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    • #2058
      Forgiving Victim

      3.2 The gift of faith

      One of the consequences of receiving the gift of faith is a highly increased awareness of our not being truth-tellers and at the same time learning to be relaxed about it.

      Receiving a new story

      Share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous Module showing up in your lives.

      Telling more truthful stories

      After play the Four Facts game, answer the following questions:

      • What strategy did you use to make your false fact believable?
      • Who was the best “liar” in the Discussion Forum for this module? Who was the worst “liar”?

      Food for thought

      • Have you gone through periods of doubt as well as faith in your life? Please describe your experiences.
      • Is James’ idea that doubt is a natural and expected part of faith changing the way you understand your own times of doubt?
      • Describe the ways you like others to think about you in order to garner praise or acceptance. What story do you tell and how do you present yourself to get a good reaction?
      • Consider the Four Facts activity from the previous module. How did it feel to be thought of as a good “liar”?
      • What it might feel like to discover that the stories we tell about ourselves might be less than truthful?
      • Does it make a difference to how you feel about that discovery if you discover it as a result of being given a richer, more realistic, more truthful story?

      Wrap-up question

      How might your story or style of self-presentation be changing as you find yourself needing to be less good as a consequence of being loved?

    • #6036

      “Have you gone through periods of doubt as well as faith in your life? Please describe your experiences.”

      As James stated in the essay, I am one of the many that looked at faith as something that was on me. I needed to make the moonshot on a regular basis. Or as he says elsewhere, “Faith was an imperious demand that I should try to believe seventeen impossible things before breakfast.” It has helped me looking at faith as something that is on God and as I read scripture I get a better sense of God leading me that way. The analogies of relationship with Aunt Mildred and a parent teaching a infant to walk help make this point.

      • #6043

        Yes Lee, doubt is truly an essential part of faith. I think we remain always in awe of the mystery and infinity of God. James steers us through this idea that we have to be certain with great subtlety, does he not?

    • #6037

      “Describe the ways you like others to think about you in order to garner praise or acceptance. What story do you tell and how do you present yourself to get a good reaction?”

      James mentions on page 220 that those who teach in religious spaces have a strong temptation to “get it right.” I regularly give talks on spiritual topics, virtues, etc. It is difficult sometimes to give a talk to other men on a particular virtue that I myself feel I am sorely lacking in.

      James goes on, “When we see someone who is obviously undergoing something that is not part of them, part of the truthfulness which is coming upon them is their ability to sit relatively peacefully with themselves as liars. This seems odd, but is very important for those of us who are asked to give witness in some way or other. I’m not advocating being dishonest, I’m advocating relaxing and not being too disturbed as we discover how dishonest we are.”

      I’m not sure of the value in this. I see myself as a liar (or at least not proficient in the ideas presented) … do I just live with the knowledge that I’m dishonest or do I strive to improve or un-lie? No one likes dishonesty, in themselves or others.

      • #6044

        I think that what James is telling us here is that ‘Christianity presupposes that we don’t start out life as good, and then screw up. We start screwed up.’ In other words we are all far from perfect, but no need to beat yourself up when you realise that this is the case. And to quote James “this enables us to become more relaxed about ourselves, as we find ourselves being given elements of a story about, and including, ourselves, which is much richer, but also more realistic, than the one we held onto before”. So our defects are a natural part of our spiritual journey and James is introducing us to the vastness of God’s unconditional love. Does this make sense?

    • #6038

      “Does it make a difference to how you feel about that discovery (stories we tell about ourselves might be less than truthful) if you discover it as a result of being given a richer, more realistic, more truthful story?”

      I am struggling with this concept a bit. Is it that Jesus is the protagonist, I am part of His story and he is giving me the gift of faith in a God that loves me and forgives me? What’s the benefit of discovering that I have been less than truthful in my story?

    • #6045

      I suppose that being less than truthful before is the human condition. Why do we lie about our story, to impress? to avoid shame? No doubt for a myriad of reasons. We are imperfect, nevertheless God is coming towards us knowing how weak and deceitful we can be, but he brings unconditional love which calls us into being different to what we were.

    • #46477
      Rich Paxson

      Every so often during the hour between Sunday morning services we have a book study at St. John’s. Eight or ten of us gather ‘round a table to discuss the week’s reading assignment. Currently we’re reading ‘My Church is Not Dying: Episcopalian in the 21st Century.’ http://amzn.to/1GuZfrh

      Last Sunday’s topic revolved around personal faith. I introduced ideas into the conversation from ‘Forgiving Victim’: faith as gift; calling to mind the everyday understanding of faith as beginning point for faith in God; and I shared the idea of God speaking from the peripheries of our experience. I used Moses and the burning bush as example, trying very hard not to be pedantic! Although, I did make sure to credit ‘Forgiving Victim’ as the source of the insights I had shared.

      Our hour-long conversations are convivial, not academic. We have a faithful group; that is, I think we all trust that what we will encounter in each hour will meet our expectations. And I suspect the gift of this time together broadens each of our expectations. I know it broadens mine, in ways I can’t predict, but which deepen my faith — strengthening my “connection with my creator” – as group member Al is fond of saying!

