We Trust” is about Allah or the Christian God?  That would be a great Question to ask.  If any one from another religion is reading this post, please comment about how you view that phrase.

Personally, if the issue to stop the capitol engravings were a petition, I would sign it.  It wouldn’t be because I don’t believe or serve God as I understand him,  I do.  It would be because I don’t think we should dominate and cram our perspectives down the throat of people who don’t share them.  I stand with Freedom From Religion group on this one.

I plan to live for God, attempt to live like Jesus, yet I appreciate those who don’t share my belief and I choose to love them not intentionally offend them.

The Secret of the Cave

Being the father of two small children affords me the opportunity to see many children and family movies, some are mindless, some are just fun and entertaining, but then there are the rare few that are entertaining, meaningful and instructive.  The Secret of the Cave is one such movie.  It is about a boy who, experiencing some intense family brokenness and pain, is dragged along on a trip to his fathers home town in Ireland begrudgingly.  Yet there he encounters a fantastic mystery that is going on in the town that many think is the work of a kindly old man whom had just passed away; the work of a ghost.  The boy doesn’t buy it and begins to investigate, what he discovers is a lesson that we all lose track of and forget too much of the time…one in which I was encouraged to be reminded.  This movie isn’t fast paced, flashy or anything else, but it is very very good, and a great one for families to watch together.

Sharing a great quote I found

Source:  Title is “Catholicism” by Keith Michael Patrick O’Brien page 495

“Since the free gift of Gods grace, i.e., God’s self communication, was incorporated into the world from the beginning, the history of the world is really also the history of salvation.  A the point (or points) where we realize that the direction of history is toward the kingdom of God, we can speak of the experience of revelation.  But whether  we realize it or not, i.e., whether we are formally and explicitly religious, even Christian or not, does not change what is in fact going on.  God is always present to the world and to persons within the world as the principle of self-transcendence.  We have the capacity to move beyond ourselves, to become something higher and better than we are, because the “Absolute Beyond” is already in our midst summoning us forward toward the plentitude of the kingdom.”

I like the above quote because it makes sense of more than just a particular theological tradition or perspective.  It reminds us that this is God’s world, humans of every sort are his and he is still at work even in our (supposed) none spiritual human growth.

Peace in Nature

I have just finished sitting on my back porch while the wind blew as the thunder clouds passed my home.  I love being in the wind, in nature.  The wind speaks volumes and brings a calm with it that not many other experiences do.  When I am standing out in the wind, I feel a strange peace with my world, revitalized and hopeful.  I watched the clouds role by and wondered if this is what the voice of God might sound like; a voice like Elijah heard on the mountain.  

In that wind all my ideas regarding life and faith swirl but have no bearing on where I stand at the moment; its just me bracing and feeling the air wrap around me as I stand there.  I have been reading a book called “Black Elk Speaks” and the thing that stands out to me in that book is the connectivity of a spiritual nature that he experienced in the physical elements of his world.  I am jealous of that sometimes.  We have separated it all out scientifically and can explain (so we think) what’s happening and from whence these elements come.  I feel as though in our scientific understandings, we have lost the grace that is present there for us: God’s breath and his presence.  I am not claiming an anti-scientific stance in these words, just a sense of disconnect.  I suppose that is why I love the mountains like I do.  

Recently I was sitting at the foot of the Cuddy Mountains with only one other friend there.  It was peaceful.  There were no answers but a distinct and clear connectivity and peace with the world in which I live.  I really didn’t want to leave that mountain and I have thought about it so very many moments in the time since I was there.  That peace, that belonging, that restfulness is something that is absent in much of my hurried life.    I long to be up on a mountain somewhere, starting a camp fire, with nothing to do but what I am presently doing.  Unfortunately, that is not the norm of my life but the rare exception.  

Maybe I am born later than my heart and soul, a simpler time might have brought more peace and rest than the life I live.  However, I am not living in such a time, so I think I need to find some ways of making the life I do have reflect that ideal.

Our Journey

Humanity gazing upward,
Where do I belong?
Grasping at the mystery
Of where I come from.

Our history is our movement
To something greater and larger than ourselves.
Yet does this “greater”
Have a grounding in the living that we live?

Matter and Spirit, are they separate?
Or is there a unity beyond what we can see.

“The Word became flesh” is our mysterious ground.
Whether we claim it, or in ignorance live…
it is our horizon, to which me move.

We limit that movement by thinking that we know
Yet still to that upward calling we go.
In hope we seek to understand ourselves
And in the face of the Other we see,
That this living cannot just be about you and me.

Knowing is limited,
Living, open and free.
Pray that in my living I might see
The grace of God at work in me.

By Kelley Mata ©
July 11, 2009
Reading Rahner and Marion

Francis Collins appointed as Chief Scientist

Dr. Francis Collins was appointed by President Obama to head up the national institute for health yesterday.  This man is a good and faithful man whose work in science has helped us understand our own design better.  He is not afraid of truth, whether it be spiritual or science.  His book “The Language Of God”  Is a very helpful book for thinking Christians who are tired of the science –  faith wars.  Maybe this very Christian and very scientifically savvy man will help us to leave the narrowness that has been inherent to both sides of the discussion behind us.  To me this just shows, once again, the wisdom and foresight of our new president and makes me even more certain and pleased with the job he is doing.

I know that there are many in the Christian camps who aren’t pleased with this appointment but those people are also not asking fundamental questions regarding science and origins because they believe that they already have the “correct” answer regarding science, faith and our origins.  However, such are a diminishing crowd and many younger Christians are not content with some of the traditional answers offered by their own faith, or rather the answers offered by the dominant and recent conservative groups within American Christianity.  For them this will be a move that brings much hope for an open and thinking Christian faith.  I, for one, am excited!

If we are not willing to question our own faith and belief systems, we then are truly stuck and are closed to much that might make sense of our very old faith in a very different modern world.  Bravo President Obama!