Tag Archives: Humility

Prayer For The Week – Don’t Put God In A Box

god-in-a-box

A beautiful prayer to guide us through the week:

A Prayer on “Knowing” God and Humbling Ourselves by Mark Sandlin

Good and gracious God,

There are so many understandings of you
and yet there is only one you.
So many faiths.
So many denominations.
So many differences
even in the Gospels we read about you…
even between theological experts…
even between well read followers…
even between me
and the others who read this prayer.

You are so ineffably difficult
to pin down,
to understand,
to describe,
to know fully.

Yet we sometime become
full of ourselves,
acting as if we
know,
hold,
have,
the “Truth” about you —

Believing that we have done
what thousands of years of history
have not been able to do,
we sometimes think
we have the final truth and understanding
about you.

God of all times and all peoples,
humble our hearts.
Silence our sometimes haughty souls
and lend us perspective.
Guide us closer to you.
Teach us how limited our knowledge is.
Give us spirits which seek more of your truth.
Instill in us
a willingness to admit what we don’t know.
Inspire us
to not only share what we have learned
with others,
but to open ourselves
to what we can learn from them.

Plant within us spirits which revel
in the reality
that there is more to learn
about you,
spirits which celebrate
what we don’t know
because it means we can still
grow closer to you,
spirits which are willing
to toss away
what we once knew
for new understandings
which grow us closer to you
and all of your Creation.

We joyfully give thanks
for all of the possibilities
which lie in front of us
to know you more fully
and to share
your love more abundantly.

Amen.

You can follow Rev. Mark Sandlin on Facebook here.

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What do you do when you are not sure?

This post is part of the May Synchroblog “Life Unfurling” which asks: Have you found more life by letting go of something? So many of us are continuing to grow in our faith by letting go of things that we once held tightly.  These things aren’t easy to shed.  Sometimes people think we’ve lost our minds, are ascribing to bad theology, or have put our souls in mortal danger.  But many of us, in different ways, have found a deeper, richer, and riskier spiritual life as we’ve let go of certain rules, doctrines, theologies, or practices along the way.   

A list of all the participants and their contributions to the synchroblog can be found at the end of this post.

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Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd. – Voltaire

Skepticism is the beginning of faith. — Oscar Wilde

 

I still remember where I was and who I was talking with the day that I first seriously entertained the idea that a “real” Christian did not have to be absolutely certain about what they believed.

I have to admit that at first I was rather appalled by the idea.  After all, uncertainty and doubt were viewed negatively in my faith community (for the most part). They were viewed as signs of immaturity or spiritual weakness.  If someone was uncertain or doubtful the standard response was to pray for them to find certainty about their beliefs.  (and, if certainty wasn’t regained then perhaps they never were a “real” Christian)

But something about this conversation struck me deeply and I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t really as certain about a lot of things as I said I was.  Although I suppressed and hid my doubts, questions and uncertainties (not just from others but also from myself) they certainly existed.

In the days that followed that conversation I couldn’t help but begin to confront my own doubts and uncertainties.  And as I did – as I got honest with myself – I found that there wasn’t really a whole lot I was sure about.

What in the world was I to do with that????

That’s the question that Father Flynn asks in a sermon he delivers at the beginning of the movie “Doubt”.

“What do you do when you are not sure?”

Father Flynn doesn’t give an answer.  Instead, he leaves the question hanging out there to be pondered.

As I pondered the question I came to the conclusion that there are two things we can do when we aren’t sure.

We can either confront our doubts honestly, stop pretending they don’t exist, stop flippantly explaining them away, honestly explore and seek answers to the best of our ability, accept that there are some things we can never know for sure, live with the ambiguity that is so often a part of human life and learn to exist with the tension that this kind of honesty creates for our faith.

Or, we can, as I had been doing, embrace a dogmatic kind of certainty, ignore our doubts, live as though our certainty is the absolute truth and that anyone who disagrees with us is absolutely wrong and live with the tension that this way of life creates for our faith.

I chose to let go of my certainty and I believe that I gained a lot more than I lost.

What did I gain when I let go of certainty?

I gained some much needed humility as I adopted what is known as a proper confidence or a chastened epistemology.  In other words, I could have enough confidence in what I believed to be able to live out my beliefs with conviction but I could be humble enough about what I believed to be aware that I may be wrong.

