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Friday, August 24, 2007
Defending the Faith
The recent discussion (here and elsewhere) on the whole Mother Teresa and doubt topic got me thinking about how we handle faith under attack. Many people are attacking Mother Teresa and Christians in general right now. But as seen even here, this issue is one that has caused pain and questioning for many Christians. They are confused by such a revered person admitting to doubt and are coming face to face with their own doubts. Such issues are hard enough on their own, but are made much more difficult by the presence of criticism. When one feels the need to assume a defensive position, it become much harder to honestly work through one's own feelings, questions, and doubts. Take the metaphor of a city under siege in defense mode - the resources and energies of the city are spent in preserving what is already there (safety, food, water) and not in creating art or debating philosophy (no matter how much value they may hold). It is hard to grow and develop when one is attempting to defend all that one holds dear.

I am reminded of my faith journey in high school as compared to college. I grew up in a rather conservative evangelical church. Those who thought differently than my church (Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans...) were not considered real Christians and the ideas of non-believers were to be avoided (or ridiculed). But I attended public schools where I had to defend my "faith" (or what I thought was my faith) on a constant basis. That involved standing up for creationism and absolute truth and standing against abortion and homosexuality - the essential core doctrines of my faith at the time. But given that I always found myself in the position of defending those beliefs, I never had the chance to examine or question why I believed them. Then I went away to a Christian college where a lot of those basic beliefs were assumed. I felt the freedom to question and explore different expressions of Christianity within the safety of that context. I ended up abandoning some of my earlier assumptions and coming to a deeper commitment of faith in the process. But I needed the safety of that environment to be able to do that.

Now I don't pretend to assume that most Christian schools afford people that opportunity (not that all people found it at my college either), but it seems like we are in desperate need of such "safe places." Places where we are free to question and push ideas without being made to feel guilty or defend our most basic assumptions. If we can't get past the questions of "is there a God" or "is truth relative" then how can we ever truly grow? Those are needed questions at times, but sometimes the answers must just be taken on faith in order for us to move the conversation (and our emotional/mental/spiritual heath) along. But where are those safe places? It seems to me that the church should in a sense serve that function, but most people view the church as unsafe and unhealthy. How can this change or where else can we go?

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posted by Julie at 9:27 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 8/25/2007 05:08:00 AM, Blogger lisa

    I want those who I am church with to be my safe place and I want, as a someone who some think of as "older" (almost 45) to provide safe places for questions and wonderings for my younger and older friends. We, the church, have not been very good at providing safe places for doubts and fears. Neil Cole says that there are 3 words we need to learn to say and to say without fear. The words are "I don't know." Could we learn to say these? Could we learn to say "I don't know... and I'd love to explore that with you."

  • At 8/25/2007 08:25:00 AM, Blogger soldiermom

    I agree, we can not make institutions safe places, or other people safe places for us. But we can make ourselves a safe place for others. Safety is contagious. People are just so hungry for grace...don't ya think? If we can be open and graceful to others, some will learn and be that for us in return.

  • At 8/25/2007 08:48:00 AM, Blogger One Voice of Many

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 8/25/2007 08:51:00 AM, Blogger One Voice of Many

    I recently put my thoughts together on church needing to be a safe place on my blog. I'll just put a link here to save space from copying and pasting.


    You can skip the blog by me just saying that I so agree that church needs to be a place that you can be honest with questions and doubts and struggles without fear of rejection and judgement. One friend commented that we should introduce ourselves, "Hello. My name is _____ and I am a sinner". Good place to start.

  • At 8/25/2007 09:54:00 AM, Blogger lisa

    I think you're right that people are so hungry for grace and that we can only make ourselves safe for others and hope it spreads (like a virus!)

    "Hello, my name is Lisa and I'm a sinner." I like it! On the other hand, I also want to remember that because of what Jesus did on my behalf I can say, "Hello, my name is Lisa and I'm clean and free." So maybe it's "...I'm a sinner who is clean and free."

  • At 8/25/2007 02:19:00 PM, Blogger Anne

    Our church has community groups, and though they different wildly due to personalities, I'm sure, my group has been a very safe place to express doubts and question anything and everything. One reason this works there is the intimacy of the environment, I'm sure. There are usually about 10 of us; a safe harbor to explore one's spiritual journey.

  • At 8/26/2007 07:44:00 AM, Blogger soldiermom

    Interesting questions now might be; What does "safe" look like to you? How do we know what it looks like to others? Should we be "safe" in all circumstances? What do you think?

  • At 8/26/2007 08:06:00 AM, Blogger Meg

    I'm reading B. McLaren's final trilogy in the New Kind of Christian series. The last part of the book focuses on a group that gets together once every other year to do church together.

    In this setting they are real about their questions and doubts and I want so bad to have a community that fosters this type of good faith.

    I do feel solidermom brought up a good point....should we feel safe in all circumstances? In the book the friends get together every one to three years, and discuss where their journies have taken them. They live unsafely through out the time apart and then come together in safety and share where they have been, what they have learned.

    I say this, but I desperately want a safe place. I'm not going to church right now because I don't feel safe. But I do feel that being safe all the time is not what helps you grow. There needs to be a healthy balance.

    For me, the fictional community in Mclaren's book can somewhat be seen through this blog, which is great!

  • At 8/27/2007 03:15:00 AM, Blogger syl

    I think that it's interesting that this ended up being a discussion about safe places.

    I really wonder if one of the biggest reasons Mother Theresa struggled so was because of the un-safeness of the church--or, in her case, the orphanages where she served.

    Is it possible that the reason she didn't see or feel God's presence was that she was surrounded by so much sorrow and pain?

    After giving most of my life to the church (in ministry as a pastor's wife, although I cannot even compare myself to this saintly woman), I can honestly say that I have doubted myself--so many times--church is the hardest (and least safe) place to find God. I am able to get a break by going to a regular job M-F, but her life was absorbed in her ministry, and it was far from easy. It consumed all of who she was.

    It's unfortunate that her most private writings were publisehd--what's even more unfortunate is that we even question why she could have doubts. Dont' we all???

  • At 8/27/2007 03:17:00 AM, Blogger syl

    To Meg

    This may be the safest place you will ever find. I have yet to find a "safe" church. . . sad, but true. But, on the other hand, I'm just a tad cynical.


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