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Questions and Faith

Over the weekend I received a call from a friend of mine back in Arkansas.  I hadn’t talked to him in awhile so it was great to hear from him and we talked for over an hour.  We have always had an interesting relationship because while I have always “had” faith, he hasn’t.  In high school and into our early twenties he was an agnostic and would tell me about his desire for faith, he just had a lot of questions.  After a lot of prayer and a lot of conversations over a couple of years and his girlfriend’s persistence, he finally started attending church.  It is amazing and beautiful to see how far he has come in his journey.  He is at a point where he believes in God and enjoys going to church.  The problem is he is afraid that many at his church resent him.  You see, there is something special about him…he asks questions!  He doesn’t take churchy answers for granted and won’t accept the easy answers and I pray that never changes.  What is sad is that the church (most modern churches) is not a place where he is welcomed to explore his questions, and that is tragic.  What safer place should there be?  Especially when it comes to questions about God.  Anyways the conversation made me think of a paper I wrote in college about interpretation (hermeneutics) and discipleship, so here are a couple paragraphs of it:

(Jacques) Derrida also warns about the dangers of exhausting a text.  In his interview with Evelyne Grossman he states “Imagine that someone claimed to have said everything that needed to be said on the subject of this poem or that line of Celan, that someone claimed to have exhausted the subject.  That would be terrifying; it would be the destruction of the poem.”  Does this not ring true of the state of Christianity today?  Has the text not in some way been exhausted?  Is this why (G.K.) Chesterton complains that Christianity has some how lost its wonder?  Take for instance a child growing up in Sunday School.  The modern church structure is one of “yes, but” discipleship that stifles creativity and individuality.  Rather than empowering people in a way that will allow them to grow spiritually on their own or from each other, the current system makes them look only to a pastor, priest, or Sunday school teacher for guidance (or answers).  Such a system seems to work to cultivate a spiritual life in a child or an adolescent; however, this becomes problematic when they become young adults and enter the university.  On the one hand the student has professors that encourage critical thinking, something that the Church never encouraged when it came to faith, while at the same time the student no longer has the spiritual guidance of their former pastor or priest.  This more than anything else is the reason why many conservatives fear the so called “liberal” agenda of American universities.  It is not because the student is being force fed liberal values, but the students are learning ways of becoming independent and begin to question these former institutions that in a sense suppressed their intellectual faculty.

This circles back to Chesterton’s need for both a feeling of security and wonder.  On page 166 Derrida simplifies the way in which he reads a poem, “Here is what I believe on can reconstitute, what that could mean, why it is captivating and beautiful and strong, while leaving the unsaid intact, inaudible.  That will, moreover, authorize other readings.”  If the Church would instead teach the Bible in just such a way then they will have the opportunity to still guide participants in a “sound” or “good” theology, but at the same time empower them and give them the freedom to figure out for themselves what the “unsaid intact, inaudible” is.  This, I think, will create a faith or spirituality that can survive and contribute to the life of an individual because it is his/her own personal faith, rather than something that was fed to them in a building with a steeple.  So in this sense Derrida’s form of postmodern hermeneutics offers religion, specifically Christianity, a way to rekindle wonder back into the tradition and empower the people which it serves.

All of this is to say that Church should be a safe place.  A place where people can come with questions and find a warm, loving environment in which to explore faith and Jesus.  We should never be afraid of questions and never offer shallow answers to deep questions.  Rather than love that conveys a level of disrespect both ways.

My prayer is that my friend will never stop asking questions and never accept the easy answers.  I hope he wrestles with faith and in doing so fall ever deeper in love with God.  I believe that God is pursuing him and that he is much closer than he thinks to finding Him.

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The World is Gone…

I was looking through some of my books in college and found Soveriegnties in Question: The Poetics of Paul Celan, by Jacques Derrida. I don’t remember what class this book was used for (maybe Contemporary Religious Thought?), but I remember not being able to read it very well! In the book Derrida tries to interpret, or struggle, with the meaning of Celan’s poems (a man who himself is hard to read). There is one section that we read that I found very interesting and always seem to pick up the book to read it again. The chapter deals with a conversation between Derrida and Gadamer, but it is the Celan poem that I find so interesting. The last line of the poem, carrying the charge of the poem, reads, “The world is gone, I must carry you.” I have always found this line fascinating and it obviously speaks of a relationship.  But who is the I and who is the other?  I often ponder what it means when viewed in the context of my relationship with Jesus.  It very much seems to speak of a relationship of deep love and devotion, what greater relationship is there?  So who is the I and who is the Other in the line?  I think the line can be interpreted both ways, the I is me and the Other is Jesus and vice versa.

The first interpretation seems negative at first glance. It seems to suggest that Jesus is powerless and without his followers or the church He would simply cease to exist in this world (although there is still the Holy Spirit, so He would still have a presence in the world). I don’t think that is what the line means at all. Rather it should be interpreted through a hermeneutic of love instead of power. It is not necessarily that the world is gone, or the world of the Other, but my world is gone, turned upside down, forever changed. The world is gone, I must carry you because what you did for me. As Derrida writes, “as soon as I speak to you and am responsible for you, or before you, there can be no longer, essentially, be any world.” He continues, “I am alone with you, alone to you alone; we are alone: this declaration is also an engagement.” So rather than a relationship of power, where only one is vulnerable, it is one of love, where both are vulnerable. Did Jesus not make himself vulnerable when he entrusted His message to us, the fallen humans that we are? But does that not make Him that much more beautiful? His love for us that much more beautiful? “To bear this poem is to put oneself within its grasp, to put it within the other’s grasp, to give it to the other to bear.” To accept Jesus’ love is to put oneself within His grasp, but He is also putting himself within ours’, entrusting us to carry out His message, His love, and Himself to the world.

The second interpretation is also beautiful. It is truly one of salvation – the world is fallen (gone), so I will carry you. It becomes a picture of divine love. His love compelled him to carry us through, to be with us. Our response can only be this: “I only believe in Jesus Messiah; I am carried away and enraptured in him, in such a way that ‘I do not live, but the Messiah lives in me'” (from Giorgio Agamben’s The Time That Remains).

I do not think that either interpretation is very different from the other. Both, I think, when interpreted with love, show a beautiful relationship between a fallen creation and a loving God. A sublime picture of reckless abandon for each other.

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