Safe Places for Unsafe Questions
Churches are not safe places to discuss genuine faith—particularly the kind of cross-pressured belief that characterizes New Copernicans. They rightly affirm that all faith is a natural fusion of belief and doubt, acceptance and questions, dreams and disappointments. So the cheery smiles and overly certain god-talk that fills the fellowship halls over coffee and donuts in most churches seem foreign... even false.
Churches are not safe places to openly express one’s confusion aloud. This is not to say that people don’t struggle.... It’s just that they only talk about their struggle after the struggle has past and victory is secure. Struggle is always a past tense phenomenon.
“I feel like crap, I’m not sure what I believe, I have more questions than answers, the Vodka bottle seems like a pretty good escape right about now,” are not the welcome sentiments expressed in a spiritual “testimony” in most churches. The church is like a hospital that doesn’t do blood. For this you have to go to AA. And this fact is sad and not the way it ought to be.
Where can we have these kinds of conversations? Meaningful, deep, open, questioning, and nonjudgmental. In college we had the late night dorm conversations that at their best broached the personal and metaphysical. Where do we find these places now?
I sat in a living room recently with twelve friends diverse in age and background for just such a conversation. It was planned to be an agenda-free conversation about our varied struggles and pilgrimages. A semi-retired oil executive opened the conversation, “I go to church and hear this talk about Jesus and getting into heaven when I die, but frankly this does not feel like good news to me?” If you’ve had any background in church, one would have to admit that this is a pretty basic question. And the fact that there is little encouragement to create places where basic questions like this can be asked is apt to make a lot of people want to blow off the entire church project. If you can’t be real, why bother?
New Copernicans know that all belief is cross-pressured. There are few ultimate beliefs that I hold that in a crowded room there is not going to be someone who disagrees strongly, even smugly. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
But it also means that when New Copernican hangout the conversation is naturally more tolerant, more interested, and more interactive. For the assumption is that all of us are partially lost and that we could use each other’s company as we seek to find our way. We’re pilgrims together and the one thing we share in common is the belief that we have not arrived.