Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith is giving me lots to think about. Some of it is pleasant thinking; some of it is uncomfortably challenging. The quote below falls in the latter category.
Who has not had a conversation with someone who questions some of the historically accepted details, yet desires to love and follow Jesus? And who has not had a conversation with someone who continually discovers details about God that rank as highly as anything they read in Scripture? For many evangelicals, our default mode is to “push” the first group of people towards “appropriate” beliefs and to “reign in” the “excessive” enthusiasm of the second group. Note: I am not saying that either response is necessarily wrong; I’m questioning whether they should be our default responses, the mode in which we operate without truly listening to or understanding what we’re hearing from the other person. Perhaps they have more to teach us than we initially think.
I [have] spent hours talking with people who had trouble believing. For some, the issue was that they believed less than they thought they should about Jesus. They were not troubled by the idea that He may have had two human parents instead of one or that His real presence with His disciples after His death might have been more metaphysical than physical. The glory they beheld in Him had more to do with the nature of His being than with the number of His miracles, but they had suffered enough at the hands of “true believers” [quotation marks added –SjG] to learn to keep their mouths shut.
For others, the issue was that they believed more than Jesus. Having beheld His glory, they found themselves running into God’s glory all over the place, including places where Christian doctrine said that it should not be. I knew Christians who had beheld God’s glory in a Lakota sweat lodge, in a sacred Celtic grove, and at the edge of a Hawaiian volcano, as well as in dreams and visions that they were afraid to tell anyone else about at all. These people not only feared being shunned for their “unorthodox narratives” [quotation marks added –SjG], they also feared sharing some of the most powerful things that had ever happened to them with people who might dismiss them.
Given the history of Christians as a people who started out beholding what was beyond belief, this struck me as a lamentable state of affairs, both for those who have learned to see no more than they are supposed to see as well as for those who have excused themselves from traditional churches because they see too little or too much. If it is true that God exceeds all our efforts to contain God, then is it too big a stretch to declare that dumbfoundedness is what all Christians have most in common? Or that coming together to confess all that we do not know is at least as sacred an activity as declaring what we think we do know?