on moving mountains and other irrationalities.
Faith is absurd, when one stops to ponder what it is exatcly that is supposed to comprise the fabric of our belief system. There is nothing about faith that can be reasoned out, quantized, measured. There isn’t a step-by-step program on how to gain faith. For me, this has been one of the hardest concepts about Christianity to wrap my mind around. I think that’s true for a lot of people, especially in this time and place, yet we use the word so often. We talk about our faith in other people, faith in God, faith in our car working on a cold morning. We have our bumper sticker slogans (GOT FAITH?) and we speak of faith that can move mountains when it’s the size of mustard seeds. What on earth are we talking about?
I was on my way to Nashville for a birthday present to myself in mid-February. i was going to see the Phillip Glass Ensemble perform and retrospective of Glass’ works, the earliest coming from 1973 or so. Glass is the most notable figure in minimalist classical music, and probably one of the most important composers of the last 100 years, which is like saying he was the biggest ska band in 1998. Regardless, my friend Timbre and I were incredibly excited to see him. Phillip Glass is to me what Billy Corgan was to kids in the nineties, or the guy from My Chemical Romance might be to kids today, and no matter the cost, I was going to make this journey to witness a once in a lifetime concert. Being low on money, which come to think of it has been the case ALWAYS, I decided to stop in Atlanta to stay with some friends I had gotten to know pretty well last year while on tour with my band at the time. The true joy of being in a band and touring was meeting incredible people everywhere, and forming fast friendships. I still consider many of those people I met on the road as some of my closest friends. The guys in O’Brother are no exception, and as luck would have it, they were playing a show in their hometown just outside of Atlanta the night before I was to be in Nashville. I called them before I left, and they were thrilled to be get the chance to hang out, as we had not seen each other in five months or so. Just about the time I arrived at their home in ATL we packed and headed to the venue.
Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret about being in a band. There is A LOT of time spent waiting around. Loading in, setting up, backlining everyone’s equipment, checking the equipment, tuning, soundchecking, letting other bands soundcheck, waiting for the doors to open, and so on. That’s just when you actually get to the venue. before the show while waiting for a local power pop band to set up, Spencer and I decided to grab a bite to eat. This gave us a great chance to catch up and kill time before the show. it also gave me a chance to talk to Spencer about something he had informed me of by phone a couple weeks prior. He had made the decision to not be a christian. at first this had worried me, but I had told him that as long as he had really considered his choice, REALLY thought about it, I was okay with it. I’m not on this earth to judge anyone, you know. I’ll probably talk about that later.
So ANYWAY, I was excited to spend time with Spencer, mostly because I love his company, but also to make sure he was really searching for answers, and that he hadn’t just given up on God. Inevitably, the conversation turned towards faith, and he explained his reasons for not committing himself to it anymore. I won’t really go into the details here, but it led us to a larger topic of what faith was. Both Spencer and I had grown up in the church, surrounded by these buzzwords and fed every christian cliché in the book. i think there comes a point in every person’s life when they need to examine all the snappy one-liners they’ve been fed, sift through it and decide what they really believe, as opposed to what has been decided for them, whether by family or friends or whomever. What you believe isn’t an ethnicity, you can’t just inherit truth. We started talking about some of the silly analogies that we had fed to us when we were younger, and how much damage many of those little things can cause. Spencer brought up a demonstration a youth pastor had used at a show they had played recently, where he asked a volunteer to hold a cinder block in each hand, so that they weighted him down until he could hardly move properly. He told the crowd that these cinder blocks were all the bad things in your life, and how Jesus comes along and makes all those things disappear. Which is true, to a certain extent, until the youth pastor used the words “sin” and “problems” interchangeably. So the message became about how a relationship with Christ will make your life problem-free and and easy. Well, isn’t that cute. And completely untrue. I think that the Christian life is HARDER, if anything. The reality is that there will always be problems in your life, on two separate plans of existence; physical and spiritual/metaphysical. The Bible tells us Christ gives us “a life more abundant”, which means that our ups will be upper, and our downs will be downer. Show me a man without trouble in his life, and I”ll check his pulse.
One analogy that we had both come across, time and time again, was how faith is like our interactions with electricity or wind. You can’t see either, but you know they are all around you, when you turn on a light in your apartment, or stand on the beach and get sand blown in your hair. When I first heard that parallel, I got really excited. One more tool to argue my point, I thought. I wanted to stock up my arsenal of clever quips to prove to kids at school that I wasn’t a raving lunatic. But it was not until I read Fear and Trembling by the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard a few months ago that I was able to understand what faith REALLY is. Soren (can I be on a first name basis with a guy who’s been dead for 150 years?) explains that there are two ways to acknowledge God. The first, where he says so many people get stuck, is what he calls “divine resignation”. This is what that analogy really speaks of. It’s true we can’t see electricity or wind, but we know they are there because we see the logical ends to the means. We all know the laws of physics that govern this world, and electricity and wind are subject to them just as much as we are. I know when I turn on my stove that electricity will be generated at a power plant, channel into my wall socket, and power the coils. I can tell you for a fact that the rotation of the moon around the Earth causes the oceans to wiggle and the air to swirl around the globe. We have topographical maps to prove it. But there is nothing in the physical world that directly proves the existence of and omniscient God who loves me and cares for me and wants a relationship with me that is so personal that it makes my deepest love for another person pale in comparison. Sure, we can say that bugs, leaves, pelicans, amoebas, existence proves that there must be a God, but decades of argument with science show that to be a difficult sell. We can point to miraculous headings as prove there is a God, but then again these are explained away by everyone else as hoaxes or the ability of the human mind over matter; there’s an article in Newsweek every other week about human potential.
This is where true faith comes in. Soren says, quite simply, that faith is the belief in the absurd. It’s not something we can justify by science; there is not logic map that will show how we arrived at this conclusion. There is no basis in the things we can detect with our senses that will explain that there is the Father God that the Bible tells us exists. Did you know that bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly? Scientists haven’t figured out how its physically possible yet. When I was in high school, I loved that concept. I was obsessed with proving God by science or logic or math, anything I could put in my hands. I had that naive foundation that every semi-nerdy eleventh grader has that I would be the one to make a discovery that big. But that line of thought only carried me so far. Don’t get me wrong, all these things DO point to a God, but it is that leap of faith that gains us the true acknowledgment of a REAL God, a PERSONAL God that loves us and likes us and wants to be an integral part of our lives.
In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, my personal favorite of the trilogy, Harrison Ford has to take on three challenges to arrive at the final resting place of the Holy Grail. The last one is a bottomless chasm that he can’t jump over, and there seems to be no possible way to cross it. All his father’s notes tell him is that he must take a leap of faith. It’s a literal translation, but it works. Indiana has no reason to believe that walking of the edge of the cliff will bring him to the other side, yet he makes that movement of faith anyway. This is where so many of us just stand at the edge and stare at the other side. We want what we can glimpse through the haze that exists just beyond our grasp, but we can’t muster up the courage to take that step. I know this intimately, because I deal with this about ten times a day. It is so hard to let go of our comfortable little ledge, everything we can see and hear and smell and touch, and put our toes out into the abyss, not knowing what awaits our footfall.
Father God, teach me to move beyond my senses, to fall into my faith, which brings me ever closer to You.