What's Tony Thinking

The Upside of Being Upended


“Doubt” was the topic of this week’s webinar session with Chris Green. Here’s the link to the video if you want to watch or listen.

I’d say Chris’s main theme was that getting your cage rattled is — at least sometimes — a good thing, a God-thing, and a sure sign of Jesus’ presence. We can be too sure, too confident that we know how the world works, how God works, and that we are the one’s in the know.

“How blessed,” one might say, “are the perplexed, the troubled, the confused.” Hey, wait a minute, we’ve heard that before . . . “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

“Discipleship,” wrote Chris in the essay under discussion this week, “names a continual process of unlearning.” I like that. To me it sounds very Buddhist, as in getting the illusions we live by shattered, revealed for what they are . . . illusions. That can be painful process, but pain unto healing and wisdom.

I have been struck in this series on Chris’s book Being Transfigured how perhaps all of us, seemingly for much (all?) of our lives, are working out and on the stuff we experienced in our upbringing, both religious and otherwise. In this, there are two extremes — stuck places — beyond which some never move. One extreme is unquestioning obedience/ adherence. The other extreme is a wholesale rejection, a reactive posture to one’s particular background. Somewhere between those two is health and sanity.

Chris Green, a brilliant theologian who is very widely read and thus brings to the conversation a wide range of sources and material, was raised in the Pentecostal tradition. He was, in some ways, blessed by the richness and particularities of that tradition. But a lot of his perspective is also borne of pushing back on what he was taught and told within that fold. So for Green now, Christianity isn’t so much about the sure and too easy answers as it is about the experience of being disoriented unto deeper knowing. And sometimes just admitting that Jesus is beyond us, that we don’t “get” him. Here Chris stresses that neither the Bible nor Jesus are easy to get, nor are they intended to be.

My own background is very different than Green’s. I was raised in the liberal church, where questioning was okay. As Green was blessed by his Pentecostal womb, so my liberal one blessed me in many ways. But a lot of my theological work/ struggles have involved pushing back against my own more liberal inheritance, which saw Jesus as a teacher and moral example, but definitely not as a Savior. Who needed saving? Not us. We just needed to do more, serve more, love more. But that becomes oppressive in its own way, as I wrote recently elsewhere. It becomes all about what we must feel, think and do, and not enough about what God has done, is doing and has promised.

I guess every tradition, whether conservative or liberal, has its legalistic side.

But back to doubt . . . in conventional thought and talk faith is often pitted against doubt, as in “doubting Thomas,” and more. And in some churches doubt is a very bad thing, a terrible sin. Any doubts and you’re out or at least you feel very uneasy.

I’ve tended to see doubt as part of faith. Part of the deal. For me faith’s opposite is not so much doubt, as fear, or even death. Faith, to me, is trust and life, being alive, being confident (con = with, fide = faith) though confident in a hopeful, rather than overbearing, way.

Closing note, I’m just back from two days of skiing at White Pass Ski Area, which is south of Mt. Rainier and north of the Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams. Great skiing. Lots of long blue (intermediate) runs. The first photo, above, is looking north to Mt. Rainier. It also shows the expansiveness of the bowls and runs at White Pass. The second photo looks south toward the Goat Rocks Wilderness area, where I’ve backpacked a couple times. Gorgeous.

My host at White Pass asked that I “tell no one.” Like what Jesus said to the disciples after the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. Sorry, promise no further mentions . . . except this: lift tickets for children and those 73 and older are $5. Okay, now mum’s the word.

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