Fun title … but I’m serious. Yesterday, when I suggested dropping the ‘the’ as a litmus test, I mentioned that we need to revisit the way that we hold our faith.
Convictions about God and our religious experiences can be very powerful. As both a minister and an academic theologian I have given most of my life to this idea.
It dawns on me however that sometimes the way we hold those convictions can be more significant than the convictions themselves. What we do with our religious experiences can be more impactful than the actual experiences.
Let me use an analogy. Relationship can be tricky. For friendship, romance, siblings, parenting, even marriage I have noticed an odd sort of truth:
People are at their relational best when they are fully available to the relationship but not completely dependent on it.
There is an art to holding a treasure loosely. If one holds it too tightly it can actually warp and even endanger the prized item.
I am able to be a good friend when I can enjoy the friendship but in way that I would still be OK if it went away. I know this is kind of a dark thought but …
I am the best version of myself as a spouse when I hold my lover loosely. The tighter I hold them – the more I need them – the less available I am to participate in the marriage in a healthy and mutually beneficial ways.
Call it a relational paradox. Call it a delicate balance. Call it a damnable balancing act.
The more I need my friend or spouse to do this or that for my happiness, the less I am able to both be there for them and to enjoy them as they are.
Believing in God and participating in religious experience is the same way.
I believe in a personal god. I act as if that is true. I want that to be true.
I need, however, to participate in that conception in such way that I would be OK if it were not. If, in the end, it turns out that ‘god’ is merely the ground of being that gives rise to all existence – or a benevolent force – or our conception of the greatest good … my faith wasn’t in vain.
The reality is that if I would be devastated that my conception of God turned out not to be true, I participate in my religion in a way that is not best for the world and my view. I need it too much.
This is the beauty of perhaps.
If I am unwilling to say ‘perhaps’ I will be too heavy handed, dogmatic, inflexible, and closed minded.
This comes up sometimes when people hear a new idea and are immediately resistant. I will ask them why they recoiled so strongly and they will often tell me about an experience they had. I acknowledge that they had that experience … my question is about how they interpreted that experience.
The problem comes when they need that exact interpretation to be true. They feel like you can’t move even one Jenga piece or the whole thing is in danger of coming down. At that point we simply are not free explore other ways of looking at it. Perhaps that will come down the road.
When I run this idea past my PhD friends I get to use fun phrases like epistemology, phenomenology and narrative frameworks.
Today I just want to put an idea out there:
If, god forbid, I were to lose my spouse and I could not go on … I am not free to participate in this relationship in ways that are best for the relationship.
So it is with religion. If I need my conception of God to be 100% true, then I am not free to be in my religious views the way that are most nourishing and helpful for my religion.