      • #46481

        Rich that sounds like a lovely group and you seem to be recounting James’ thought so well. As he tell us, “Normally we think of faith as something we’ve got to have in order to believe in Jesus. If you actually read the texts, the effort is entirely on the other side. Jesus was about making it easier for us to have faith in God”

    • #46504
      Rich Paxson

      The Discussion Forum assignment requests four statements about the writer. One of the four statements must be a lie.

      Here are my four statements. Although I’ve lived most of my life in a rural environment, I am originally from Chicago’s south side. Volunteering at my church where I am the Treasurer is important to me. Most of the items on my “bucket list” involve traveling to places a long way from my home in Iowa. Following the rules, or at least knowing the rules before breaking them, is important to me.

      The last two readings in our text for this exercise are: “Doubt, crises of faith, and occlusions of the self,” and “Looking at faith through the eyes of the one who gives us faith.” James views “occlusions of the self” through the lens of doubt which leaves one “a bit unmoored.”

      “So I want to make the point that what we call crises of faith are, more often than not, far better described as occlusions of the self. They are bits of us cracking up, and because of that we are a bit unmoored as to who we are and how we belong.”

      Initially, I thought of James’s crises of faith, or ‘occlusions of the self,’ in the context of restorative medical procedures. I thought of lying prone on my back in the dentist’s chair listening to the hygienist detailing various occlusions in my mouth. I remembered speaking with my cardiologist after the angiogram revealed a significant occlusion in a coronary artery. Occlusions are interfaces occurring between the upper and lower teeth, or plaque blocking coronary artery blood from getting to the heart muscle.

      What are the outcomes when a dentist adjusts a misaligned dental occlusion; or, the surgeon cracks up the bits of surrounding plaque that occlude an artery feeding the heart muscle? Acute or persistent pain in the jaw subsides, restoring proper speech and nourishment for the body. Life-giving blood flows to a weakening heart. Does it follow then that breaking up ‘social other occlusions’ opens possibilities of awareness and knowledge of God’s love?

      God gives us faith, which comes first as we recognize the Other other’s presence in our lives. After recognition comes inclination to respond. Then comes the ability to pay attention intentionally, to repent in response to God’s call from the peripheries of our lives. Leaving out the “v” in lives, as I did just now in a typo, changed from the peripheries of our ‘lives’ to from the peripheries of our ‘lies.’

      The lies of our temporal facades reflect occlusions built up through long interaction with the social other. They block the eternal world of God’s timeless love in action, the world where we are free to live as if death were not. Breaking up these occlusions, these interfaces between the self and Creation, opens the Way for Christlike occlusions to approach us with the companionship of the Other other’s gift of faith not only at Eucharist but anywhere and everywhere we are open to God’s abiding Presence.

      • #46628

        Yes, Rich we are all carrying a great deal of baggage, or these ‘occlusions of the self’ as James describes them. James tell us that God is not frightened by us or scandalised “by our cruelty, violence or stupidity”. You refer to “the lies of our temporal facades reflect occlusions built up through long interaction with the social other” and yes, exactly. So many of our weaknesses and defects are played out in reaction to the social other. So could the path towards God and faith not be helped by compassion toward the other, in the realisation that this person or persons have the same weakness, defects and occlusions as we?

    • #46626
      Rich Paxson

      In the Discussion Forum of this unit, answer the following question: How might your story or style of self-presentation be changing as you find yourself needing to be less good as a consequence of being loved?
      The wrap-up question for Part 3 points to individual discovery in response to the Other other’s revelation of God’s faithful love. As I discover the Other other’s ongoing revelation of God’s love for me personally, then I will find “myself needing to be less good” and my “story or style of self-presentation” changing. The discussion question asks how that change might take form and substance in the story or style of my life. Here’s one brief example.

      Yesterday I spoke to our parish rector about an issue I found troubling, which concerned asbestos tile removal from our chapel. I was open and relaxed. I wasn’t tight or combative; and yet I was confronting. We argued the issue for some time, and then suddenly I heard him agreeing with my position. I felt satisfied, but it was not the satisfaction of having vanquished a foe. It was the satisfaction of having made the case for the safety of parishioners during the removal process.

      As a consequence of being loved by the Other other I could focus my skills on the needs of others dropping my need for looking good in the eyes of my opponent, an obsequious response denying both my identity and the welfare of those for whom on that issue I was responsible.

      Altered behavior like the example I just described, however, can be the thin end of the wedge. Change that is too dramatic violates the other person’s expectations about my pattern for interacting. Consequently change that is too sudden or too broad threatens others who know me and may feel cornered by my changes causing them to challenge me from a defensive posture.

      Therefore, it is crucial that I consistently interrogate my motives for selfish desires. Responding regularly to the other person by listening carefully and listening reflectively not just to what they are saying but also to how they are communicating helps to shift my focus from me and my needs to the other person and her needs.

      • #46629

        What you say here Rich is quite lovely. Yes, the realisation of knowing that we are loved frees us from the need to be constantly affirmed in our identity, consequently much less susceptible to being controlling or needing to be right. And as you say, this is an evolutionary process, not an overnight ‘road to Damascus’, best handled by learning to listen carefully and reflectively to the other. I am sure you do this wonderfully!

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