I'm not sure how it started, my conversation with Tim, my daughter's fiancee, but since they've been together for years now, already my son-in-law: but it was a conversation about 'belief' and 'practice'.
I have come to understand, over my life, that 'belief' belongs in the same category as 'feelings' and that 'practice' involves a 'choice' we make.
I am convinced that we don't have 'feelings', 'feelings' have us.
The dumbest thing you can say to someone who is sad or angry or happy is 'don't be sad/angry/happy. Though I don't know why you'd tell someone to not be happy, it is as useless and vain as telling someone not to be 'sad' or 'angry'. We don't 'have' feelings, feelings 'have' us.
I've come to realize that 'belief' is a 'feeling'. On the other hand 'practice' is a 'choice'.
I told Tim what I ask couples that come to me wanting to be married. "Tell me why you want to be married," I say, "and there is only one wrong answer."
Invariably, most of them tell me they want to be married because they are 'in love'.
That is the one wrong answer about wanting to be married.
"Love", I explain to them, as painful as it is, is the wrong answer because 'love' is a 'feeling' and we don't 'have feelings', feelings 'have us'. Then I tell them about my wife of now almost 43 years (in a few days), but whenever I told them about how I love my wife, it is the same telling. "Sometimes," I tell those dew-wet, crazy 'in love' couples, "I can't wait to get home just to see her, just to be in the same room with her because I love her so much. And then," I go on, "I often wake up in the early morning and look at her sleeping and see the creases on her face from the pillow and hear her snorts of snoring and see a little saliva coming out of her mouth and smell her morning smell and think, who is this? What am I doing here with her? Shouldn't I be somewhere else?
Love is a feeling, an emotion, and cannot be relied upon because it comes and goes--believe me, it comes and goes as all feelings do. So 'Love' is a terrible reason to get married. It will pass...and come again...and pass again....
The reason to get married involves a 'choice'--deciding to 'choose' to live your life with this person, no matter what feelings show up. The reason to get married in to choose to be committed to the relationship, for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.
I had an assistant Rector once who always said, "God is not a feeling."
She was right and right absolutely. And, it seems to me, 'belief' is much more a 'feeling' than a 'choice'.
Practice, on the other hand, is defiantly a 'choice' and not a 'feeling'.
I couldn't say the Nicene Creed if it didn't begin "WE believe". Because, depending on how I 'feel', I may or may not believe some of that stuff. But if it is a 'community' thing, if it is a WE believe thing, then I can be a part of that because someone in the community must 'believe' what we're saying together.
Some Jews, as I understand it, are 'practicing' Jews. That means they keep the laws and the traditions as opposed to 'ethnic Jews' or 'secular Jews', who are Jews by their DNA, but not by their 'practice'.
I would distinguish Christians in this way--there are 'believing Christians' and then there are 'practicing Christians'.
I am in the latter group. I'm convinced that my 'belief', like my feelings, come and go. But I know my 'practice' of Christianity is something I choose to do. Practice is a choice, not a feeling.
So, I 'practice' my faith, whether or not I 'believe' it or not. I tend to the prayers and the sacraments. I seek always to be generous, compassionate and truthful. I welcome strangers and contribute to the poor. I seek to avoid anger and violence and prejudice. I 'pray' by holding people and the world in my mind and heart. I observe the holy days of my faith.
I am 'committed' to Christ rather than 'believing in' Christ. My faith is a commitment rather than a 'belief'.
I stand for what I say--that I am a 'practicing Christian' rather than a 'believing Christian.' I'm not sure what 'believing' even means.
I choose to practice being a Christian. I'm never quite sure what I believe.
What I do is 'choose' to follow Jesus, as best I can.
I have no idea, from time to time, what I 'believe' about Jesus.
"Being a Christian" to me, has much more to do with what I choose to practice than what I may or may not feel or believe at any moment in time.
PRACTICE, for me, is much more important that BELIEF. Every time, always. PRACTICE is who we BE. 'Belief' is what we think we feel.
Being always trumps 'feeling', so far as I can tell.
But that's just me.
And that is what Tim and I talked about in the night on Oak Island in North Carolina last week. A place blessed to be beautiful and wondrous and, in the dark, a place for deep conversation.
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