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Where is Faith?

These words are from poet and essayist, Christian Wiman:

I think of belief as having objects. Faith doesn’t have objects. Faith is an orientation of your life or it’s an energy of your life…

I pondered this for a while and I find that I agree. The essence of faith really isn’t about faith in church, or a religion, or a set of beliefs, or even in someone… faith is a way we live our lives, it is an energy that moves outward from us into the world. At the end of the day it is not mere words, it is action.

So, this leaves us to ponder what the essence of faith feels like and looks like. When I asked this question in worship yesterday people answered that it is complete trust and confidence in something that is unknown, it is a peace inside, it is being able to see possibilities, and it is expressed in actions like compassion, justice, kindness and hope.

 In Luke 18:1 “Jesus told the disciples a parable on the necessity of praying always and not losing heart…”  And then, after a parable about a persistent widow, Luke 18:8 says, “But when the Promised One comes, will faith be found anywhere on earth?” This is an interesting frame for the parable and makes me wonder if faith isn't simply about not losing heart when the odds are against you (as it was for widows at that time). Faith is continuing to live in such a way that you exemplify trust in goodness, in better tomorrows, in our connectedness.

So, here’s a thought… Jesus didn’t ask if there would be any good Jews left when the Promised One came, and he certainly didn’t ask if there’d by any good Christians (because obviously there was no such religion, yet). He wanted to know if anyone would have faith.

If we limit faith to practicing religion, then we’d have to answer Jesus that things don’t look too good in the faith department... at least in the U.S.. and in Western Europe where religion is still on the decline. In fact, in the U.S.., the fastest growing “religious” designation is called the “nones.” They have no religious affiliation and don’t want any.

No, faith can’t be about just practicing religion. Does one really have faith if it is only paraded on Sunday mornings, or only heard in “I believe” statements, and not seen in the way a person behaves every day? I don't think so. Wiman suggests that “the way we know that our spiritual inclinations are valid is that they lead us out of ourselves.”

I think for Jesus, true faith was always about heart and action, not pompously spouting beliefs, laws, and prayers. It was about giving a coat to someone who didn’t have one, praying in private, visiting the prisoner, treating the widows kindly, welcoming the neighbor and the foreigner. Action.

The upcoming generation may not be going to church so much either because they are suspicious of its actions and doctrine, or because they haven’t grown up with it, but studies show that they still seek spiritual connection through helping others, caring for the earth, and advocating for social justice causes. Is this not a faith in something more, something better? Is this not living faith through the power of compassion as they seek to help heal society and the earth?

If faith is an action (not limited to attending church), then, to my surprise, I have to say that I believe it is alive and well  - despite what seems like a deplorable lack of decency in the world these days.

Shane Claiborne is a Christian activist and author who is a leading figure in the New Monasticism movement and one of the founding members of the non-profit organization, The Simple Way, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  In his interview with Krista Tippett he told a few stories of a new expression of faith, one that isn’t simply about attending worship.

He talked about a suburban family that is trying to live true to the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” So, for every biological child that they sent to college, they created a scholarship fund to ensure that an at-risk child could attend college. They got to know that family, interacted with them and helped make it happen.

He told about meeting a bunch of what he teenage girls (that he termed the "preppy, cheerleader" type) that took Mother Teresa’s comment, “Calcuttas are everywhere, if we only have eyes to see,” seriously. And so they looked around their neighborhood and found a nursing home. These girls went in and asked for all of the women who didn’t have any family or visitors, and they started to visit them and paint their fingernails and toenails and listen to their stories.

Another story he told was of a married couple who was unable to have children. One day they were walking through their neighborhood and they met a woman who had found herself homeless, and she was 6 months pregnant. They brought her back to their house determined to figure it out as they went along.The couple hit it off with this woman and she stayed with them while she had her baby. In fact, they got along so well that they continued to live together and raise the child. When Shane told this story to Krista Tippett they had lived together for 10 years, the woman who was homeless had become a nurse, and the woman of that married couple had MS and was dying, but coincidentally, she had a nurse living in her home helping to take care of her.

Here’s the bottom line… despite my occasional cynicism and jaded attitude (and I think Jesus had those moments of doubt as well, otherwise why even ask if, in the future, faith was going to be found anywhere)… with a broader definition I find that faith is alive and it is our job to keep it that way. To nurture our own faith means that, despite our doubts (or maybe because of them) we try to live faithfully by not losing heart, by expressing our faith through love, hope, kindness and compassion. To see faith in the possibilities that life will get better, that healing and wholeness can happen.

Love & Light!

Kaye