If you’ve been following these pages, you know how important Brian McLaren’s book, The Great Spiritual Migration was for me. In trying to breathe new life into Christianity, he beautifully articulates this important difference between faith and beliefs:
Beliefs are statements that a group requires members to affirm and not question or contradict. In contrast, faith is conviction, the deep and motivating sense that a course of action is right and worth doing. This conviction is lived out in the context of uncertainty. It involves a risk, an unknown. It proceeds not by certainty, but through confidence, the deep and motivating sense that a risk is worthwhile. The conviction (faith) and the confidence (hope) are then expressed through love. Seen in this light, you can have a lot of beliefs with very little faith and you can have a lot of faith with very little in the way of beliefs.
I find so much freedom in this idea as well as a huge challenge.
My mind and my curiosity prevent me from having an unwavering dedication to any set of beliefs. God is still speaking and she just might be speaking to me, in part, through my own experiences and all of the attending growth, backslides, loss, nudges, whispers, calls, and insights.
The challenge comes in this call to a way of life. A way of love.
When we do things that put up barriers to connection, question the intentions of others, judge, and make others afraid or ashamed, we are not on the path of love.
The way of love looks like acceptance that everyone else is just as beloved by God as we are. It looks like building bridges, reaching out, suspending judgement, listening to stories, advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves, comforting the afflicted, and sometimes, yes, afflicting the comfortable.
Isn’t this exciting? And scary?
The way of love relies on a couple of tools that most of us have trouble yielding – vulnerability and letting go of control. Courage is required.
A faith-filled life plays out at many levels and in our relationships with both people and the institutions in which modern life plays out.
In my own life, one of the best places to practice the kind of faith McLaren espouses is through friendship. So, for this post, I want to stay focused on the intimate realm of my life. (For my thoughts related to the bigger picture check out posts here, here, here, here, and here.)
The Prairie Fire class I took introduced me to the idea of a ladder of intimacy in relationships. It goes something like this:
At the base level, we have lots of acquaintances – people we’ve met and know very casually. Acquaintances are usually found in just one realm of our life.
The next level is friendliness – people we are acquainted with whom we feel some sort of connection or affinity. Maybe we gravitate toward this person whenever we are in the same crowd or at the same types of events? We might know a couple of their stories. And we might enjoy gossiping with them or sharing similar complaints. But some important shifts need to occur for friendliness to evolve into friendship.
Friendship can have a wide range, extending from friendly friends up to intimate friends. The qualities that take a friendship from friendliness and carry it up the ladder of intimacy are – (priority) are we making similar efforts to nurture the friendship, as the friendship grows for one party is it also growing for the other party, is the person now becoming familiar with other realms of your life and vice versa, (vulnerability) are you able to be vulnerable with one another, is the vulnerability equal, (love) do you share important news in your lives, are you equally honest with one another, and do you “see” each other clearly and love each other warts and all? People have to earn the right to hear our stories and one way we can gauge friendships by is by what types of stories different friends have earned the right to hear.
The top level is intimacy. We all need at least one intimate friend, but probably not more than 2-3. We can be our most vulnerable with these friends, maybe even falling to pieces from time to time and letting them help us back up. These friends know most everything about us. They understand our vulnerabilities and help to protect us. They are honest with us. And we reciprocate these qualities with them.
New Friends and Shared Faithfulness
I feel very lucky to have made a new group of friends over the past two years. In the fall of 2015, one of my “friendlies” from church and I started a group we call Faith Builders to embark on a four-year course of learning together. The group that gathered were all acquainted and had varying degrees of friendliness among them.
Part of the curriculum was to encourage each other to relate our life experiences to Christian tradition – scripture, worship, church history, and theology. In order to encourage sharing, we created some guidelines such as using “I” statements to express opinions, taking turns talking, and agreeing that the stories shared in class were each individual’s stories to share and not for any one else to share. We combined these guidelines with creative spiritual autobiographical questions.
These little structures for starting our group allowed a high-level friendship among the 13 of us to emerge. We share. We are vulnerable. We are helping each other to find and stay on the way of love. And there is barely a shared belief among us. Our theologies vary widely. Yet, we have a faith-full covenant and relationship with one another in which we can each grow in our faith practiced through these friendships.
*If you have similar groups and want some discussion guidelines, Parker Palmer’s are a great way to start.