Wednesday, March 22, 2006

So, What Does Faith Mean?

I have to ask.

The circumstances of an editorial decision force it upon me.


What does faith mean today?

More particularly, what does it mean in an urban context as complicated as this one?

Yesterday in the "Metro" section of The Dallas Morning News the editor positioned two stories side-by-side (Page 7B).

The juxtaposition was provocative.

On the left top of the page was the story I referenced yesterday concerning the public meeting Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt hosted to discuss our plans to develop an old, abandoned office building downtown to house low-income and formerly homeless people.

On the right top was a story that carried the title, "Plano district is sued again."

It seems that a student group at Haggard Middle School is suing the Plano Independent School District for removing information about a student Bible study group from the public school district's official website.

The group's name is interesting: "Witnessing Absolute Truth."

I think I need to get in on that group's life, wisdom and guidance. I mean its not every day that you run into absolute truth!

The proximity of these two news reports forced the question on me. What does faith mean?

Is faith about imposing one's point of view about the Bible on others?

Is faith all about convincing people that you actually have discovered "absolute truth"?

Does faith mean that because I am part of the majority class and culture that I should angle for establishing my faith as the singular expression of truth for everyone else?

Or, could it be that faith is really more about humility in the face of life's more than perplexing reality?

Is it possible that the nature of the teachings of this strange guy named Jesus is more about service than imposition? Could it be that what he had in mind was a selfless lifestyle so radical that even in its quietness it could not be ignored?

Is the Christian faith about law suits and arguments that promote one worldview over all others?

Or, could it be that following Jesus actually has more to do with how we treat the chronically, ever-present poor?

Is faith about school-based Bible studies? Or, is it about justice for the poor?

Where should the weight of our influence and energy fall?

Believe me, I don't have anything against kids studying the Bible. But if the agenda is to establish the superiority of one view against another, I have to wonder if it is really modeling the behavior of the founder of the religion being promoted.

Jesus said more about the poor than he did about claiming superiority over others as religious people. As a matter of fact, he said nothing about superiority, unless you count what he said about avoiding it!

If memory serves me correctly, he reserved his harshest criticism for religious folks who claimed to hold title to all truth.

I doubt he would have joined this lawsuit as a co-plaintiff.

Funny how life works out in an eerie parallel to life in the news.

Our most anxious opposition about our housing efforts always seems to involve some religious people who are more concerned about their own rights than they are about reaching out to the urban poor.

Could it be that faith is all about our response to the pain of the world?

Could it be that faith will concern us so much with the injustice and oppression of the weak and vulnerable that we just won't have time to impose any of our theories on our neighbors or classmates?

Is it possible that faith seen in action is more powerful than faith claimed in words or imposed on others as an expression of our rights?

What would the world be like if we and our children sued on behalf of the neglected poor rather than on behalf of their own rights and agendas?

Who knows? God might smile on us all.


Jason Coriell said...


Jack said...

Why target children as your group to attack? What if this group of students, during their meetings, discuss and plan activities that will reach out to the poor? Aren't you claiming absolute truth in God's desire for us as Christians to reach out to the poor? When has speaking truth become unbiblical? I agree that often American Christianity is more concerned with claiming a majority status than helping the needy. But if a group of students is denied a right in the schools (which not knowing much about their case I cannot rule), then what keeps that same government from denying the right of all people to live lives with dignity and respect, including the poor? We need to stop Christianity from attacking itself and seek unite and offer a full theology to all people

Larry James said...

Jack, thanks for weighing in!

I am sorry if it sounded like I was attacking the children.

It is just that I do remain very frustrated with the actions of so many church people today. Faith is so often equated with public expressions of the content of faith in a very pluralistic society, while Jesus talked about secluded prayer, hidden alms and veiled fasting.

At the same time, we often feel as if it is our right to have our faith systems supported and championed by our public institutions, in spite of the fact that we have many neighbors who come from completely different faith backgrounds that should be respected.

From a practical standpoint the ISD likely must post everything that happens among all students and student groups or nothing that has to do with faith.

My main concern here is the energy expended with the understanding that the real focus of faith is to press our opinions/values and faith systems onto the public sector. At the same time, the crucial life and death issues of poverty, public education and equity are seldom, if ever mentioned or considered even a part of our faith system. Forgive my sarcasm and my frustration.

Then, on a personal note, we may just disagree about our conception of "truth" and what that means in terms of our capacity as humans to actually arrive at absolutes.

Elizabeth C. said...

"Is it possible that faith seen in action is more powerful than faith claimed in words or imposed on others as an expression of our rights?"

Amen! Thank you for your thoughts.

Jack said...

I have just recently begun to read your blog and find it refreshing and informative. I also live in the metroplex, so the local angle is great as well. I agree with the spirit of this post and am frustrated by the lack of concern shown to the poor by many on the conservative evangelical side. It is my desire to help Christians, liberals and conservatives, to rally for solutions to our vexing moral problems confronting our nation today, including poverty and education. I only posted originally to caution the slightly divisive tone I perceived in your post (rightly or wrongly) - although I do agree with your conclusions and share in your frustrations. Thank you for bringing these important religious and political issues to the forefront.

Lovell's Lookout said...

James- Good Stuff. I am preaching a series called "FAith that Works" right now. Faith profiles out of Hebrews 11. Interestingly enough..none of these Faith "Hall of Famers" were commended for their "words" but for "what they did." They were walking, sacrificing, blessing, giving, building, leaving(egypt). "The Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but power." Keep walking brother.