Are you a believer?
Honestly, those words are enough to strike fear into my heart. A friend sat down in her airline seat and greeted the person sitting next to her, who responded by asking “Are you a believer?”
(For the full audio version, click here.)
This is typically code for “Do you believe in Father God, that Jesus died for your sins, that women shouldn’t be pastors, being gay is a sin, there is only one right way to God (and they know what it is) and the Bible is the inerrant authoritative word of God for all time?”
My first instinct is to run. They are welcome to their views, but I prefer to avoid being told my way of understanding God is wrong. Of course, the safe thing to say (to avoid the discourse about giving your heart to Jesus so you won’t go to hell) is simply, “Why, yes, I am a believer. How nice of you to ask.”
Belief is a tricky thing, and I probably have more questions about it than answers:
How do we come to belief?
What do we believe?
Why do we believe?
What does it mean to believe?
What would it take to stop believing?
The book of Acts is full of stories about how the early church spread, and how people came to believe. The story we read yesterday was the infamous story of Saul’s conversion where, with a flash of light and the disembodied voice of Jesus, Saul is struck blind (a metaphor for people who couldn’t see the truth of Jesus). Saul is duly freaked out and repentant and spends the next three days fasting and praying. After which Ananias cures him, he is filled with the Holy Spirit, and baptized. And the rest, as they say, is history.
[Interestingly enough, Paul himself never talks about his conversion experience in his letters.]
So, the stories tell us that Paul believed because of this amazing conversion experience. Thomas and the other disciples believed because of personal mystical experiences with the Risen Christ. And many other people came to belief because of signs and wonders that the disciples or Jesus performed.
If I were to ask you why you believe, how would you respond? Do you believe because of an instantaneous conversion, like Saul/Paul? (If you’re curious, no one at worship yesterday claimed this to be the case.) Do you believe because you were brought up in the church? Do you believe because of personal mystical experiences? Or are you simply erring on the side of caution and considering belief to be an insurance policy just in case there is a God and afterlife?
Then my next question is what do you believe? If you were to write a personal credo what would it say? What do you believe about God? Jesus? The Holy Spirit? What is your relationship to these three? What does communion mean for you? Why do bad things happen? What happens after we die? How should we live? (Those should get you started!)
Perhaps you don’t know… and then I think the questions are worth sitting with. Part of the spiritual journey (I believe) is bringing to consciousness what you believe about your spirituality, and about the theology and doctrine in the religion you follow. Consciousness takes us out of the superficiality of just going to worship, or taking our kids to church because it is the “right” thing to do, or getting to know the pastor so you have someone to do your funeral. Consciousness is taking our spiritual journey seriously.
Our beliefs about the Divine and our spiritual lives are important because our words, actions and behaviors are an outgrowth of what we believe. If one believes that God is unconditionally loving and forgiving and that all people are of sacred worth, then their actions should be filled with love, compassion and forgiveness. If one believes in heaven and hell, then they may find themselves speculating about who around them is going where, or perhaps condemning certain people to that place of fiery torment.
I challenge you to write a personal credo (belief statement). But, please, do not simply recite the creeds. Write it in normal language and be specific. If you believe that Jesus died and was resurrected, fine, but what does that mean to you? Was he resuscitated? Was it metaphorical? Can you experience Jesus’ spirit today and how do you? If you believe God is unconditionally loving, what does that mean for you? Get it?
I encourage you to really think things through. You may not have all the answers, in fact, I hope you don’t. Our questions keep us growing. And it is best to remember that what you believe today, if you are intentional about your spiritual journey, will continue to change and evolve. I wrote my own personal credo about 8 years ago, and, while I still believe what I wrote then, the new one I wrote it much different. That’s a beautiful thing.