The gained humility then created “more space” for the transforming work of God to be active in my life… thus allowing for spiritual growth to take place.

The humility and spiritual growth helped me form better relationships – more honest, authentic, loving relationships.

The new and better relationships helped me become better at loving others.

Loving others better helped me become more passionate about actively living in the way of Jesus.

Of course, I am human, and I fall down and get up a lot…so I am certainly not saying that I am doing all of these things perfectly all the time.

But, I am certain that I have gained much more than I lost when I let go of certainty.

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Check out the other synchroblog contributions:

The Eighth Letter – Humble Pie (My Letter To The North American Church)

Today’s post is my contribution to theEighth Letter project, which invites participants to compose letters to the North American church in the spirit of John’s seven letters of Revelation.  A handful of these letters will be chosen for public reading at the Eight Letter conference in October.


Dear North American Church,

I don’t know if you remember me but we were pretty close at one time.  I not only was an active member and servant of one of your local communities for most of my life, but I also attempted to be a faithful representative of what you taught and believed in my every day life.  But, that was then, and this is now, and, well … it’s been a while since we were close, and I don’t even know if you would recognize me these days – I’ve changed a lot since then. Which brings me to the point of this letter …  I want you to consider making a change.

I realize it is a little presumptious of me to show up like this, asking you to change, after the way I just up and left with little or no explanation.  I didn’t mean to be rude or inconsiderate – it was a crazy time for me. It all started when my son told me he was gay and that he didn’t believe loving, monogamous same sex relationships were wrong.  At first I tried to tell him all the things you had taught me about same sex relationships but those things didn’t end up standing up under scrutiny.  When I studied scripture and took the time to look at original language and historical contexts I realized that the few references available were not as black and white as I had been led to believe.  On top of that, I knew my son.  I knew he was a good person. I knew he loved God and wanted to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Things weren’t adding up and it was a disturbing, scary and lonely time for me.  Anyway, once I realized, and began to accept, that I (and you) might be wrong about same sex relationships I naturally started wondering about some other stuff … and, well, one thing led to another and before I knew it there were a lot of things about you that I could no longer support.

Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t walk away from the faith – I didn’t stop following Jesus – I didn’t even want to leave the church.  I just didn’t fit in anymore.  There was no place for someone like me unless I wanted to be treated like I was less than others.  If I didn’t conform I just wasn’t “in”  … so I left.  But, I miss you, I really do. And it’s because I miss you and want to reconcile with you that I dare to ask you to consider making a change that I believe would start the healing process that needs to take place between you and me.

Something I would like for you to consider is being a little more humble about what you know and believe to be true.  I would suggest that pastors stop saying most everything from the pulpit with absolute certainty; that those who teach scripture acknowledge the contradictions and conflicts without resorting to flippantly explaining them away; that followers of Jesus with doubts, questions and different beliefs stop being treated as backsliders or as immature or as unbelievers; that different interpretations of scripture be examined and considered respectfully; and that you spend more time teaching people how to ask good questions rather than always being so quick to give answers.  Of course, this would indeed require that you also teach and model how to live with the tension of living out one’s beliefs with conviction while at the same time being humble enough to remain aware that ones belief could be wrong.  That may not be as easy as “being certain” but, I think in the long run it will be more effective in helping people to be transformed into people who are kinder, gentler and more compassionate – people who are more like Jesus.

When you think about it, the church has gotten it wrong in the recent past about things like slavery and interracial marriage.  So, what makes anyone think they are finally to the point where they have it all figured out when it comes to stuff like atonement theories, heaven and hell, women in ministry, same sex relationships and a bunch of other stuff.

After all …How can God speak into our lives if we aren’t humble enough to listen and hear?  How will we know if we are mistaken about something if we hold on to our beliefs with unswerving certainty?  Can we really be transformed without being humble about what we know?  Shouldn’t unity be able to exist without conformity?  Doesn’t it make sense that people who are serious about being followers of Jesus would ask tough questions?

Let me stop there and just say this:

To put it simply, I am suggesting that you put some humble pie on the menu … and if you do, I’d love to sit down and have a slice with you …  if that’s okay with you.

Missing you,

Someone who left

Please go to Rachel Held Evans blog here to find the links to the other letters.