Sunday, October 20, 2013

Giving Permission

exploring wilderness trails

One of my goals in writing a daily blog is to explore anew the meaning of some "tried and true" religious teachings ("tried and true" often translates into "tired and old.") 

From time to time I have explored the meaning of some very traditional religious language -  sin, faith, hope, church, morality. I have even attempted to explore the very meaning of the word "God," always asking the question:  "What do these words and teachings really mean?"

Yesterday I had a very poignant response to my post. A young woman wrote to me. She told me that she had grown up in a traditional church, every week, attending church and Sunday school. However, now she had come to the point where everything about church and religion no longer made any sense to her and so she left church and religion behind. It was a period of her childhood, no longer applicable to her life as an adult.  

She went on to thank me for what I had been writing in my blog posts, saying that they have helped her to re-imagine some of the "tried and true" (old and tired) teachings of her religious past. In particular she thanked me for giving her permission to ask questions about faith and religion.

Interestingly enough, this is not the first time someone has expressed their gratitude for "permission" to ask the questions. In fact, I get that kind of response often.  People are grateful for "permission" to ask questions, and I think this speaks volumes about the way people think about religion. 

Many people who have grown up in an established religious institution are convinced that the church, simply put, is not a place for asking questions.  Religion is supposed to provide answers about life- answers about who God is, answers about how to believe, answers about how to act, answers about what happens when you die.   So,  if and when you get to a point where these answers no longer hold any sway over you, the only possible solution is to walk away from the establishment and explore other options for pursuing a spiritual course.

In my conversation with this young woman yesterday, I told her that I not only hoped she would continue  to "ask" the questions, but I hope she would learn how to "love" the questions. I hope her journey of faith would be a continual, life-long exploration -  a constant journey of imaging, re-imaging and re-appropriating "ever ancient concepts" so that they can become "ever new."

The poet, Rainer Maria Rilke once advised a young man who had many questions about life:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is,  to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Institutional establishments of every ilk today are undergoing extreme transformation - medicine, government, education. But perhaps the institution undergoing the most earth-shatterng transformation of all is the church - especially in Western cultures.  There has been and there will continue to be a steady decline in church membership (especially among younger people), a decline that will have profound implications for the life of the church over the next decade. As I see it, anyone who sits back and says all is "alive and well" is like "Nero fiddling while Rome is burning."

Institutions in general, and established religions in particular, can no longer remain a place where you go to get the "tried and true," (old and tired) "answers." The church must become the place where you go to ask the questions. 

Now is the time to give one another permission to embrace the questions, to love the questions, and to live into the questions. 

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