The Return From Whence I Came

IMG_2441The past few weeks I have spent re-acclimating myself to life in the Northeast burbs of the Twin Cities.  Coming from both an academic institution focused on Christian theology and California, my reception from some close Christian friends has been met with some fear.  I have been called a “California Liberal” due to my refusal to affirm that homosexuality is not God’s plan (PS If California is so gay-friendly why did it affirm prop 8, and if the Midwest got it right, then what’s up with Iowa?  Corn-huskin’ ferries?).  

I am finding that that which I so desperately wanted to affirm prior to my escape to California (the Christianity I was offered here in my home town), uses a rhetoric that disallows the very religion it attempts to affirm (I experienced why “God is dead”, in the Nietzschean sense).   You see, I was given a religion that required my affirmation of certain propositions that when blatantly honest, I could not affirm.  I had to confess with my mouth the certain dogmatics prior to being an acceptable follower of Christ.  Words came first, action and ontological reality second.  

But what of those who rightly act first and are completely ignorant of the existence of any tenets to believe? (See Paul’s teaching in Romans 2:14-15)  This Christianity that I am revisiting here at home and having pushed on me as if it behooves me to make certain statements or worry about my salvation, I cannot accept.  I have found intellectual freedom in the God that is beyond my conception.  This is the God who transcends my mind and  the propositional statements I can make about Her/Him; the God that allows me to explore and journey without ever seeking a tidy systematic destination; this God is the God I can attempt to follow.  

I find it strikingly American to see the individualistic Christianity that now surronds me.   This is a religion swimming in a sea of books deemed “Christian Self-help” and whose practitioners go to Sunday church without ever talking to another individual; a religion so self-oriented that Sunday church is more like the religious gas station where one goes to get filled up for the week; a religion that holds tight to the affirming of certain statements yet its individuals nervously worry that perhaps they might have missed something due to the annoying black cloud that hangs over their heads whispering of angst and tension, reminding that something still seems wrong, out-of-whack, and uneasy about this existence.  

As I tried to live this religion in my past, I found that no set of affirmations–if I was able to muster up the self-delusion that I truly could undoubtedly affirm them–were enough to make me feel as if I was on the right track.  I left for Pasadena on a journey to see if there was more.  I ended up losing my religion completely, and de facto was able to regain a more robust faith by maintaining the simple affirmation that doubt is a necessary part of faith.  It was in my agnosticism that I was able to regain faith.  Though seemingly contradictory, I have not lost my agnosticism.  It is my agnosticism that allows me to reconcile my mind with Christianity.  I don’t know the God I seek.  I have tidbits of revelation that allow me to experience the Divine, but for the most part, this God is beautifully mysterious; a majestic divinity that for some strange reason, I, like everyone else in the world, seek after.  This God is not encompassed by factual statements.  We don’t have any facts to speak about.  This is why we call it “faith.”  Let’s not confuse the two (facts and faith).  How could we have faith without doubt?  If we did, we would simply have facts.  

Coming back and seeing friends, family, and church-goers attempt to find ways they can affirm statements in order to feel content about their status with God looks to me like a bunch of people throwing punches in the air, struggling with something that does not exist, or something that is ultimately unattainable.  My antidote?  Allow for a journey.  Stop trying to arrive at a peaceful destination.  There’s peace in rejecting the destination and embracing the journey.  There is peace in the tension, contentment in accepting the discontentment, (After all, doesn’t contentment usually lead to a static and stale faith?).  Stop trying to affirm something that you will always be wary of in the back of your mind.  Allow God to be bigger than your conception.  See Church as a community in which we struggle with the dubiousness of Christianity.  Reject Church as a place where individuals go to spiritually “fuel up”.  

 

Submitted by: Christopher Casselman

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4 responses to “The Return From Whence I Came

  1. amazing chris. i really enjoyed talking to you about all this the other week. even though my undergrad degree in theology wasn’t as intense as your masters program, i can relate to the feelings of confusion and frustration. i’d be curious about your statment “We don’t have any facts to speak about.” i don’t know if i agree. regardless, again, i would love to talk more about this- i also bought that book by peter rollins- maybe next time after The Well or over coffee/beers!

  2. Good post Cassel!

    I agree that too often people forget its called Faith and not Fact.

    To me it’s really sad that some people can get caught up on one or two things that can’t be explained and for that reason they feel more comfort without religion in their life. They spend hours upon hours trying to turn faith into fact all the while just growing further and further away from what they once believed in whole heartedly. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very important to find as many answers as you can and further yourself in the knowledge of your religion or other peoples religion for that matter, but to think that someday you’ll have all the answers is only kidding yourself.

    Let’s go fly fishing!!!

  3. Excellent work Casselman! I can relate to your purposes and heart in writing this post. Coming back to the States (mostly the Midwest) always has its challenges and joys after being in Asia for 10 months. Journeying and coming home, I’m so glad you wrote about it because it’s something I think about a lot.
    A number of things jumped out at me as I read. Living in Asia, I enjoy the unique position of being an American Christian who still retains many American-isms (can’t shake the crazy things, no matter how hard I try) but who lives outside the structure of American Christianity. It’s a bit like a donut hole looking at a donut from afar I suppose. The distance does allow, however, perspective to analyze American culture in unique ways. Regarding the Church, I want to agree with you when you see gross individualism which leads to a faith that is isolated from almost everything. Faith that can easily be isolated from friends, colleagues, family, even the self (mind, body, soul). An individual faith leads, tragically, to an isolated faith. Its this kind of faith that comes to be “fueled up” once a week to stay alive, simply because the rest of the week it is so isolated that it would wilt and wither without that once weekly contact. That type of faith doesn’t sound like one that I am much interested in personally, and I’m not quite sure you can even call it faith at all.
    On the opposite end of this “individual isolationist” faith would be something that is interpersonal and integrated. No matter how people view and experience the revelation of God (through nature, academic study, other people etc.) depth of meaning comes through relationship. When we come close to God through nature, we are joining in a small piece of his revelation and are entering into a deeper place of relationship and knowing. When we actively engage our faith in things outside of ourself (observing nature, understanding books, serving, loving and living with people) we are encountering God as well. Thus we are perpetuating a faith that is real and involved in what we do every day.

    Your ideas about contradiction also really grabbed my attention. A friend of mine these past years has put me up to the idea of a theology of hypocrisy that I enjoy (ask me about it later), and now I might have a good counterpart to go along with it. The main idea here is the conflict between faith and facts, right? What if that were rephrased? What if, instead, we talked about the balance between faith and facts? Certainly, without doubt we could not have faith, or at least not a very hopeful one. But if we did not have some facts wouldn’t it be completely illogical to believe in any type of God whatsoever? I guess what I’m trying to say is, if a theology of contradiction works, then fact and faith must be held in the same type of tension that allows both to exist in balance. I like this idea of faith and fact being held in tension. They hold each other up. Without faith, facts would go tumbling to the ground because, as Descartes taught us, (almost) everything can be doubted. In the same light, faith would crumble if not counter-weighted by fact. Fact is the reasonable launching point from which faith must originate.

    Ok, I’ve got some other ideas, but I’ll save them for later. Let me know what you think!

  4. Define “Fact”.

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