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Faith is not belief despite evidence,
It is adventure in scorn of consequence
Faith is not credulity in the face of occasional miracle,
It is discerning the miraculous in the daily round;
Faith is not blind confidence in the hereafter,
It is the will to live in the here and now;
Faith is not clinging to creedal assurance,
It is grasping the uncertain with conviction;
Faith is not confidence in salvation which lies beyond.
It is trust in the life which surrounds us here

Dick Gilbert, quoted in “Faith is a Verb.”


“Anyone not about to kill himself lives by faith. It is what keeps us going when love has turned to hate or hope to despair. Faith carries us forward when there is no longer reason to carry on. It enables us to exist during the in between times: between meaning, amid dangers of radical discontinuity, even in the face of death. Faith is a sine qua non of life, a primal force we cannot do without.”

Fowler and Keen, Life Maps. P1

I am working through some ideas right now about faith development and adulthood. Mature faith is “Owned Faith,” according to John Westerhoff, and is often experienced as a kind of conversion of sorts after a period of searching and questioning.  When you take ownership of your faith, the belief and practices of your faith tradition are now important to you not because of family’s or society’s expectations but because of your personal commitment to God.

James Fowler talks about a mid-life stage of “Conjunctive” faith characterised  by moving beyond scriptural fundamentalism into a dialogue with the sacred texts, and by more focus on personal spirituality and morality than on religious leaders and religious rituals.  For Fowler there is still one more stage of faith development beyond the Conjunctive stage, however, and that is the “Universalizing” stage.  In this the most mature stage of faith we move beyond the boundaries of a particular faith tradition and accept that God’s Truth is a universal reality. Fowler admits that this “Universalizing” faith stage  is experienced by very, very few people, in fact the examples he gives are mostly historical figures not contemporary people, so he cannot interview them. 

Is it not possible that these men are  placing their own personal faith lens over their investigations and reflections? For Fowler, whose interest is in the relationship between psychology and theology, faith is not even necessarily religious in nature, it is about ultimate meaning. While Westerhoff’s Owned style of faith is much more common among people in faith communities, people like the divinity students he educated for decades, and the members of the church he ministered at.

So, my question is, what are these theories missing?  What experiences did these men not take into account? Are there other stages of styles of faith? Why do I feel I don’t fit?

I didn’t know these were the questions I had until I read an article by Richard Rohr, “Don’t Miss the Second Half”  that distinguishes between two halves of life. He talks about a second stage of life precipitated by a “stumbling block,”  a crisis in which one’s world falls apart, a situation you cannot control, fix or understand. According to Rohr it is only now that true spirituality begins, “Up to that point is all just preparation.”  Well I guess I am prepared. But this stumbling block doesn’t necessarily lead to spirituality, it depends on “whether you deal with your suffering in secular space or sacred space.” I can understand all this intellectually, but I don’t see this experience as lucky, which is a word Rohr uses, and I don’t believe in a God who would “lead me here.” However, I am very clear on one point: If I can’t find God in the suffering in my life, then I can’t find God. So maybe my stage of faith is somewhere on the fence between the first half and the second half of my faith life.

The New Orleans Saints are in the Superbowl…!!!

Couldn’t resist a little humor!

This week in Commonweal is a one page opinion piece, written by a funeral director, that contains the most succinct criticism of Catholic bishops that I  have read to date. The egregious behavior of the bishops of Dublin is contrasted to the religious ministers from various faith traditions with whom he has worked, who ” bring a brave and sacred narrative to bear on the existential questions” raised when a loved one dies. The best part, though, is the opener…

Preaching to bishops,” a long-dead churchman told me years ago, “is like farting at skunks. You’ll win some battles, but lose the war.” All the more so, no doubt, the higher you go. His Holiness, Their Eminences and Excellencies—“Don’t cross ’em,” the curate cautioned; “those boyos aren’t to be tampered with.”

Catholicism doesn’t bring much humor into my life, so I am extraordinarily grateful for the laugh Thomas Lynch gave me, and I am happy to share it. But don’t stop here, check out the whole piece.

Preaching to Bishops, Commonweal Magazine, January 15, 2010.

Apparently it is not only in the Catholic Church that women face interrogation and injustice.  Read this news item on the Union of Reform Judaism website.

 Women of the Wall

In recent months, Israeli police have increased pressure on Women of the Wall, a progressive monthly prayer group that meets at the Western Wall. Read responses from the Reform Movement on the interrogation of group leader and IRAC director Anat Hoffman.

I found the following quote on a number of other web sites and I finally tracked down the book from which it originated. The idea of needing the Church makes sense to me only in the broad sense of needing a community with whom one can reflect on and share one’s faith journey. But does this mean also accepting the hierarchical structures of the Church?  I don’t think so, until the hierarchy owns the fact that it is indeed part of a sinful, fallible, human community, and I don’t hear them preaching that message.

Daily Meditation: October 27
by Henri Nouwen; from Bread for the Journey, Harper Collins, New York, 1997

Forgiving the Church

When we have been wounded by the Church, our temptation is to reject it. But when we reject the Church it becomes very hard for us to keep in touch with the living Christ.

When we say, “I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,” we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the Church seldom asks us for forgiveness, at least not officially.

But the Church as an often fallible human organization needs our forgiveness, while the Church as the living Christ among us continues to offer us forgiveness.

It is important to think about the Church not as “over there” but as a community of struggling, weak people of whom we are part and in whom we meet our Lord and Redeemer.

“The San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that a group of 20 “renegade” Catholic priests have left the RC Church because of celibacy requirements. The article states that the group consists of both of men who have married and those who want to be free to marry. What strikes me is the men’s openness and willingness to leave because of this issue. In areas where celibacy is seen as a harmful counter-cultural value, the rate at which men take de facto wives and raise families is quite high. These guys could almost certainly have lived any way they wanted and gotten away with it. Perhaps instead of calling them “renegade,” the report should call them ‘honest.’….”

Commonweal Blog,
January 2, 2010,  Lisa Fullam

This posting on the Commonweal blog has created a very active response. I found quite interesting a reference to Paul’s First letter to the Corinthians, 9:5 “Do we not have the right to bring along a Christian wife, as do the rest of the Apostles, and the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas?” This verse does not appear in the Lectionary. That is an issue I am only recently attuned to: the selectivity involved in the Lectionary. And if Catholics continue to rely on the Lectionary for their knowledge of scripture then they will remain in ignorance of the fullness of the Word of God.

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