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Finding Faith in Faith

This blog is dedicated to exploring the intersections of faith and politics, the intricacies of religious culture and the struggle to balance devotion to a higher being and to one’s culture.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Where in the DFW is God?

As I make the transition to Dallas, I know that I am going to have a hard time settling on a faith culture to join. For the past 5 years, I have called University Avenue Church of Christ my home church.

The transition from Abilene to Austin in 1999 was a difficult one, but the one area that was simple was my choice of churches. I had attended UA as a child many times, for my grandfather had been an elder there, and many of my family’s relatives and friends who live in Austin attended there. It was a no-brainer.

I did struggle to adjust to the culture. UA is a very formal church, and one that likes to stand on ceremony for most rituals and practices. My arrival coincide with the arrival of Dean Smith, and I have often wondered if UA would not have driven me off the deep end were it not for his leadership and grace.

Dean brought a spirit of thoughtfulness and change to an environment that was rather resistant to even considering the changing needs of 21st Century Christians. His actions were not always successful, and I know that he has had many frustrations with the barriers the culture erects to inhibit certain types of cultural evolution, but I never doubted that Dean was driven by his pursuit of truth and social justice.

Of course, many others would come to make my stay in Austin very pleasant. Brad Griffin, the worship leader, has both an amazing talent and one of the truest hearts I have ever encountered. And his approach to our worship, marrying innovation to deeply held tradition, has served members of the church from many different viewpoints connect to each other and to their God in a spirit of worship.

And, of course, my best friends in Austin were all members of UA. I did not start this article to give personal shout-outs, but my peeps made my church life work, and helped my faith walk continue through some of the darker stretches of my recent history.

Leaving all of that behind is very frustrating. I know Dallas has many churches and many different opportunities for spiritual growth. However, I also know that my needs (both intellectual and spiritual) are rather specific and not easily addressed in contemporary faith culture settings. At least, not in the traditions that I have grown up in.

Over the next few months, I will be visiting several churches. In those visits, I will be seeking certain variables that I find important to my particular needs and desires. I will endeavor to chronicle those experiences here. I will strive to be open and transparent and will also do my best to give a fair accounting of what I see and experience. Of course, my views will be heavily represented and I do not promise to objective by any means (for this is a very personal quest). But I want a record of my search, so that I can reflect on my own expectations and my judgments.

So begins a great adventure.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

1 Peter and American citizenship

My earlier post is still receiving comments, but I felt the need to move on to get to the rest of my sentiments concerning Christianity and war.

In the earlier post, my arguments might seem to suggest that I do not respect the civic authority under which I live. I wanted to clear the air concerning that particular point. I feel that whether or not I agree with the actions or motives of my government that I am compelled to honor and support it.

A few years ago, I was involved in a study that examined 1 Peter and attempted to apply it to our contemporary lives. I found this book to be truly amazing in its depth and scope and was particularly influenced by Peter’s (whether this is the actual apostle writing or whether this is a pseudepigraphy is irrelevant to me) call for Christians to live in their adopted “alien cultures” in peace. Peter’s message is to call Christians to honor their faith and principles in a way that allows them to serve as examples to those living in cultures hostile to the Christian walk.

In particular, 1 Peter 2:11-24 is a great passage for getting to the core of what it means to follow Christ (of course, I’d encourage you to read the whole chapter as well):

1 Peter 2:11-24
Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul. 12 Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. 13 Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God's will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. 16 Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. 17 Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. 19 For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God's approval. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

Now this is packed full of great clauses and phrases, but I wanted to point out a few I find particularly powerful.

vs 15. “For it is God's will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”

I think this verse gets at the heart of how we should be walking when following Christ. After definitively exclaiming that we should be subject to our civic leaders, whether they be the Caesar of a pagan culture who claims to be a god himself or the corrupt governors sent to put a personal touch on stamping out our faith culture, Peter explains that our resistance should be one of example, not conflict. It is in our simply doing what is right that allows God’s voice to be heard. Our most eloquent arguments fall silent next to the impact our actions have on others.

vs. 17-19. “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. 19 For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly.”

I, as an American, struggle with this passage. Peter is calling me to honor men who stand against everything I believe in, no matter how they are treating me or the people I love. Verse 18 is particularly tough. In America, it was a moral objection stemming from religious principle that led to the abolition of slavery.

I still believe that effort was just, for it put brother against brother (not slave against master), and the conflict resulting in the granting of respect to human beings as children of God. But I also believe those slaves who patiently endured the suffering imposed by their cruel masters did so to God’s glory.

I believe that Peter’s words do not call a slave or servant or disadvantaged person to forcibly throw off his or her shackles and confront his or her abuser. Rather, I feel that Peter (like Christ) calls us to honor the higher faith culture of God in a way that keeps us from becoming too overly concerned with the burdens of the culture in which we live.

But this is the ultimate struggle. If those who oppose our way of life were to take it away from us, our calling is to endure that loss without allowing it to affect our faith. If our government were overthrown tomorrow and America became an Islamic state, we would be called to honor our new leaders by serving their wishes in a way that also honors God.

Or if those we love suffered because of decisions made by members of our own government, it seems we are called to honor that government and try and instigate change through our examples, not through conflict.

God’s plan for us seems to be patience and devotion, and this tactic seems to have survived 2,000 years of unbelievably complex cultural threats.

As an American, I want to protect my life, the lives of those I love and to protect my cherished way of life. But as a Christian, I know my first duty is to honor God, my second is honor man and the last is to honor myself and what I want.

My American heritage pushes me to reverse these priorities completely, but my faith heritage pleads with me to hang on to this paradigm no matter what comes. This is what I believe is the core struggle at the heart of the Christian walk, and particularly in a Christian walk in America.