|Photo by the author|
If you think of faith as being about belief, then imperviousness to evidence is a bit of a problem. I don’t think any belief is impervious to evidence. Every belief is subject to revision. That’s a fundamental tenet of liberal religion. When Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams described "the five smooth stones of liberalism," the first stone, he said, is:
"Revelation is continuous. Meaning has not been finally captured. Nothing is complete, and thus nothing is exempt from criticism."No belief can be complete and exempt from criticism. Every belief is open to critique and modification.
So unshakeable faith can’t be about believing something. Instead, it’s about an attitude of openness to whatever life may throw at you. “Bring it. Bring it all,” is a faith-full affirmation, but it is not a truth claim, not a statement, true or false, not a belief, supported or undermined by evidence. It’s an attitude. It’s an orientation of radical hospitality toward whatever may come. It’s living fearlessly.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you don’t take action to address problems. Acceptance does not mean complacency. It means you do the work that needs doing. And let go of attachment to results.
On 2014 Sep 21, I was wearing my yellow shirt and marching in the People’s Climate March. Maybe that march will turn out to be a tipping point event in a massive, global shift. Such shifts have happened in the history of humankind. Maybe it had have no effect whatsoever. Either way, I went.
Strategize carefully about how to do good. Work diligently to carry out the strategy – then let go. Put your best work out into the world, and then let the world make of it what it will.
Faith is about acting here and now without knowing what effect, if any, the action will have. It’s about what the poet John Keats called “negative capability” – the capacity not to insist on a determinate knowable meaning. Keats was talking about determinate knowable meaning of a text, like a poem. The same point applies to not insisting on a determinate knowable meaning of your own actions.
Faith is about doing what you are called to do – what your most authentic, integrated Self most needs to do – not to make the world over in your image, but only to be who you are. Faith is about being courageous, joining the resistance with your heart and your breath and your love and your being, and being comfortable not knowing what will come of it. It’s about listening deeply, speaking truth, then letting go.
Any other kind of faith or hope is really another name for fear. What commonly go by the names “faith” and “hope” – faith in a particular outcome or hope for a specific result – is nonacceptance. It is fear of the world as it is, or the world as you are afraid it may become.
A hero of mine is A.J. Muste, a lifelong activist. Muste protested the Vietnam War outside the White House, day after day, usually alone, sometimes in the rain. One day Muste was approached a reporter. “Do you really think you’re going to change those people?” asked the reporter indicating toward the White House.
“I don’t do it to change them,” replied Muste. “I do it so they won’t change me.”
It’s not that Muste, or I, don’t want to be changed. It’s just that we want to resist the forces that would keep us from our calling, that would occlude the compassion from flowing out from us to what end we cannot see and do not control.
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This is part 3 of 4 of "Faith Like a Chalice"
Next: Part 4: Continuous Gift-Giving
Previous: Part 2: Defining "Faith".
Beginning: Part 1: The Center