Friday, July 26, 2013

A Work In Progress

work in progress, sign, beach

by Ryan Hawk

We are all a work in progress; that’s the true reality of sanctification. At no point do I ever fully understand the faith I claim or the church to which I belong. There are mysteries that are simply unknowable, mysteries in my heart which are unknown even to me.

I have been on a journey. My faith has moved: a path which has taken me from the inherited certainties of my childhood to a place of questioning and skepticism; a post-evangelical landscape where our former assumptions are scrutinized in the harsh light of our newly discovered realities. And on this journey, certain questions continue to dog my steps, questions I never would have heard without starting down this road, questions about meaning, and identity, and privilege, and what it means when I am still not certain.

I look around at my fellow travelers. In this place full of evangelical refugees, we are quick to mock and caricature the traditions from which we’ve emerged. There is anger. There are wounds. These caricatures are birthed out of legacies of pain. Yet some of our stereotypes, we make unfairly. 

deserted, dead, trees, wood, wastelandWe are all a work in progress.

It is rare that I meet someone of my age who doesn’t have painful stories about the faith of their youth. Whether it be the doctrines that bound us, or the church leaders who preyed on their followers, or who let us down when we put full faith in their promises. The church is flawed because people are flawed, and it will be so until the new creation. 

That may not be optimistic, but it’s true. And this means I am flawed too. I am part of this same flawed body. Though I have left the institutions of my youth, it continues to be a part of the church universal. I cannot run away. I cannot forsake them. If I am critical of them (and I must be critical of them) I must never be so without the virtues of love and grace.

A professor of mine in seminary once taught me about the “ladder of inference.” It is a series of unconscious assumptions shaped by our context and experiences, which allow us to move from perceived facts to a conclusion or action. As a result, we are a shaped by all that has come before; it does not allow us to start over. We are molded by our history, our education, our place of birth, our families, our churches and their teachings. Whether we have attempted to relinquish those assumptions and move onto something new, or whether we continue to hold to them, they still shape us profoundly. We can’t escape that fact.

The church has failed many of us. But does this mean that Christ has failed us as well? Do the missteps of the institution invalidate the authenticity of faith? This is where hope comforts. If the church is to be like Christ, then there are plenty of reasons to say that Christ has indeed failed, but hope assures us that the stumbles along the way do not negate the journey. It’s a path, and we are climbing.
mountain, climber, sunset, shadow, hill, hiker 
Failure on this journey is not found in the stumbles and falls, no matter how many times they occur. Failure is assuming that one has arrived, to make camp long before the end – when we grow comfortable by trading certainty for certainty; replacing the inherited assumptions from our youth with the new-found assumptions of our adulthood – when we feel justified sitting back, and mocking those who “haven’t arrived.”

But we are all on a journey; we are all a work in progress. And that compels us to seek truth with humility, to love with empathy, to extend mercy without condition. Challenge yourself. Read something you disagree with; talk to someone who doesn’t see eye to eye with you, because even those we disagree with must be looked upon with grace; they, too, are a work in progress.

Ryan David Hawk is a recovering cynic living in Colorado who looks good in a hat. His writings cannot be found anywhere because he struggles to deal with the pressures of blogging after trying and failing too many times. He sometimes uses Twitter and can be followed @ryandavidhawk.

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