How Dynamic is Your Faith Statement S. Lansing Williams, August 25, 2019
Joining the Church, any church, should not be an impulse decision. When my daughter reached the age of 13 she embarked on her journey to Bat Mitzvah, becoming of age in her Jewish heritage. She spent a year working with the Cantor of her congregation learning the scriptures of the Torah, of the rich heritage of her mother’s family. She choose as her scripture to read what we know as Genesis 37:1–11, the story of Joseph and his dreams, and learned to read it from the Torah in Hebrew. Then, at her Bat Mitzvah ceremony, all her family, Jews and Christians alike, along with her friends, gathered to hear her accept her faith. I was very proud of her that day.
Much the same happens at PCC. We ask our youth to go through a year-long study process, during which they learn the beliefs of our faith, who and what God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are, and the meaning of the sacraments. They spend a weekend in Washington DC serving the homeless, seeing what it is to be homeless. They study what it means to be a member of a church, what is prayer. They study scripture. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, they prepare a written Faith Statement, describing their individual belief based largely on what they have studied and learned, and formally present that statement to the Elders of this church who listen, question them, and vote on their acceptance into the church. No pressure there at all!
I have had the privilege of listening to those statements and can hardly express my amazement at the passion and enthusiasm these youth present. One can see it in their eyes, in their gestures, hear it in their voices. It is truly an emotional experience for both the youth and the Elders.
Writing a statement is important. It requires us to think about what we are saying, making sure that each word accurately reflects what we really want to say.
I see a problem with this process. When we put words on paper, there is a tendency to think they have been engraved in stone, that what is written cannot change, no matter what. As we go through life, experience new things, find ourselves exposed to new ideas, we grow. Our Faith Statement MUST grow with us.
I have to be honest here, I do not remember my confirmation. Having grown up in a military family, much of my Sunday School, and indeed, church services were in interdenominational settings on an Air Force base. I was in High School when we moved off base, and began to attend the denomination of my mother, which was Methodist. I’m pretty sure that is the church I formally joined. If there was a formal confirmation process, I don’t remember it. I certainly didn’t write a Faith Statement. Fact of the matter is, I didn’t give much thought about what I really believed until I was almost 40 years old and going through my divorce. It was a rough time, my now ex-wife had done an excellent job trying to convince me that I was the most pathetic example of husbands, fathers, and providers that ever walked the face of the earth. It was while meeting with my minister (still Methodist), trying to get my head straight, that he recommended a book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, written by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, that my beliefs really began to take shape.
Here I need to emphasize that my personal faith is personal, my Faith Statement is just that, personal. Everyone else’s is probably different. The God I believe in is not necessarily the God anyone else believes in, and that’s all right. I respect that. Which is part of the reason why I respect all faiths, not just my own.
What do I believe?
If you have stood watch on a 40 foot sailboat, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the ocean, looking at the multitude of stars above, you will realize how insignificant you really are. It is truly an awe inspiring experience. Those stars we see are only a tiny portion of a huge universe whose boundaries we do not know. Our Earth is but one of how many planets circling around all those stars. All those stars, and the multitudes we can’t see, and their planets, are moving in an orderly predictable fashion, governed by some very complex rules. Those rules had to have come from a Supreme Being, who we call Our God.
Look at our Earth. How does it function? Again, there are rules in place that make it work, that allow life. We go for a walk in the woods, look at the trees, flowers, plants of all kinds. Every living thing begins as a single cell, which joins another cell, and together grow into many different life forms. Animals, all coming from the joining of two very tiny cells, cells containing DNA, different combinations of DNA, that dictate everything about us. Why is my skin this shade of white, my eyes blue, hair brown (well it used to be brown), my height what it is, and the person standing next to me completely different? It’s all in that strand of DNA, a strand created by God.
I believe my GOD, the creator of all these rules, is a kind, merciful God, who does not intentionally inflict pain or suffering on any of His children, His creation. And here is where many of us may differ. You may very well ask, if God does not intentionally inflict pain or suffering, how do I explain hurricanes that devastate property and lives. How do I explain earthquakes, or disease? The taking of a young mother or father, mass shootings? Very good questions, to which I go back to my basic belief, God created our world, and life itself. Once created, God can not change the laws governing the systems He set in place. If He were to make an exception for one person, then wouldn’t He have to make an “exception” for everyone? He can not show favoritism. But he does grieve with us, comfort us, and give us strength to carry on, and hopefully, change what we see as wrong.
