Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Faith's Indispensable Twin

O gracious and holy One ... deepen our gratitude into openness to new learning, our learning into courageous living, our living into accurate loving of you in each person we meet, each challenge we face, each gift we receive, each disappointment we endure, each sacrifice we make, each joy we experience, each breath that we draw, each chance that we take; through Jesus our Lord and brother. Amen
Excerpted from Loaves, Fishes and Leftovers: Sharing Faith's Deep Questions.

Let me get right to it: faith takes courage. The two are inseparable. It might seem that courage doesn't take faith but it does, perhaps not in a typical religious sense but in the sense that there's a purpose in it, a conviction that something, some goal or value or vision, is worth the courage it takes to live by and toward it, no matter what the odds. The point is that is faith, whether we define it as religious or not.

But the rest of the point is that without courage faith is neither religious nor does it matter much. Why? Because, as Adam Gopnik says in an article on Vincent van Gogh in the January 4, 2010 edition of The New Yorker, "Courage (is) the one essential virtue on which all others depend ..." Now, I do not consider faith a virtue as much as it is a process, a quality of life, a way of becoming who we really are if we are to become fully human. But faith does involve characteristics that in some way could be defined as virtues, such as compassion, justice, humility, empathy, forgiveness, truthfulness, all of which take courage to live out, embody, stand for, no matter what the odds.

In his novel, All the Pretty Horses, one of my favorite authors, Cormac McCarthy, has a young man in tough circumstances put it this way: "That night I thought long and not without despair what must become of me. I wanted very much to be a person of value and I had to ask myself how this could be possible if there were not something like a soul or like a spirit that is in the life of a person and which could endure any misfortune or disfigurement and yet be no less for it. If one were to be a person of value that value could not be a condition subject to the hazards of fortune. It had to be a quality that could not change. No matter what ... I knew that what I was seeking to discover was a thing I'd always known. That all courage was a form of constancy. That it was always him/(her)self that the coward abandoned first. After this all other betrayals came easily. I knew that courage came with less struggle for some than for others but I believed that anyone who desired it could have it. That desire was the thing itself."

That way of seeing it makes as clear as anything I can say why, to me, faith's indispensable twin
is courage. I hold that to be especially true of religious faith, particularly the Christian faith which is not limited to the church. I believe that our value, our soul, our spirit, is not something we achieve but is something given to each and all of us by our Creator. To live by that constancy takes courage because without courage that faith is shallow, just a vacuous, feel good betrayal of anything that could be meant by compassion, or justice, or empathy, or being fully human. Without courage, faith, religion itself, becomes conformity with a smile and pretty vestments and avoidance of controversy and irrelevant. Okay, enough with this rant.

The thing is, the truth is, that courage is a struggle but anyone can have it if they desire to, if they are willing to risk it, dare to be different, to trust the value he or she has by being in this world and to endure the difficulties and disappointments, and yet the satisfactions, the fulfillments, the fun, the joy of it. In the next post I want to apply my point to some specific issues we are all facing in our society and world.

But let me end by quoting Gopnik who wrote about van Gogh and his relationship to another artist he lived with, Paul Gauguin. Gopnik compared them and their work this way: "When you see a Gauguin, you think, 'This man is living in a dream world.' When you see a van Gogh, you think, 'This dream world is living in a man.'" Put aside Gopnik's choice of the word, "dream" and instead think of "vision," as if a vision of a different reality or dimension of life which faith is about. And then put yourself in Gopnik's comparison. Is your "faith" like living in a dream world of comforting but empty images and practices, primarily concerned with surface appearances, primarily or exclusively a matter of self- promotion and self protection? Or is it about something living in you, a soul, a spirit, a value that requires courage to make real in the world, and for those who share that world with you?

Think about it with me. Ted

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