The terms belief and faith are often used synonymously. Yet they are very different. As David Benner says, “Belief is conviction of the trustworthiness of a proposition . . . . Faith, on the other hand, can never be reduced to beliefs or thoughts. . . . Beliefs are often simply objects of attachment that provide a misleading sense of certainty.” Faith welcomes unknowing and mystery. Unfortunately, Christianity has settled for dogma, rituals, and tribal belonging, losing sight of the transformative way of faith.
As I read the above words in today’s meditation by Richard Rohr, I thought about the congregations I served over the years as the installed pastor. I was good at promoting the “dogma, rituals and tribal belonging.” The resulting numbers reflected that success. The end of year statistics were mostly encouraging to the powers that be and I usually received a nice Christmas present from the congregation for my effort.
What I wasn’t so good at was what I should have been good at — encouraging the “transformative way of faith — welcoming unknowing and mystery.”
Such faithfulness on my part would have led in one of two directions. Either I would have been fired by a congregation too frightened to step out for any number of reasons not the least of which would be because such stepping out might threaten the numbers and contributions for tribal survival or I would have been part of group contemplation and meditation into the wonder of life’s mysteries and exploration and practice by that group of following Jesus into acts of justice, mercy and compassion.
Unfortunately, I was pretty good at carrying out all the things I was taught needed to be done if I were to receive the “laying on of hands” approval by the institution to do those things needed to keep the institution going.
I functioned well in a particular belief system. I helped keep the boat afloat rather than challenging the oikoumene (World Council of Churches’ symbol for the church is a group of people in a boat on rough waters) to jump ship and walk, in faith, on the water toward Jesus.
One additional thought, this on the persistent survivability of the institution as status quo and resistance to change. When I did preach prophetically which, if truth be told, was often, the congregation, ironically, would affirm such preaching and use it as a form of personal penance and propitiation rather than group transformation.
Sometimes I would hear, “You really stepped on some toes today, preacher.” They heard the message as judgment rather than an opportunity to follow more closely in the steps of Jesus. Then having been suitably chastised, the parishioners would go out to lunch and then home to football or golf on TV and life as usual.