“How is John Caputo using Martin Heidegger’s hermeneutical ‘as’ to compare Paul’s understanding of grace in Romans with Jacques’ Derrida’s use of ‘chance’ in order to interpret Augustine’s ‘Confessions’?”
Or some such question would be asked in my Religion courses in undergrad. I always dreaded these questions; I had read the material, taken notes, paid attention in class, worked diligently on my papers, but was very reluctant to speak up in class; I thought I might give the answer wrong. I knew there were others in the class who were much more eager to answer such a question and were better versed in post-modern theology and on this particular day in class, the exercise of deconstruction. I was no expert. I was also very shy throughout much of high school and undergrad; I would get nervous and my voice would waver when I would finally get the courage to respond. I had a complex, an inferior one at that; always thinking I didn’t quite belong in the spaces I found myself in.
Now before you begin scratching your head (or continue scratching your head) over the question posed to begin this piece, relax. That was just an entry into this blog post; you’re not expected to know or even be the slightest bit interested in that question or impressed that I know what any of those concepts or their authors might have been getting at (but if you do know, will you please reach out to me and enlighten me?) The point is that I think most of us have found ourselves in situations like the one I am describing: We find ourselves in a context where we belong, yet for some reason we don’t quite feel equipped to participate fully in that space; we don’t feel confident. Instead we’re more comfortable sitting back and observing, taking notes, perhaps discussing the ideas or things we’ve seen with a trusted confidant afterwards, but rarely within the initial group; there’s always someone else who is understood to be “the expert”, let them answer the question we reason, I might get it wrong. But Formation is not about “right answers”. Formation is always about how you understand your faith in world we live in; faith is a verb and an active one at that.
Recently someone asked me a question about a prayer that comes from our service of Compline in the Book of Common Prayer. In that service we pray at the close of day the following words: “Guard us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.” The question was something to the effect of, “What does that mean, to watch with Christ?” Now, I’m sure there is an answer out there of precisely what that phrase is intended to mean, but it’s lost on me and of course unknown to the person asking the question. So I, following the example of a guy I know, Jesus of Nazareth, responded to the question with a question of my own: “What might that phrase mean to you?” This led to a conversation about the second coming of Christ, of bearing witness to suffering in the world (our own and others), and of being present to the people we find ourselves with. There very well may be a wrong answer, but it seems there are any number of correct interpretations and responses as well. How do these words or any other words of our faith invite a response from you?
There will always be people around us in Sunday Christian formation offerings or in our families or social groups that we judge to be smarter, more faithful, more righteous, more “religious” than ourselves, but the invitation remains: How do you find yourself articulating and expressing your faith in this world? How do you respond to God’s Word in our scriptures? How do you make sense of Jesus living and dying for this world? We can look to others to help inform our thoughts and responses, but we are always asked to look to ourselves first. You, dear brother or sister in Christ, have the light of Christ in you. How do you make sense of that? How do you live that out in the world? How do you share that with others? We have a faith we are to be confident in, you have a faith you are to be confident in, share it, express it, and rejoice in it. It is yours and it is a gift to be shared.
If I learned anything in my undergraduate courses, the most important learning was not related to how much of the material I could regurgitate or convince others that mine was the right answer. The most important thing to learn from those years to be carried with me the rest of my life was to learn how to express myself, my thoughts, my values in the world; informed thoughts for sure, but my thoughts nonetheless. How much more so in our faith? It is a shared, communal faith that informs our faith, that informs your faith, but it remains your faith. How do you express that? How do you add your voice to the many that make up this diverse body of Christ and how do we as the Church invite and ensure that all voices are heard in our midst? Inviting all to share their journey with Christ, not worrying if we’re right or wrong, but being confident in our faith, sharing it with others, living our lives through that lens and giving thanks to God for all the changes and chances of this life that we understand as God’s abundant grace.
I give thanks for each of your voices and faith journeys. I pray each of you finds the confidence to share that faith boldly and without shame. I pray each day for the strength to follow your example and for the strength to continue my journey with Jesus.