A friend of mine, Les Acklam, recently introduced me to some words by John Spong in the introduction to his most recent book “The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic”. I found these words compelling and have shared them with others who have also found that they speak to their experience, so I share them now with you:
“I have wrestled with the Christian faith for all of my (now 82 years) life and I find myself at this moment, to the surprise of my traditional critics, I’m sure, more deeply committed to my Christ and to my faith than ever before.
My commitment is, however, to a new understanding of both the Christ and Christianity. I am increasingly drawn to a Christianity that has no separating barriers and that does not bind me into the creeds of antiquity.
It is a Christianity that cannot be contained by or expressed through traditional liturgical forms. I have no desire to find certainty or to embrace religious security. I choose rather to live in the unbounded insecurity that is the nature of human life and by doing so to discover that I am in fact walking the Christ path.
I also have no desire to walk any other faith path. I have discovered, however, that if I walk the Christ path deeply enough and far enough, it will lead me beyond anything I now know about Christianity. I see that not as a negative statement, but as a positive one.
Jesus walked beyond the boundaries of his religion into a new vision of God. I think that this is what I have done, and that is what I want to celebrate. God is ultimate: Christianity is not.
The only way I know how to walk into the ultimacy of God, however, is to walk through Christianity. I claim not that the Christian path is the exclusive path, but that it is the only path I know and thus the only path on which I can walk.
I claim for myself without equivocation the title ‘Christian’. I define human life through the lens of the Christ experience and that satisfies me.
I can honestly say with deep conviction that I am who I am because of my relationship with one called Jesus of Nazareth, and that it is through him that the meaning of what I call God has been opened for me.’
Faith is not believing in creeds, doctrines, and dogmas; faith is trusting the divine presence to be in every moment, in every tomorrow.
Faith is having the courage to walk into the unknown, to confront whatever life brings one’s way without having our humanity destroyed in the process.
There is no such thing as “the faith”. No claim by anyone to possess the only way to God, to be the single infallible authority empowered to speak for God, or to hold the only inerrant source of God’s revelation, is ever valid.
Those things have been historically nothing more than human idols, designed to provide us with the religious security for which our hearts yearn.
Faith does not, cannot, and will not give us peace of mind, security and certainty. Faith gives us only the courage to put one foot in front of the other and walk into tomorrow with integrity and walk into tomorrow with integrity even though we know that in this world there is no peace
of mind, no security, and no safety.
Faith calls us to recognize that we are all in this quest we call life and that our human defence- barriers of tribe, race, ethnicity, and even gender and sexual identity cannot finally separate us from one another.
Faith calls us to understand that to be human is to be part of who and what God is and, in the oneness of this God presence, to find that our understanding of life is enhanced and all human barriers fall into insignificance”
Another friend, Frank Willett a Third Order Franciscan, on reading these words responded thus:
“I had not read them before, but they certainly resonate. They touch on a superb paradox, which suggests to me that the deeper one enters the Christian faith, the more one can see God in all people, whether they claim to be Christian or not.
There is another related matter, and that is the place of humility, which is supposed to be a quality that is very dear to Franciscans. Not all Franciscans would agree with me, but if I insist that my faith is the only valid one, then this seems to be the opposite of humility – it looks more like arrogance. Having said that, like Bishop Spong, for me God is most real through Jesus. But if I try to limit God to how he is revealed in Jesus then my view of him is greatly diminished. “
I reckon Frank puts it very well.