I spoke with a good friend. Talking on the phone can often be a labor-some endeavor for me, but this call was good, a much-needed catch-up with someone I admire and respect.
We talked about many things; finding jobs, transitions, ministry and getting in it again. One of the things we got to talking about was something I'll call 'the young days.'
Certain times throughout my education in biblical studies, I pondered at the world of (Christian) academics, specifically my instructors. I remember having conversations with friends that, though I wanted to be educated and smart, I never wanted to loose that simplicity, that childlike glint in an innocent eye, that simplicity that I feared may had lifted from some of my beloved teachers.
My friend talked to me about his faith, and the holes he was punching in it. There were questions, like uncovered rocks, he was now turning over. "Faith and life used to be simple," he lamented. Simple was life before thinking, before analyzing, before experience.
I, too, remember. When I was 18, 19, all that mattered was that I loved Jesus and wanted to minister to the world. I had fire, and heart. Rawr!
The young days were when you saw in black and white. You experienced God's love in some real way and now you wanted to live the rest of your life pursuing that for others, or whatever version. That's what mattered. Life was simple. Doubt never lurked, ambiguity was too big a word and any other obstacle was minuscule and trivial.
But, time goes by. Then what happens? You grow up (hopefully). You learn. You experience.
Life isn't so cut-and-dry. You take in people, stories and suffering that don't fit well with a simple outlook. What seemed so right before, whether belief or practice, in retrospect, seems ignorant or juvenile. The beautiful simplicity of the young days is overcome by complexity, bringing a host of other dangers.
Some grow up and "realize" that those were the days. It's easy to want them back, or think you want them back. It seems natural, at least if you grew up in and/or regularly participate in American evangelicalism, to dismiss doubt, ambiguity, complexity, skepticism--an odd collection of trademarks for growing faith--as ills to be cured rather than gifts to be treasured; prizes of adulthood.
A friend told me once that it isn't until (roughly) the age of 25 that a person can hold things, two separate ideals or concepts, in tension. Additionally, this is when someone can see (better or, for some, very clearly) the gray amongst the once steady intake of black and white, wrong and right, sin and obedience. Eventually though, simplicity breaks down.
In a culture that worships the age of 21, the glory of the young and the dream of the old and fading, I want to encourage us along the maturity process, to open our arms to welcome things like doubt, complexity and skepticism as friends and companions, though once (or still) strangers. I'm advocating a faith that grows up. Here's my take:
This word means many things to many people. Essentially, and in modest terms, I am uncertain about my views on things, things that were, back in the day, easily-grasped and quickly-swallowed, things I didn't think twice on. Specifics? My view of Scripture, my view of Christianity and Christian practice, my view of world religions, my view of myself and my view of God for starters.
Growing-up-faith is one that doubts and a faith that doubts--oddly enough--actually opens you up to learn. What does certainty lack? The ability to hear, listen and learn.
I am a firm believer--and I may be wrong, but I doubt it; wink, wink--that nothing is simple. 2 + 2 is fairly straight forward... I'm moving on. Life seems simple when young and naive. But life rarely ends this way.
I don't know about you, but when the profound absurdity of life at all really sets into my bones, I remember again the unavoidable finitude that has seized me. Complexity brings humility, at least it does to me. Amidst the structures and politics, ethnic groups and classes, I find myself as small as ever in my skin and sometimes this is just what I need. I am not as great as I think I am. I am not the center of the universe. God is beyond my cognitive reach. Remembering I am small, reminds me of others and Jesus' command to love.
It's a blessing and a curse. I am a skeptic. I'll admit, way too often my thinking and over-analyzing gets in the way of just enjoying things as they are, which is exactly what is needed sometimes. But, skepticism--that symptom of adulthood--moves you beyond the routine, the normal, the typical. Skeptics call out the phony, the fake, the not-working mechanisms in our religious machinations and call and pray for a fresh take, an in-breaking of fire and wind. Give a skeptic some freedom and she will bust the molds of dead religion and offer a creative space for reflection and transformation.
Check this book out for Addison Hart's take on Christian skepticism, and its good.
Besides, practicing and enjoying our new friends joins us to the massive could of witnesses hovering over us, full of saints beckoning us to follow their example. So grow up. You're in good company.