You are Fraud; You are Family

There is a universal secret, a uniform truth so many of us tuck between the religious things we read from notecards. (Secrets, secrets they’re no fun; they seem to weigh a metric ton.) What’s the secret? So many of us feel like frauds.

On an average Sunday evening, I gather with a liturgical community in a sacred space rented from an evangelical, non-denominational, non-liturgical church. The bell rings, the cross processes down the aisle, and I cannot help but notice the elongated shadows of our sister church, haunting. I imagine the morning crowd, now at their evening home groups, or maybe at home with their families, or doing whatever it is they do on a Sunday evening. I fix their faces in my imagination, even as I bow to the passing brass cross. I imagine all those morning church folk, and as I look at the shadows between my sneakers, I see the scattered crumbs of their own fraud-feelings.

The morning folk--did they come hoping to put these secrets to death? Did they come hoping that fresh faith would somehow kill the nagging doubt or hypocrisy or abivilance? Perhaps not all, but certainly some. And the evening folk, are we any different?

Universal truths are universal for reason.

If you listen to the voices beyond the voices in any worship service, the internal echo of things we hear but don't say, you'll find the revenant. It's Thomas, Peter, maybe even Judas. You know they are in you. You know you need an exorcism from the voices.

Lord, I’m not feeling any of this; help my unbelief.

On an average Sunday evening, though, there is a moment of mass exorcism. There is bread and wine. There is us—all in our counterfeit sainthood—confessing our saggy fraudulence together.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

The bread is lifted; light streams through the baptismal window illuminating an eternal circle of grain. Eclipsing the sun, a corona of truth hems the host, driving every shadow of doubt back to hellfire. Broken, bread crumbs flit down to the chalice of wine. I enter the line, expecting something. (Who knows what?) I take and eat. I drink.

This is the stuff.

Even in my fitful faith, I sense the alchemy. Those crumbs, the smallest ones now soaked in blood, have the power to change me into something more than shadows. They have the power to change my neighbor, too. They have the power to meld the evening church folk and the morning church folk. This is the meal that turns frauds to family.

 

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The Disciple of Failure

The photograph header for this series on failure includes an icon I keep in my planner. It's an icon of Thomas, the doubter of doubters, with his too-long fingers stuck in the side-wound of Christ. "I won't believe," he said, "unless I feel the wounds."

Faith? Nah. Give me the evidence, man.

Christ gave him that evidence; he appeared in the upper room and invited Failing-Faithed Thomas to touch his sticky wounds. Thomas' did, and his response was simple and faithful--"My Lord and my God." It was a moment of fresh faith that sprung from the recognition of his failure, his doubt. The failure of his faith served as a sort of floor, a foundation for the construction of something more sturdy.

Thomas' failure was recorded in great detail in the Gospel of John and has survived these 2,000 years. (Thomas (or John, rather) showed us his work.) But the restoration that sprung from that failure was recorded, too. What's more, church history teaches us that Thomas was, perhaps, the first missionary to the East, that he died his own martyr's death for the faith. Could there be a more successful act of faith than dying a martyr's death?

I keep the icon of Doubting Thomas in my journal as a reminder of sorts. I take it out from time to time, look at the kneeling, placid-faced man recollecting his faith, and I remember the lesson of his life. [tweetherder text="Failure is not fatal if you have the courage to see it for what it is: an opportunity."]Failure is not fatal if you have the courage to see it for what it is--an opportunity for restoration.[/tweetherder]

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Shadow of a Doubt

In the soft light, the evangelist coaxes. “Are you sure, absolutely sure beyond any shadow of a doubt, that if you were to die tonight, you would see Jesus? You’re running out of time here, students. Your life is limited.” He weaves in stories of sudden death. Teenagers with exploding hearts. Earthquakes and natural disasters in foreign countries. “A breath away,” he says.

His counselors surround him like apostles, like bible bodyguards. “Beyond a shadow of any doubt,” he repeats, then asks for a head-bowed show of hands and begins thanking people for the courage to choose to be numbered. My head is not bowed, mostly because I believe that even evangelists need accountability. I do not note a single hand corresponding with his many thank yous, but nonetheless, he thanks another phantom. And another. He catches my open eyes. He winks and smiles. Thanks another.

*Today I'm discussing doubt over at A Deeper Church. I think there's freedom in confessing these things. Join me at A Deeper Church for more.

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The Genesis of Doubt

Some of the more regulars here know that I'm going back to the beginning. I'm exploring the themes I see emerging in my life and tracing them back to their origins. Today, I'm writing a bit about doubt, and though I've written a bit about this before, please indulge me a bit._______

In the beginning, there was faith like a five year old.

I remember the asthma attacks like choking, like a slow empty drag. My parents desperate, they brought me to church on a Tuesday night for an irregular meeting of the assembly. We congregated under a massive tent-shaped sanctuary with a roof that stretched upward like a pyramid from four low walls. We were there, the whole lot of us, to see a globe-trotting faith healer whose weapons of warfare consisted of a ten-pound bible, a gallon jug of olive oil, and a traveling ensemble of hallelujah-singers dressed in gold-trimmed choir robes.

A gangly first-grader, I watched the congregation whip themselves into a frenzy of the not-for-Sunday sort. This was the Tuesday night crowd, the desperate crowd, the folks who made camp at any Pool of Bethesda they could find.

As the congregants spilled into the blessing lines, I asked my mother whether it was time. "Not yet, honey," she said tenderly. "Let's wait until the service is over." I obliged her willingly, mostly because I didn't feel sick. I was breathing mighty fine at the moment, and asthma attacks were not frightening to me. After all, didn't mom and dad always make it right? Didn't they always bring healing of a different sort, what with the inhalers, and pills, and the occasional breathing treatment?  The way I saw it, they had this healing bit covered.

Patiently we endured the prayers over the crippled, lame, blind, and deaf until the last congregant slipped from the service. That's when my mother said, "let's go, sweetie." There we stood, before the evangelist--a traveling one, I think. He asked what type of healing I'd come for, and I said that I wanted rid of my asthma. He smiled broadly, laughed and said that nothing was to big for Jesus.

"With enough faith all things are possible.”

He marked my forehead with an olive oil cross and prayed that my lungs would open, claimed my healing by the precious blood. “We rejoice in this boy’s healing even now; Amen," he said.

The evangelist stooped down and looked into my eyes. Did I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, he asked? I told him, “I think so,” but that was really just feigned faith, the kind that tells grown-ups their doing the best they know how. The truth was, I didn’t feel anything. And in that moment, with the weight of adult hopes and expectations hanging on the sufficiency of child-like faith, the first seed of doubt was planted.

*****

I know this one might be hard to swallow. But read it for what it says, not what it doesn't. And as a father of sick child, I'll tell you... I'll do just about anything to make it right, including what my folks did. My folks is good folks (that grammar faux paux was artistic license, ma... don't blow me up).

Thanks for your consistency in following along here. I appreciate you folks.

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