The Faith Trip

Many metaphors make up the language of faith. Anytime someone talks of God, it is through a metaphor. Jesus uses metaphor when describing the kingdom of God. The prophets use metaphors to critique the powerful. Modern Christian teachers use metaphors to help us grasp the work of God today.

One of the metaphors we lean on to describe our growing, dying, maturing and learning is our “faith journey.” The faith journey is a rich metaphor that allows the speaker to utilize additional metaphoric language to paint a fuller picture of the journey. We can talk about a “guide” or a “map” that help us on the way. This is a helpful metaphor to be sure.

 Photo by  rawpixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Until it is not.

Listening to others talk about their “faith journey” I hear a conviction that the “journey” is headed somewhere specific. Often called “heaven” but sometimes called “peace” or “joy”, the faith journey metaphor builds in it a basic sense that there is a time when we will “arrive” and we have yet to get there. It is also assumed that when we arrive at this destination that all will be better or something.

The power of the metaphor of “faith journey” is neutered when we use the metaphor with a predetermined destination in mind. Having a destination in mind means that we not only are not going on a journey but that we also have little faith.

To go on a journey is to emphasis the process of traveling, not the destination. When we go somewhere, say for vacation or for work, we do not use the word journey to describe it. We say we took a trip to Florida or we have a work trip this week. I have yet to hear anyone say, “I have to journey out for work on Thursday.” Or even, “we journeyed to Disney.”

The language of trip presupposes that the point is the destination. Otherwise why would you leave home at all if not to “arrive” that the destination.

The language of journey presupposes that the point is the process of traveling. It is the process of learning and trusting the guides will take you places that you did not predetermine. It is the language of faith that there are things in the journey that are more important than the destination, if only we were not focused on the destination.

We are on a the faith journey, not the faith trip.

Goodhart's Law and the Church

On a recent episode of Planet Money entitled The Laws Of The Office, they bring to light Goodhart’s law. The hosts define Goodhart’s law in this way, “if a company decides to measure something, workers will find a way to respond with good numbers.”

 https://towardsdatascience.com/unintended-consequences-and-goodharts-law-68d60a94705c

https://towardsdatascience.com/unintended-consequences-and-goodharts-law-68d60a94705c

The Wikipedia entry quotes Marilyn Strathern who summarized the law as: "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."

This got me thinking about the Church, specifically when the Church decides to measure things. Like other organizations, the Church measures a number of inputs in an attempt to get a full picture of the state of the Church. If Goodhart’s Law is true, once we choose a measure to measure our Churches, it is no longer a helpful measure because people will find ways to respond with good numbers.

In theology terms, this is called living under the Law. Living under the Law means that when we find ways to measure, humans, who are susceptible to Sin, will find ways to look good under the parameters of the Law. Knowing where we stand in relation to others is a key characteristic to Law living.

The Gospel smashes these hierarchies and comparisons. The Gospel proclaims that everyone is forgiven and make whole. This leveling of the playing field is met with great suspicion when we live under the Law (how can we know who is the best or at least who has “earned” the honor we give them?) Recall when Jesus’ parable of the workers who each received the same wage regardless of hours spent working? Or the idea that the first will be last and the last will be first? Jesus proclaimed a Gospel of freedom from the Law.

Even Goodhart’s Law.

Forgetting to Remember

Jesus said that he came to testify to the truth (John 18). He also said that those who continue in his word are true disciples who know the truth (John 8). It sometimes is the case that Christians can get it in our minds that since Jesus testifies to the truth and followers of Jesus know the truth, that we have sole access to Truth.

Beyond making it difficult to be in relationship with us when we believe we have sole access to Truth, we Christians are not very good at admitting we are wrong. How can we be wrong if we have access to the truth? How can Christian beliefs be wrong if our leader testifies to the truth?

Gil Bailie points out that the Greek word lēthe means forgetful. He notes that when you put an “a” as a prefix you get alētheia, translated as truth (as it is in John 8 and 18). Literally speaking this word means to not be forgetful, or to stop forgetting.

This means that living in the truth does not mean to speak with absolute and ultimate unquestionable correctness. Living in the truth means that we do not forget.

 Photo by  James Hammond  on  Unsplash

Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash

We can be wrong and still be living in the truth, because living in the truth means we admit that we do not have the whole truth. Even that which we do “know” to be True, we hold lightly because we admit there maybe things we are unintentionally forgetting.

Living in the truth is one of the distinctions of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. The kingdom of this world is more interested in forgetting than in remembering. As such, the kingdom of this world is not of the truth. The kingdom of God does not forget and thus is a kingdom of the truth. It may explain in part why the prophets emphasis remembering and why Jesus asks us to “do this in remembrance of me.”

The reality is living in the truth means that we admit we are wrong. We do not fear being wrong, in fact the Gospel proclaims that there is a joy in being wrong. As Bailie points out: “The joy of being wrong is that being wrong can be forgiven: it is insisting on being right that confirms our being bound in sin.”

And so on this week going into the beginning of a new year (Advent) consider the baptism vows which say:

We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.

We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

We confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

Let us not forget.

Giving Up Preaching

 Photo by  Nycholas Benaia  on  Unsplash

Photo by Nycholas Benaia on Unsplash

Preaching is sometimes discussed as though it were an dying art. There are fewer people going to church and even fewer who are interested to listen to a sermon. Attention spans are about 30 seconds long and if you cannot tweet it then it will not be heard - or so the basic argument goes.

As a result of this there is a growing emphasis on the art of preaching. This is not without merit. Anyone dedicated to a craft is naturally interested to learn more about that craft. However, preaching as an art is not on the ropes.

At the most basic, preaching is speaking. Perhaps we could narrow the definition to speaking on a religious matter. To that end, preaching is alive and well. Preachers are a dime a dozen these days. And it is difficult to pin down what makes a good preacher beyond personal tastes. Preaching is not what the Church lacks.

The Church lacks proclamation.

Proclamation is at the root of the ministry of Jesus. Consider how Jesus inaugurated his ministry by reading the following from Isaiah:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free, 
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ 

Jesus did not come to preach. His was a ministry of proclamation. Even what we call the “Sermon on the Mount” is a title that later theologians called a section of Matthew’s gospel. Jesus did not preach sermons - he proclaimed Good News.

One of the ways to differentiate the the difference between preaching and proclaiming is the nature of the news. We preachers are very good at talking about “bad news”. We can describe the problems in our world, we can point out sin and speak of a broken world. This can be good preaching, but poor proclamation.

Proclamation describes “Good News”. You know when someone has moved from preaching to proclaiming when their words or actions highlight hope and mercy. We all have seen someone speaking or working and something happens, something comes over them and us that moves deep into our bones. It is that moment when you hear or see the very thing that confronts “bad news” rather than just describing it.

The best preachers I know are those who gave up preaching long ago in the pursuit to proclaim.