As I’ve said, our earth is a very complex thing. In order for it to function, everything must work together. And in working together, energy is formed. What is a hurricane? It is a release of energy. It disburses energy pulled from the sea and atmosphere. Think about it. What would happen to the earth if all that energy were allowed to build up and accumulate, with no place to go. Eventually, I believe, it would reach a point that it could no longer be contained, and the entire globe would explode.
God does not cause hurricanes, they are His built in safety valve which prevents the planet, His creation, from exploding. I believe God regrets the havoc, destruction, and yes, loss of life caused by hurricanes. When it happens, and if we allow Him, He is there to comfort the victims, bring relief to them through the efforts of others, for instance our Presbyterian Disaster Fund and our contributions to it. He has also given us the way to reduce that havoc. He has given us forecasting techniques which are becoming more accurate every year, telling us where the impact will be and when, if only we choose to not build homes on the edge of the beaches, if we would evacuate when told of a storm’s imminent arrival. If we work to reduce the effects of some, even if not all the cause, global warming. If only we choose to.
Yes, sometimes something goes amiss, a cell is damaged, there is sickness, a life is lost. God allows us, His children, to make choices, mostly good, and as we see almost every day, some bad. Again, He can not make exceptions to the governing rules He has created. And He grieves with the victims. Please do not misinterpret me, I am as sickened by some of what is happening in our world, our country, as all of you are. I remind you that we are allowed to make our choices. We are allowed to ask Him for guidance through prayer, then we must listen for His response, and follow it, even if it may not be what we think we want to hear. Let our choices be to work our hardest to correct the wrongs we see around us.
Which brings us to my title, How Dynamic is Your Faith Statement.
18 or so years ago, Sue and I went to the annual change of watch dinner/dance of the yacht club the skipper of the sailboat we raced on belonged to. One of our crew, a single mother with a teenage son and daughter, was late. When she arrived, she told us that she had spent the afternoon at the emergency room, her son had smashed a finger working on a project. As it happened, she had lost her father several months before. Her father was her son’s idol, and her son was, understandably distraught at the loss. He told his mother that he was having trouble believing in a God who would let such a good man die. If there really was a God, he needed a sign to convince him. Her father had lost a finger in an accident many years before. On the way home from the hospital, her son announced that he had his sign. Mom asked him what was he talking about. Her son held up his splinted finger, and told her, this is Granddad’s missing finger, it’s my sign, there is a God.
What a story! Heart-warming to say the least. The entire crew thought that was REALLY NEAT! We all felt good about it.
But then I started thinking. My God, is a loving God, who does not cause pain or suffering. He does not make exceptions. My God comforts. Here, clearly, God saw an accident, and used the accident to bring comfort to a young man in pain at the loss of someone he loved.
BUT WAIT! If you think about it, a smashed finger, in the grand scheme of things, is really nothing, it’s lost in the noise level. Could God have seen that young man working on his project, and saw an opportunity to bring about the sign? Could God have put the thought in the boy’s mind that afternoon, to work on the project, caused a tiny twitch in aim in order to bring about the smashed finger? That is not what I believed. But yet? It isn’t unreasonable is it?
I thought about that for days, eventually reaching my conclusion, Faith Statement in place. Then a few months later, I began to think about it again. And again. And again. Each time, reaching a conclusion, at least until the next time. This has been going on for 18 years.
It is important that we keep our Faith dynamic, that as we travel through our lives, we observe, and when our Faith is challenged, we don’t just reject anything we think we don’t believe, but ask ourselves, ask God, how, and why did that happen. Is it my understanding that needs a tweek? And if so, how. When I talked to one of our adult faith partners working with our confirmands, she told me that she has her written Faith Statement on her computer, and constantly finds herself going back to revise it, to adjust it as a result of an experience, or something a confirmand said. So it should be for each of us.
I now ask you, How dynamic is YOUR Faith Statement? Is it set in stone, or do you allow it to grow?