Step off the boat

There are, I think, two kinds of faith. There’s the kind of faith that intellectually assents to the doctrines of Christian theology, sometimes vociferously. It has a list of what is allowed and what is not allowed, gathering together vast amounts of doctrine to determine who is in and who is out. This kind of faith can be very passionate, very knowledgeable, very impressive. The questions this kind of faith asks includes lots of big words and heady thoughts, making it a place for young Christians to aspire towards and arrived Christians to gather together and look down upon the uninformed masses. This is the faith of the Pharisees. It’s a pretty substantial kind of faith and really common because there’s a lot of security found in this kind of faith. Everything can be put into nice categories and go according to plan. Laws and order can be sustained without upheaval and smart people can feel smart, loyal people can feel loyal, confused people can hide their confusion in the confidence of someone else’s rules. Life can be pursued with all sorts of handy compartments, with a religion piece, a family piece, a vocation piece, and a intellectual piece. It is the faith that loves checklists because even doubt has trouble being sustained when a check is made next to a clearly defined accomplishment. That’s a regular life and that’s a good religious kind of faith.

But there’s this other kind of faith. This messy, often goofy, seemingly immature faith. I call it Peter’s faith. Which is weird because in the Gospels Peter is shown more often to be the guy who doesn’t get it. He falls in the sea after trying to reach Jesus on the water. He denies Jesus three times. He and his friends keep asking the sorts of questions that make Sunday school students giggle because it’s obvious these disciples don’t get what Jesus is going on and on about. “Get behind me Satan,” Jesus tells Peter at one point.

Not exactly the obvious sign of a buoyant faith. But as I wrestle still with my own struggles and hopes and fears I’m getting a new appreciation for those disciples. The reality is that a person asks a lot more basic questions when survival is at stake than when everything is secure and safe. The Pharisees had a safe faith, which is likely why they were so put off by the bother Jesus created. They were free to ask deep questions and wander into philosophy and set up all sorts of increasingly complicated rules so as to feel the religious zeal of service to God. In that way religion a lot like sin or addiction. Requires more and more to get that same feeling of devotion and connection if the connection isn’t built on relationship.

Throw away the security and seek the relationship, however, and everything gets confusing. Questions about whether the Kingdom is coming soon, or whether Jesus really is the Christ or who is going to be seated where becomes more pressing when everything else is let go and there is utterly nothing else to depend on. Jesus becomes everything and because Jesus isn’t exactly forthcoming or fitting into our expectations it’s pretty natural to ask the sorts of questions that from the sidelines sounds pretty goofy.

In my present wrestling I’m realizing I’m asking all those sorts of goofy questions too, questions that seem to suggest a real gap between my faith and actions. I’m sinking beneath the waves, again, and feel the loss of my storm tossed faith. About three years ago I left everything, everything that made sense and everything that brought honor in this world to move to what can only be considered a curious situation, stepping off the boat to discover what Jesus was calling me towards.

I wanted to write. I wanted to embrace God’s fullness and peace, find the stillness and wholeness in the Spirit. In doing this I left behind friends and left behind making sense to a world which had different values. I left behind the faith of religion and order that insisted I act according to clearly defined liturgies. I even left church, feeling the grasping and constraints there was leading me towards a consumeristic zeal not a spiritual one. To fit in to so many churches isn’t about being Christ-like, not really. It’s about being a good, “normal”, person who is successful in business and at home, married at 24, kids at 26, nice job, nice paycheck, regular vacations, and time spent participating in the programs a church is willing to offer.

Like Peter and John and the rest I left behind the vocations that made sense in order to follow Christ, and in this following I found a desperation for theology which went beyond heady approval and became more about finding answers in my moment of desperation. “Lord, save me!” In letting go of all of that I walked towards Jesus and still do, constantly sinking beneath the waves.

“You of little faith,” Jesus says to me as well as to Peter, “why do you doubt?”

Which is why I appreciate the disciples more. Because they doubted. Because it’s clear they were yearning to find the hope fulfilled, the hope for which they left everything behind. It wasn’t clear to them yet, and wouldn’t be until after Pentecost. But they pressed on anyhow, even with their dumb questions and their doubt. I appreciate Peter because even though he didn’t get it all, and lacked faith, his lack of faith was still more substantial than the secured faith of the Pharisees.

Peter, I realize, may have stumbled in his faith and got tossed by the waves but he did so having stepped off the boat. No one else stepped off the boat. No one else put their faith to the test and risked the shame of showing how meager it was.

The faith of Peter is certainly corrected by Jesus, and Peter is again and again admonished for the questions he asks. But he stepped off that boat. In doing that his lack of faith is honored by Jesus as being something profound, more profound than the wisdom of those who trusted God from the sidelines. Peter lost faith while walking on water. The Pharisees kept their faith by never risking it. Peter’s little faith was significantly stronger than the Pharisee’s big faith, because it was tested on the sea.

God honored Peter and brought him to the place of hope and peace. That is the way of the Spirit. So I, gingerly, put my foot out on the water today, even after getting drenched again and again. For me that means writing and waiting for God to work through my writing, trusting that all I let go won’t be for waste or ruin but will be for joy and whole life.

This was written May 17, 2007

A couple years ago, Barclay Press invited me to do a two week daily journal for their website. They’ve since changed their online presence so those writings are gone. I was sorting out different files on my computer this evening and happened to run across them. So, I thought, I might as well repost them here. Both to have a record of them, and maybe more so, because this was written early in 2007. A fair bit of changes have happened in my life since then, so these are records of a time in my life when all I had was faith. I was writing a lot during these journaling times, and it’s curious what came out when I sat down to write. So, mostly for me, but also for anyone whose interested, I’m going to post one of these a day for the next couple of weeks or so.

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