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.

The People Without a Right or Left Hand

Guugu Yimithirr is a language of some aboriginal people of Australia. I know nothing about how to speak it. What I have come to learn about this Guugu Yimithirr is that it does not have a word for right or left. When giving directions, a native speaker might say, "go north, then turn south and there will be my house on the east." The speaker may also say something like, "raise your east-side hand and touch your west-side foot." 

The people who speak Guugu Yimithirr have a language that is geographically centered. Conversely, English speakers have an egocentric language, where right and left are words used in relation to the person rather than the outer world. Those who speak Guugu Yimithirr do not have a right or left hand, only hands that are north, south, east or west. 

(This wonderful little article from 2010 goes into greater detail on the limits of language and where 20th century thinking got a little off when considering the role of language. However, the article also points out that just because someone does not have the word left or right does not mean they are incapable of understanding the concept. The article is more a discussion on the axiom, "Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.”)

The language of the Church, at her best, is Christocentric. This Christocentric language is designed to not only draw our eyes to beyond ourselves but also to reorient our lives. There is a difference in saying, "look what I am doing" and "look what Christ is doing though me." The first is egocentric, the later is Christocentric. The first implies that the individual is paramount, the latter implies the self is a small part of something larger. The former props up the ego. The later puts the ego in proper location. 

For all those weird Christians we meet who want to "give God the glory" or say "it is by God's strength," just consider how weird it would be to listen to someone ask you to raise your north-side hand. It is a different orientation. A different orientation does not always mean a misguided, wrong, evil, sinful or heretical orientation.

How egocentric is your language? Are you willing to be re-orientated?

What a Stuck Nut Teaches Us About Scripture

I think that I have this story correct, but I may have it a bit off, however here we go:

My mother in law took her pool pump to be repaired. The repair man shared with her that there was a nut stuck in the pump which is why it was not working. This made sense to her since the pump has many nuts, bolts and screws in order to hold it together. A nut breaking loose would cause the pump to break. The news made it to my father in law who was told that there was a screw stuck in the pump and that it was all repaired. When my father in law saw the invoice, he began to crack up. 

From a nut to a screw back to a different nut. 

It is just a reminder that no matter how clear you think you may be when you are communicating, once you communicate there is a bit of trust that what you are communicating is received. 

If three people use the same language within the same hour, through both written and verbal mediums and STILL have misunderstanding, then perhaps we need to take a breath when we read scripture. As a reminder, scripture was written by several people in a different language in a different time and place translated at least three times before most of us read it. Oh, and it is talking about the mysteries of God and not a broken pool pump. 

Perhaps we "understand" the Bible is talking about hardware and we are going to share that with everyone but in fact scripture is talking about pecans. 


Dog whistling in the UMC - Scriptural Holiness

In case you don't know what Dog-whistle politics are, here is the Wikipedia entry description:

Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.

The entry goes on to say:

The term can be distinguished from "code words" used in some specialist professions, in that dog-whistling is specific to the political realm. The messaging referred to as the dog-whistle has an understandable meaning for a general audience, rather than being incomprehensible.

It is that last sentence that makes dog-whistling so darn difficult to hear. The speaker is using words and phrases you agree with, but you may not be aware of the addition meaning(s) the speaker is communicating. So one is swept up in the speaker's language while potentially getting wrapped up in something you may disagree with. 

Let me give an example here in the UMC. 

Phrases such as "scriptural holiness" or "authority of scripture" or "I believe in the Bible" have become a dog-whistle in our denomination and you may no even know it. You and I read these phrases and say, well yes I agree with all of those statements. I also believe in those statements, however in many circles these statements are implying more than what is stated. Specifically, these statements are implying a "sola scriptura" theology. Again, I turn to Wikipedia to help clarify sola scriptura:

Christian theological doctrine which holds that the Christian Scriptures are the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. Sola scriptura does not deny that other authorities govern Christian life and devotion, but sees them all as subordinate to and corrected by the written word of God.

This may sound spot on for your theology and that is fine, however the United Methodist Church is not a sola scriptura tradition but a "prima scriptura" tradition. Take it away Wikipedia:

Christian doctrine that canonized scripture is "first" or "above all" other sources of divine revelation. Implicitly, this view acknowledges that, besides canonical scripture, there are other guides for what a believer should believe and how he should live, such as the created order, traditions, charismatic gifts,mystical insight, angelic visitations, conscience, common sense, the views of experts, the spirit of the times or something else. Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will that do not originate from canonized scripture are perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures.

Finally, Wikipedia helps make the distinction:

Prima scriptura is sometimes contrasted to sola scriptura, which literally translates "by the scripture alone". Prima scriptura — is that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice, but that the Scriptures' meaning can be mediated through many kinds of secondary authority, such as the ordinary teaching offices of the Church, antiquity, the councils of the Christian Church, reason, and experience.
However, sola scriptura rejects any original infallible authority other than the Bible. In this view, all secondary authority is derived from the authority of the Scriptures and is therefore subject to reform when compared to the teaching of the Bible.

Sola scriptura says, "scripture alone", prima scripture says, "scripture first." Sola scriptura is a zero-sum view of the world. That is to say, sola scriptura says that in order for the Bible to have the ultimate authority, all others much be diminished. Therefore, sola scriptura has less room for tradition, experience and reason than prima scriptura has. 

Today, the phrase scriptural holiness is a bit of a dog whistle in the UMC by signaling to the listener sola scriptura theology. 

Scriptural holiness is something that is more than likely something that most Christians affirm, however, it is worth asking the next question, "do you mean scripture first or only?"