Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Case Against "I Believe"

by Lyndsey Graves 

We believe in one God, 
The Father, the Almighty, 
Maker of heaven and earth, 
Of all that is, seen and unseen.

“I think it would be terrible to have to lie in church like that.” A classmate shared an anecdote about a friend who wasn’t sure he could agree with everything in the Nicene Creed, and I felt confused. Does this guy really think that everyone in the room believes everything in the Nicene Creed?

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, 
The only Son of God, 
Eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, 

True God from true God, 
Begotten, not made, 
Of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation 

He came down from heaven: 
By the power of the Holy Spirit 
He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, 
And was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; 

He suffered death and was buried.

I, for one, am expecting a pretty mundane Holy Week; I’m not really feeling very holy. I’ve complained to everyone I know about my Lent fast, which I’m pretty sure is not its point, and besides that, I’m just too busy for Holy Week. I know you’re not supposed to say that, but I’m also too busy to guilt myself into fixing it or whatever, so it is what it is. Maybe this means I don’t really believe in Jesus; in fact, I’m pretty sure it does. I’m pretty sure if I believed, I’d do whatever it took to spend as much time as possible at least for this one week contemplating and celebrating these momentous events. But I’m probably not going to.

Go ahead and whisper that maybe I’ve gotten a little lukewarm if you wish. I don’t think I have. I know what I’ve gotten, actually - I’ve gotten burned out. After moving across the country to work at a church and then going to seminary, I’m quite done playing Christian, completely over doing things because I’ve decided that I “should,” and especially sick of what “I believe.” Various ones of my beliefs have been deconstructed block by block; some have been demolished in an instant. Others are buried and mourned; pushed, pulled, shoved and yanked, all without actually budging; nudged and finessed and nuanced into crystalline precision; and over-defended to within an inch of their opponents’ lives. My beliefs have been treated as if they were of utmost importance in the name of “orthodoxy” and “critical thinking” and lots of things about “context” and “epistemology.”

On the third day he rose again 
In accordance with the Scriptures; 
He ascended into heaven 
And is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, 

And his kingdom will have no end.

I’m not going to say that beliefs aren’t important. Our beliefs, stated and unstated, do change our actions; our theologies do affect our relationships to God. But my beliefs aren’t nearly as important as some teachers and pastors and denominational officials make them out to be. As one of my housemates said, “Some days you decide that Jesus didn’t actually do any miracles or rise from the dead. And you go on living your life for a day or two, and then things are fine again.”

We’re told, “You are going to be A Religious Leader. You must determine What You Believe.” We wrinkle our foreheads and Critically Think. We start to align ourselves with certain writers or systems and against certain enemies. But it all rings a little bit false.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, 
Who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.

People sometimes believe things based on what they’ve decided intellectually. But mostly, they believe whatever everyone else believes, because that’s the thing that the culture treats as reality. I know lots of churches say their creed this way – Credo. I believe. But there’s rarely any such thing as, “I believe.” There is mostly just “We do. We assume. We expect. We disbelieve. We censor. We remember. We are.”

We believe.

What’s important is that we are reminding one another what, in our moments of greatest fidelity to tradition, underlies the things we do, assume, expect, disbelieve. I don’t have to believe all of it before I can proclaim to my community what we believe. Nor do I even have to say it before I can belong to that “We.”

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

For long months of the darkest night of my still-young soul, I went to church and did nothing but stand. I dragged myself in as the sun set and watched the songs go by, feeling as lonely as ever, with a sort of numb wish to think the songs were true. Some days I silently raged through others’ prayers, prayers they clearly felt so deeply - What does this have to do with me? I used to pray like that. But you just wait till God leaves you, and then we’ll see how you pray. And then I would stand for the creed, say only the words, “We believe,” and cry helpless tears through the list of the things I didn’t believe. And in the midst of it all, the people of Emmanuel Fellowship bore me through that dark night on the raft of their imperfectly-faithful words, the repetition of the creed.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, 
And the life of the world to come.

Let Holy Week be for the doubter. Let Holy Week be for the lukewarm. Let Holy Week be for the burned-out, the sinner, the child, the angry, the bewildered, the bitter, the confused, and the liars. Say what you can; or say what someone else believes; or let the rest of us say it for you.

This is what we believe.

This is what we hope.


Lyndsey lives in Boston, MA where she is pursuing her Master's in Theological Studies at Boston University. She enjoys Community, Mad Men and Beauty and the Beast and her spirit animal is a sloth. She would like to know if this is some kind of interactive theater art piece. You can follow her on Twitter @lyndseygraves and you can find more of her writing at her blog To Be Honest. 

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