Thursday, June 11, 2009

Practice makes perfect

So, my poor computer, much mishandled and mismanaged by me, had to go to rehab and I haven't posted a blog for a long time. Several people reminded me that I wasn't writing, which astounded me since I didn't realize anyone was reading!!!

I made a list of things I wanted to write about over the last few weeks and, not unsurprisingly, lost it....But here is something I've been sitting under my own withered castor oil tree pondering....

A distinction between the great world faiths is this: People ask Jews if they are "practicing"...same with Buddhists and Muslims. I think the same question would make sense to Hindus and Taoists. That about covers the map except for less well know faiths and religions of particular cultures. And here's the distinction I'm pondering--Christians are NOT asked if they are "practicing" their faith--they are asked if they are "believing" Christians.

I find a remarkable difference between "practicing" something and "believing" it. Doctors "practice" medicine and lawyers have a "practice" of the law. The question of 'belief' doesn't much enter into those professions. Artists, as well, 'practice' their vocations. No one ever asks what a dancer 'believes' about 'dance'. And writers are not asked if they 'believe' in their novel--what we appreciate in art of every kind is how it is performed, how well it is practiced.

Christianity, it seems to me, would do well to begin to focus more on the 'practice' of the faith rather than what we 'believe' about various doctrines, creeds and dogmas.

As a seminarian at Christ Church, Capitol Hill in Washington DC, I was asked to lead an adult class in the Nicene Creed. I began by giving a history of how the Creed was developed and 'why' it was developed--more to 'exclude' certain beliefs than to give a standard for practicing belief. Then I said, "I'm going to start reading the Creed, raise your hand when you have a question or a comment." Then I said, "I believe in God," and half of the 20 or so people there raised their hands!

There's a line from the musical HAIR that says, in paraphase, "It doesn't matter if I believe in God, does God believe in me...."

All those people who raised their hands were 'good Christians'--they practiced their faith. They simply didn't understand what this 'belief stuff' had to do with much of anything.

When someone asks me why there are so many Christian denominations I always respond, accurately, I think--"because we BELIEVE different things...."

What if we defined 'being a Christian' by our behaviour and 'practice' instead of creeds and doctrine? Why, after all, does it matter if you or I 'believe' in the Trinity? I don't even know, after 30 years of priesthood, exactly what there is about the Trinity to 'believe' or 'not believe'. It seems like a pleasant and companionable way to view God, but if you have a problem with the Incarnation or the Atonement (I DO with the latter--and scarcely think about the former) but still 'practice' the Christian life, what is the issue with that?

A member of the parish told me before being received into the Episcopal Church that she wasn't sure she believed in the Divinity of Christ--she was fine with the Creator and the Holy Spirit but the whole "Jesus is God" part confounded her. I asked her what day it was and she told me Thursday and I responded, "Thursday is one of the days I have trouble with that as well...." So she was received and 'practices' Christianity in a profound and graceful way to this day.

Islam has a bad name--as it probably should in some ways--but the 'practice' of Islam deserves our honor and appreciation. Say the Prayers, give to the poor, care for others, keep the fast of Ramadan, take no 'interest', do no harm--that about sums up the 'practice of Islam'. Not a bad way to live a life. The "problem" in Islam is when it comes to the differing 'beliefs' of the Sunni and the Shiites that causes their internal struggle and results in terrorist, fundamentalist 'beliefs'.

Same with us. All Christians should mourn, repent and feel shame in what we have done in the name of Christ and what we 'believe' that means. Asking someone "do you practice your faith?" is a much different question than asking "Do you BELIEVE...." (whatever....)

What would the 'practice' of Christianity look like? Pretty simple, I believe. It would look like the last five questions of the Baptismal covenant in the Book of Common Prayer. The first three ask us to 'believe' this and that about the Trinity. Well, alright, if we must. The last five are the ones that bring us into a 'practice' of our faith. Here they are:

Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers?
Will you be in community with others who practice what they preach and be a part of common worship and pray, however you do that?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you oppose the oppression and sin of this world and when you participate in it be honest with yourself and with God?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
That good news is this--compassion, kindness, love, love, love--will you live and speak out of those things/

Will you seek and serve Christ i all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you acknowledge that every single human being is made in the image of God and treat them as you would treat God--with that respect, support and honor?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
In your family, your community, your nation, your world, will you honor and champion the outcasts and everyone you meet, know and will never meet or know as children of your God?

In the liturgy (the way we 'practice' Christianity by worshipping together) the answer to all those questions is "I will, with God's help." And God knows we need His/Her help in doing any of this, in practicing our faith in a way that matters and makes a difference in the world. And those questions form the way to 'practice' rather than 'believe'. And Christians and everyone of the planet would be better off if we all sought to 'practice' those practices rather than 'believe' in some stuff dreamed up in the 4th century. That's what I think anyway.


As I sit under the castor oil tree, that simply seems to be an improvement on how we do it now. But it's just me thinkin'....Why don't you ponder it as well?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive

About Me

some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.