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Learning to Ask the Right Questions (September 14, 2018)

Here is one of my favourite ways of talking about Christian faith: faith is not so much about finding the right answers; faith is about learning to ask the right questions. For me, that gets at the heart of our identity as followers of Jesus.

Christian faith is not so much about certainties and having the right answer for every part of life. Christian faith is about seeking, searching, inquiring. One of the earliest ways of talking about followers of Jesus was to say that they “belonged to the way” (Acts 9).

I’ve talked about the life of faith before in this column as a journey or a pilgrimage. This approach to faith is a life–long journey. We are seeking to grow into the fullness of Christ. We search to live in the way of compassion and faithfulness.

A journey has two elements: the destination, and the way in which we journey.

Firstly, the destination. To undertake a journey means that we are going somewhere. We are heading towards a destination. Sometimes, the destination is easy to define. When we go on a trip to Vancouver, for example, we get out the map, plot our course, and begin driving until we get there. The road signs along the way help us see how close we’re getting to our destination.

Other times, the destination is not quite so easy to define. The journey of life has many twists and turns. It’s impossible to say of a newborn infant what her destination at the end of life will look like. All we can truly say is to speak our hope about the manner in which we live our life, the way in which we reach our destination. In fact, the goal towards which we are heading is itself shaped by the way in which we make our journey.

To use the example of a trip to Vancouver again, we could rush there as quickly as possible and miss everything in between in our urgency to get there. If we’re lucky, we won’t be fined for traffic violations. We arrive at our destination somewhat frazzled and a little bit out of sorts.

On the other hand, we could travel at a more leisurely pace, enjoy the sights, make sure we eat well, and arrive a little less tired and stressed out.

If that’s important on a road trip, it is absolutely critical in our journey through life. As we journey in the company of other faithful men and women, each of us is responsible to shape our own journey. We walk side by side with other people, in all the different communities of which we are a part. Even more importantly, we make our journey with all the people of the earth.

I am very clear that for me, both the goal of such a life and the way we journey through life is marked by compassion and hope, gentleness and tolerance. Flexibility and tolerance are virtues for me.

Trees look strong compared with the wild reeds in the field. But when the storm comes the trees are uprooted, whereas the wild reeds, while moved back and forth by the wind, remain rooted and are standing up again when the storm has calmed down.

Flexibility is a great virtue. When we cling to our own positions and are not willing to let our hearts be moved back and forth a little by the ideas or actions of others, we may easily be broken. Being like wild reeds does not mean being wishy–washy. It means moving a little with the winds of the time while remaining solidly anchored in the ground.

That applies to all areas of life. I am deeply rooted in the Christian faith. I have learned to trust that rootedness. But that cannot lead me to believe that my way is the only way. I know God to be much larger than what I or any other human being can conceive. I believe that God chooses to reveal himself to the world in any number of ways.

And while the way of following Christ is the path to which I have been called, I can also learn from other ways of understanding God.

When people would ask retired Harvard theologian Wilfred Cantwell Smith if he was a Christian, he would answer, “Ask my neighbour.” Like him, I want to live compassionately and gently with my neighbours. For me, that includes people who understand God in different ways than I do. I want to live peacefully, compassionately, and tolerantly with people of other faiths — Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and all the other enduring religions of the earth. I want to live compassionately with other Christians, who interpret the story of Jesus in ways differently than I do.

In some ways, it’s much harder to live that way. There are people who have real problems with me and the way I live out my Christian faith. Some Christians are critical of me and this flexible approach to faith. Their motto is “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.”

My hope is that the flexible approach which I am learning to embody becomes attractive to more of us. God knows, the world is in a sorry state. There are so many things that keep us apart, so many excuses we can use for being hostile with each other. The Church is guilty of having fostered hatred against those who have disagreed and other faiths again and again. That’s a terrible thing to have done, and I mourn the church’s history deeply.

It’s time to try to live together in hope and peace, so that in our common humanity, Christ can be honoured. That’s the journey I want to make. Along the way, I am slowly learning to ask the right questions.

Rev. Yme Woensdregt